5Q :: ‘Trailer Park Musical’ back by popular demandThe popular dinner theater production “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” returns to The Shack in Superior, and star Sharon Dixon Obst plays along with our not-so-tasteful questions. PLUS: A “reprint” of Perrine’s first run-in with Dixon Obst, which occurred before Brian Matuszak left Renegade to form Rubber Chicken.
Rubber Chicken Theater’s Brian Matuszak follows a very important entertainment rule of thumb: Give the people what they want. As is the case with RCT’s production of “Evil Dead: The Musical,” which is set for a reprisal at The Venue in Lincoln Park (even though the first incarnation’s fake blood stained the ceiling), he’s bringing back the popular “Great American Trailer Park Musical” for an encore at The Shack in Superior.
We talked to one of the production’s stars, Sharon Dixon Obst. Besides being congenial to no end (see “Luck of the Draw…” following the Q-and-A), she’s also a really entertaining lady:
Budgeteer: Is there much of a storyline to this musical, or is it just making fun of white trash?
Dixon Obst: There is a great storyline to this musical. There is love that is neglected until nearly lost, hope, desire and fear all rolled up into one really great musical.
Were you at all worried about staging “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” in Superior, a city with a Wal-Mart that literally shares a property line with a trailer park (which is right across the highway from a racetrack...)?
I can’t think of a better place to stage “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” unless it was actually in a trailer park. That would be great. Do you know of any trailer parks that have band shells in them?
On that, how did you prepare for your respective roles? Slap on a “God Don’t Make No Junk” oversized T-shirt and down a couple cases of Milwaukee’s Best?
I prepared for my role by avoiding the sun all summer so I could be as white as humanly possible and watching “Jerry Springer” every night. Actually, I did some voice training so my voice would be in shape for the show.
On a serious note, do you ever feel constricted by a script after doing improv?
I wouldn’t say I feel constricted. I would say I find it a little challenging to go back and force myself to memorize lines, but, no matter what type of theater I am doing, I always try to find ways to keep it fresh. Doing scripted material is sort of like slipping into a really comfortable pair of slippers after running around in high heels all day. It’s a nice change to be able to commit to one character for 90 minutes.
Finally, if you had to pick one redeeming (I use this term loosely...) quality of Made-in-America trash culture, what would it be? (Mine would be “Cops,” for instance!)
I am so in love with “American Idol” and “Hell’s Kitchen.” It’s got to be the English accents yelling at Southern people who don’t “get it.”
Rubber Chicken Theater will stage “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” at 6:30 p.m. April 9-11, 16-18 and 23-25 (though Sunday performances are at noon) at The Shack in Superior, 3301 Belknap St. Cost is $35 ($30 on Sundays); price includes dinner and show. Call (715) 392-3463 for tickets.
Luck of the draw…
Note: This article, also written by Perrine, originally appeared in the Budgeteer June 17, 2007.
How ‘Hat’ works
Thursday evening – Writers select their prompts (the who, what and where) out of a hat. Then they write their 10-minute plays.
Friday morning – Everyone involved gathers early (like 8 a.m. early), so directors can pick their scripts and casts – all out of a hat, of course. Rehearsal continues until …
Friday night – Showtime! After the plays, Saturday night’s writers pick their prompts, and the process begins anew.
Saturday – Repeat most of Friday.
“So, when do you start getting nervous?”
Thus begins the saga of Out of the Hat 9 for Sharon Dixon Obst, a longtime Renegade Comedy Theatre regular. (A decade strong and growing!)
For the next two nights, she will serve as a writer, a director and — unbeknownst to her at the time — an actress.
It’s the evening of Thursday, June 7. We’re sitting at the theater troupe’s new(ish) space at 222 E. Superior St., surrounded by some of Renegade’s most creative contributors.
(Although the immediate area is under a tornado watch, for some reason — and perhaps only fittingly — there is much talk of sock puppets amongst the Hatters.)
In exactly 24 hours, our seats will be occupied by what Brian Matuszak, the group’s executive producer, calls the most supportive audience these people will ever face.
Holding down center stage are three hats — well, two hats and a foam cheesehead, but I digress — where anyone can throw in the three ingredients (or “prompts”) that make up each and every 10-minute Hat play: the who, the what and the where.
When the writers for Friday night’s show take the stage to draw, it’s clear that Hat really is for everyone. The eight women and men range in age from just-out-of-high-school to old-enough-to-make-big-decisions (city councilors Don Ness and Roger Reinert are regular Hat contributors).
Up first was Lauren Fleischman, who made her Hat debut when she was still in high school. Her go-round yielded three potentially challenging prompts: Bruce Wayne, a heart-shaped tattoo with “Bubba” inscribed within and “a house where — gasp! — a murder has taken place.”
(FYI: For the first time in Hat history, Matuszak allowed writers to double-up on prompts. It was a suggestion long considered and finally put into effect. For example, writer Lawrence Lee wrote a completely different script with the same prompts as Fleischman, and they were both produced.)
When it was Sharon’s turn, she quietly drew her three prompts — so far nothing out of the ordinary. Then she read them aloud: “Richard Simmons, a hurricane and … at an OB/GYN office.”
At this, the house erupted and, wryly feigning enthusiasm, she exclaimed, “This stuff writes itself!”
Genesis, redemption and genesis again
You’re probably wondering why Renegade allowed me to go into the trenches (if you will) for this behind-the-scenes story.
After all, my review of Out of the Hat 8’s second night was — shall we say — less enthusiastic than those involved had probably hoped. (If it’s any indication of how I was feeling that week, I titled it “Miss, Miss, Hit, Miss, Intermission, Miss, Hit, Hit, Hit.”)
So, when Matuszak and I traded e-mails and decided I would shadow Sharon, I felt a weight had been lifted, that perhaps Renegade had given up an imagined grudge, etc.
But then, stupidly, I off-handedly wrote a little “joke” to the Renegade master: “I just hope I was kind to her in my last review.”
His response? “Actually…. But, hey, she’s a pro!”
Yikes. Fortunately, all fears were quelled June 7 when I stumbled into Renegade’s new quarters, bewildered out of my mind, and Sharon graciously showed me around.
Fast-forward to later in the evening, and we — Sharon, her son Bob and I — are at Caribou Coffee in Canal Park. (It’s become somewhat of a ritual of Sharon’s to get her very necessary caffeine fix here before heading home for a night full of writing, editing and rewriting.)
Bob, a 17-year-old, is also shadowing his mother, but for a completely different reason: He wants to direct someday.
Although she jokingly refers to Bob as a “squatter,” Sharon bounces off possible plot points with him. It’s an animated conversation — especially when Fleischman drops by — and offhanded queries like “Do we still have plastic gloves at home?” are thrown about loosely. (I can only imagine what the other patrons were thinking throughout this highly caffeinated brainstorming session….)
After it’s decided that sock puppets will definitely play integral roles, Sharon and Bob bid adieu and head home.
Recovery and no-regrets reflection
When I catch up with Sharon on Monday, it’s in an exam room at Lakewalk Center. (Come on, it’s a feature about Renegade … did you actually expect a “normal” interview location?)
“I’m tired,” she admits.
Fair enough; she had quite the busy weekend. After directing her own play Friday night (a rare event, as every aspect of Hat is … pulled out of a hat), the same exact thing happened the next morning.
“When I went up as a director on Saturday to draw, I was like,” she said, with a pronounced gasp, “‘Please, God, don’t let me get my own script because I hate it.’ And, of course, I drew my own name.’”
Not only that, but she also made her Hat acting debut in her play. Sharon had never planned on acting, but an actress dropped out at the last moment and she somehow obliged — thereby completing Hat’s first and, as Matuszak noted, probably only “Triple Crown.”
(Similarly, her son, the “squatter,” made his acting debut Friday night after an actor had a family emergency.)
Nonetheless, it all came together.
“It’s really fortunate when, as a writer, you get it to work both nights,” Sharon said. “There have been times when it’s been, ‘I don’t know what the heck I just put for you to put up on that stage … it’ll get a laugh, but it’s really weird.’”
For Friday’s play Sharon and, to a lesser extent, Bob — he was ordered out of Sharon’s office after suggesting she somehow incorporate zombies into her play — conjured up the following scenario: Richard Simmons runs from airport officials after his two sock puppets, Rubin and Carter (as in the infamous boxer nicknamed “The Hurricane”), had slapped a TSA worker. After finding shelter in an OB/GYN office, he must help deliver a baby.
The plot of Saturday night’s show — which she stayed up until 3 a.m. writing, and woke up early to finish — was less consequential, however.
“The things that got the biggest laughs were the covering for when we forgot our lines onstage,” Sharon said. “There’s nothing worse for an actor than ‘I have no idea what my line is, so I’m going to stall.’
“At one point I was eating raw macaroni and cheese. You know, open the box eating it … I’m like, I’m going to eat this until I figure out what my line is because they’re laughing (at me) eating this.”
In the end, Sharon said there’s no room for regrets when it comes to Hat’s 10-minute plays.
“I don’t ever go back and think, Oh, I should’ve changed this or I should do this differently in the script,” she said. “It is what it is. It’s about making bold choices, it’s about being committed to what you’re doing, it’s about not giving up on your script — from writer all the way to actor, you have to have that.
“Make your bold choices, go with your gut — and if it works, great. If it doesn’t, OK, make another bold choice.”
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