Our current Leo K. offering, Lizard Boy, was written, composed and performed by Justin Huertas. But PLEASE…don’t mistake it for a one-man show. Literary Director Kristin Leahey found a moment to sit down with the other two talented performers of this world premiere, fellow “Lizards” Kirsten deLohr Helland (Siren) and Bill Williams (Cary). What follows is an impromptu conversation about all things new play development.
KL: How long have you two known each other and where did you meet?
BW: Kirsten and I met about a year and a half before Spring Awakening (produced in 2012 by Balagan Theatre) through just knowing the same people in the theatre. I came and saw her in The Yellow Wood (produced by Contemporary Classics in 2010, directed by Brandon Ivie – also Artistic Director of the company) and she saw me in 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (produced by Contemporary Classics and RK Productions in 2010).
KDH: Yeah, we’ve seen each other in a bunch of shows. It’s sort of the nature of the community; you may not have ever worked or actually met someone but you know everyone.
BW: And then we officially worked together on Spring Awakening with myself as a musician and Kirsten as an actress. And then around that time was when Justin (Huertas), was putting together the cast for Lizard Boy and he asked both of us to be in it.
KL: What was the play development process for Lizard Boy?
BW: Justin came in with the idea that he and Jerry (Manning, the late Seattle Rep Artistic Director) had figured out about the character Lizard Boy, but as far as the show, there was really not much written at all.
KDH: He had one scene written.
BW: (laughs) And we were like, “Cool, great…alright.”
KDH: We asked, “What are our characters; who are we?” With Lizard Boy, the whole entire process from day one, even until opening night when we were still making changes, has been the most collaborative – like, scary/wonderful collaborative.
BW: I give so many props to Jerry Manning because at the beginning, all three of us, and especially Justin, were kind of freaking, just sitting there wide-eyed like “huhh? What….okay?” And Jerry just said, “We’re going to put these papers up” and he tacked butcher paper to the wall and started jotting things down.
KDH: It was essentially like being in college again. It felt like we were in a really intimate classroom setting with our mentor professor saying, “How do you write a play? I’ll tell you how to write a play” (laughs) but at the same time, he didn’t tell us to do anything, he was sort of just like watching over us. Watching the kids play make- believe, make up a story, completely cushioning our imagination and not saying that anything was bad. He never said that anything was wrong; he would just ask questions like, “What are Trevor’s powers? What’s Siren’s power? What does Siren want? What does Cary want?”
BW: He always wanted clarity.
KDH: Clarity, the journey, the struggles, things like that. And then musically, he was just unaware, nothing really to say except “I liked it, I didn’t like it.”
BW: Justin would come in with a whole song, which still blows my mind –
KDH: Just a lyric sheet, which he wrote overnight –
BW: He would just come in with two or three songs sometimes and be like, “okay, let’s try these, guys.”
KDH: So much of the time we spent in the room together was music because when Justin writes a song, it takes us a few hours to figure out how we’re actually going to do it. So Jerry would just leave. He’d be like, “Okay, cool, I’ll come back at the end of the day and see what you have.”
BW: And he would come back and we would play the song again for him and he would say, “Justin, I want to be honest. I didn’t like that song when you first played it. I hated it. But now, I think I like it. Keep working on it.” And it’s the one song in the show that hasn’t changed throughout the process.
KDH: Justin as a playwright is so gracious and loving; he is so willing to listen. As of now, I’ve been playing Siren for over two years. Sometimes, I’ll get a text from him in the middle of the night that says, “How would Siren say this? Here are the big words, how would she use them in a sentence?” or, “Does Siren feel this or does she feel that? How does Siren feel today?” He wants us to have opinions. Justin’s writing it. but a lot of the things in the script are things that have come out of our mouths –
BW: Every single person in the rehearsal room –
KDH: Has added to the script –
BW: From our stage manager to the director, assistant director, all of us.
KDH: There are things that Bill would say jokingly and then the next day those lines would be in the fight scene. Sometimes I’ll text Justin things such as…“But what if her monologue was like this,” just spouting off a bunch of sentences that make no sense, and then the next day, my random spouting of words is actually a monologue. It’s awesome. He’s so smart. He listens to us.
KL: How would you describe the genre? What is this thing that you’re creating?
BW: I think it’s a hybrid; it’s not allowing itself to be set in anything. It’s borrowing all of the good stuff from what’s already out there, and then elbowing someone and being like “Hey, what do you think this is?”
KDH: Siren doesn’t really speak or do anything much for the first 30 minutes. I stand and I watch. And every time I learn something new about what this show is. I think that it is part sitcom, part comic book, part Cartoon Network, part Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark, part musical – but a musical like Once or Spring Awakening, part rock show, part naturalism.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously but the characters are very serious about what’s going on, so it’s not a spoof on itself. We’re not trying to make fun of any genre. We’re taking all of those genres very seriously and just doing them all together at the same time. I feel like he’s created a new genre because it is a play, it’s a serious play, it’s a scary play, it’s a comedy, it’s a musical, it’s a love story, it’s a villain and a superhero, it’s a movie, it’s theatre.
Lizard Boy is now playing in the Leo K. Theatre through May 2.