Hello, outcasts and underdogs!
BOB is going strong, with audiences calling his journey “an absolute delight” and the “best show I have seen in a long time”, not to mention it’s now Barrymore Recommended! And he’s not nearly finished! To celebrate, I asked some questions of director Michael Osinski, the head of the team that’s bringing Bob’s life…to life! Here’s what Michael had to say.
Geographically, where did you begin? Where are you now? What were the most significant stops you made along the way?
I spent my first 18 years in Syracuse, New York. It's technically a city, but it feels more like an oversized suburb. I had a very Catholic upbringing, and I went to Catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade. Now I'm living in South Philly for the second time in my life. I've spent most of my adult life bouncing between Philadelphia and Chicago. I co-founded a theatre company in Philadelphia, I got my master's degree in Chicago, and I still go back to teach in Chicago for the summer. There are things I like and dislike about both cities, and there are days where I wish I could combine the best things about both into one. I also studied in London for a semester in college — that was the first time I felt like an independent person.
You’ve directed a production of BOB before, you’ve directed MOTH twice (once at Azuka). How does revisiting a show change your direction? Do you go fresh, or keep what worked?
Revisiting a show is weird. When I direct a show for the first time, I do a fair amount of prep work, so that I feel like I understand the show inside and out. Then I walk into the rehearsal room, and I throw away 75% of the work I did, because I'm responding to the ideas of the artists in the room. So when I direct a show for the second time, I'm walking in with even more knowledge, and I still have to let a lot of it go. A different team of actors and designers is going to come in with different ideas. They have to be different productions. I can keep an idea for a sound cue or a key moment, but if I try to make the second production identical to the original one, it's going to be a losing battle. To me, collaborating as a director means knowing when to listen to others' ideas and when to demand that my own idea take precedence. I don't think I always succeed at this, but I try my hardest.
You addressed in your BOB preview blog in the fall that “great” is a very loaded word right now, and that you didn’t want to make today’s political climate a major component of the show. The show is 7 years old at this point, though, and so much has changed -- did you work at all to update it in light of that?
We didn't do anything overt to update the script. I think we handled certain moments differently because of the current climate. Hopefully these moments read as culturally sensitive or satirical (depending on the moment). I think 2012 audiences probably received the play differently than 2019 audiences are receiving it. Our collective sense of humor has changed. And even though I didn't want politics to be a major component of the show, I think it's impossible to completely avoid politics in a work of theatre. I hope some people DO view the show through a political lens. I love when multiple interpretations of a work of art can co-exist simultaneously.
We love to celebrate Azuka’s outcats and underdogs. Do you have any pets (bonus for pictures)?
I have 2 cats - Rudy and Rambo. They're sisters.
You describe BOB as “2 parts Forrest Gump, 2 parts Candide, and 1 part Citizen Kane.” Are you often influenced by other work when directing and contextualizing a piece? What is that process like?
I'm ridiculously influenced by pop culture. Especially television. I grew up on Sesame Street and MTV. I often use pop culture references in the rehearsal room or in the design choices I make. Whenever I devise a new work, I blatantly steal something from television shows, commercials, or recording artists. I've devised a take on Hamlet that draws on daytime TV talk shows, antidepressant commercials, and My Chemical Romance. I created a version of A Doll's House that was heavily influenced by 1950's commercials and sitcoms (and Lady Gaga). For me, this accomplishes a few things. It gives me a shorthand to communicate with people. It acknowledges that nothing is original anymore and that everything we make is a conglomeration of existing ideas. And it pays homage to the things that influenced me and stuck with me throughout my life.
What does it mean to you, if anything, to be “great”?
I don't really like using the word "great" anymore. Not just because of the political implications, but because I think the word has lost all meaning. Like the word "interesting." Whenever one of my students uses the word "interesting," I ask them what they actually mean when they say it. I think we should replace the word "great" with words like "selfless," "generous," "honest," "benevolent," and "humane." I guess that's what I think it means to be "great."
Thanks so much for taking the time, Michael!
How have shifting politics changed your viewing of theatre? What pop culture influences do you see in BOB? And have you reserved your Pay What You Decide Ticket yet? The journey continues through March 17th.