Travis Brisini is a frequent contributor to the Slidell Little Theatre community, particularly the Theatre
for Young Audiences series. A graduate of LSU with a Ph.D. in Performance Studies, Travis has written, directed or performed a wide variety of pieces ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde. When not at the theatre, he can be found reading, writing and gardening.
We recently asked Travis to take a few moments of his time from directing Duck Hunter Shoots Angel to tell us more about himself. We believe you’ll agree with us — he’s a tremendous asset to our community.
Q: What was your earliest involvement in theatre?
BRISINI: I came to the theatre through a roundabout route: literature. In college—as an English Literature major—I began taking courses in Oral Interpretation (the performed interpretation of written text) and it changed my life. Rather than literature being an individual pursuit—and a consumptive one at that—oral interp showed me that it was possible to share my favorite authors and pieces with others through performance. From Oral Interp, my interests moved toward performance art, spoken word poetry, writing my own pieces and a host of other genres of performance. It was almost ten years until I was in a “play,” as they’re commonly understood. My first performance piece was a staged reading of a portion of “Travels with Charley,” by John Steinbeck.
Q: What attracted you to theatre to begin with?
BRISINI: Performance seemed like a meaningful way to get more out of my love of reading and art. There’s a certain sort of camaraderie amongst performers that was appealing to me as well: the theatre attracted people who cared about the arts, were comfortable acting out, and had good taste.
Q: What is it about theatre that holds your interest today?
BRISINI: My interest in theatre/performance today has a couple of dimensions. On the one hand, I find it very compelling as a paradigm for thinking about the world: what does it mean to seriously consider the notion of performance as the state of the world at large? In this sense, it’s a lot like the kind of process philosophy I enjoy. The other compelling feature to me is the capacity of performance to examine non-linear, conceptual, metaphoric or otherwise difficult ideas. Doing a performance about or inspired by ideas, and seeing what kind of conclusions are reached by the audience, is a certain kind of research.
Q: Tell us five plays you’ll never forget, and why:
|Travis Brisini, bottom right, with cast of TYA |
production of "A Year with Frog & Toad
1. Cataclysm!—an adaptation of S.I. Witkiewicz’s The Water Hen: This play stands out in my mind as an archetypal example of an imaginative, faithful adaptation. It retained the tone and general sensibility of the original, while tackling a host of issues not originally discussed in the 1930s staging (at least not overtly).
2. Cats—I’m not afraid to admit that I have a real fondness for Andrew Lloyd Weber’s oft-maligned musical. Partly this is because of the source material—T.S. Eliot’s book is a pretty unlikely source-text, and I’m a little jealous someone else got to it first—but most it’s because of the unusual wordplay and general weirdness of the whole endeavor. Its lack of an overarching narrative appeals to me as well, in an impressionistic sort of way.
3. The Lion King—watching this show on Broadway turned me off to musicals for years. Painfully true to the movie, and entirely dependent upon spectacle to trick the audience into forgetting that there was nothing new to see, I left feeling like as long as it was fancy enough, you could trick people into paying for anything. It took me a long time to get over my problems with the musical as an art form.
4. The Ticket That Exploded—an adaptation of the William S. Burroughs novel of the same name: this work was really instructive in helping me understand how to go about putting together a challenging, disjointed, and daunting performance piece. It made me less afraid of a fragmented narrative.
5. Lay of the Land, by Tim Miller—this piece is an illustration of the powerful effect that a well-written, well-rehearsed, humane story can have on a controversial issue. Miller’s deconstruction of California’s Prop-8 was heartbreaking and inspirational.
Q: What play do you think people should see, that they probably haven’t?
BRISINI: Rather than a particular play, I feel like folks should look into the artists associated with the Fluxus movement: an odd little art movement of 1960s and 1970s typified short, disorienting little performance pieces that blur the boundaries between art and everyday life. The most well-known participants include Yoko Ono (yes, that Yoko Ono), Allan Kaprow, Lamonte Young and Joseph Beuys. I particularly like “I Like America (and America Likes Me),” wherein Beuys wrapped himself in a felt sheet and lived in an apartment with a coyote for a couple of days.
Q: What was the oddest play you ever saw, directed, or starred in?
BRISINI: My entire oeuvre is one big odd event. I’ve played a deranged fascist child, an unscrupulous postmodern medicine-show huckster, and Godzilla. I’ve co-directed 50-minute long fragmented dance numbers about wolves and suicide and written lines for glitter-covered washboards. Once I tied a long string to a bag full of cooked shrimp and hid in an upstairs window so I could pull it across a busy thoroughfare. Another time I released a bunch of ladybugs.
Q: What was the best advice you ever received about acting?
BRISINI: I had a full-blown meltdown thinking about auditioning for my first singing role, mostly because I was afraid and too proud. My wife—paraphrasing my brother-in-law—reminded me that “you’ve got to humble yourself to learn new things.” This, oddly enough, is by far the most relevant, meaningful advice I’ve ever received about the stage. Pride prompts nothing but the desire to preserve itself; abandon your pride, and you’re able to embrace the new possibilities open to a beginner.