Twist Your Dickens returns to the Owen Theatre for a second year this holiday season. The following is a conversation between director Matt Hovde and authors Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort.
Matt Hovde: So you guys wrote a show that makes fun of everything we hold dear about the holidays. What is wrong with you?
Bobby Mort: Making fun of Christmas was quite easy because the only holiday I’m really into is Casimir Pulaski Day. The tree, the gifts, recreating the Battle of Savannah! It’s wonderful!
Peter Gwinn: I blame Second City. The first draft of this show was an encyclopedic, straightforward four-act biography of Charles Dickens. But they kept sending it back, saying, “Not twisted enough.” Then they’d add, “And we’d really like it if you could take down the holiest of holidays.” I’m not saying Second City is in league with the devil, but that would explain the recent fire.
MH: You seem to be a great team; is there a method to your writing process?
PG: The first thing we do is get as geographically far away from each other as possible. When we started writing this show, I lived in New York and Bobby lived in Los Angeles. Then Bobby moved to New York, so I had to move to Chicago. Step two: we divide the work between us. Step three: we come together to combine the scripts we each wrote in a process that is 100 times more histrionic than a House/Senate reconciliation committee. I also could have answered, “Skype.”
BM: Agreed. Being far, far apart has been very helpful. We’re thinking that if one of us could get to Beijing and the other to the US government’s Moon Base Alpha (don’t fool yourself, they have one up there) we could really come up with a crackerjack of a script.
MH: Some writers use details from their own lives as inspiration. Do you have any holiday (or Dickensian) memories that sparked something in the show?
PG: I was crippled when I was about six or seven years old, and then I died because my dad’s boss was so miserly. There’s a hint of that in the show.
BM: Not so much. I’m mean, I’m hounded by ghosts every night before bed, but I don’t really see a connection.
MH: In this show there are 647 costume changes. Can you expand on Peter Brook’s philosophy of theater as The Empty Space?
BM: I’m not familiar with Brook’s The Empty Space, but we were heavily influenced by country duo Brooks & Dunn’s song “647 Costume Changes.”
PG: Brook’s hypothesis is that we must move away from dull and unengaging “Deadly Theater,” which I define as any play with fewer than 200 costumes. Brook suggests we move the art forward by synthesizing elements of the “Holy Theater” and “Rough Theater” to create “The Immediate Theater.” And in my philosophy, there is no more immediate experience for actors than making them repeatedly change their clothes very, very fast.
MH: You both spent time early in your careers in Chicago doing sketch and improvisation comedy. How has that influenced your approach to your work now?
BM: Learning about sketch and improv in Chicago has been extremely helpful for me when it comes to writing. Improv teaches you how to be in the moment, say ‘yes’ and not be precious with ideas, while sketch writing is a craft that requires precision and brevity. Coming at scripts from those two angles, you can (hopefully) get the best of both comedy worlds. And when in doubt, I just cram in a bunch of fart jokes.
PM: Improvisation is, basically, writing on the fly in front of an audience. From that I learned to be more spontaneous and reactive. I also learned that once you put something out there, it’s written. That’s why we have never rewritten a single word of this script. Everything’s just how we first blurted it out.
MH: In conclusion, this show is masterfully directed. Thank you for your time, gentlemen, and for writing a twisted, fun show.
BM: We hope everyone has a great holiday season, and keep your eyes peeled for Twist Your Dickens 2: The Vengeance of Scrooge coming in 2018!