2 UNFORTUNATE 2 TRAVEL: A Preview with Zach Weinberg (Prop Thtr)

By Cesar Gonzales | cesar@viastage.com

2u2tCHICAGO (March 17, 2019) — 2 UNFORTUNATE 2 TRAVEL (Prop Thtr through April 15th) aims to treat you to a variety show-like experience as you “travel” with the cast and emcee through Europe, and encounter funny misfortunes and curious ways out of them.

To devise this experience, director Zach Weinberg collaborated with many individuals, including the cast, to invent the characters and write each of the scenes, loosely based on the book The Unfortunate Traveller written by Thomas Nashe in 1594. As a result of this extreme form of collaborative brainstorming, the actors in this show are naturally much more invested in their characters and scenes – a performance quality that should be palpable on stage.

But through the laughter, you may find yourself pondering the very privilege of travelling and how privilege plays into our everyday lives.

The following is an excerpt of my interview with director Zach Weinberg.

VS: The synopsis strongly suggests this project aims to be a fun and engaging comedy, but what are some themes the audience can walk away thinking about?

ZW: A part of what this show does is… leads with laughter. So we are really trying to bring people in… with this promise of taking a vacation, of getting away from the “everyday”, of something that is funny and diverting… and while it stays entertaining and funny, becomes a show about the blindness of privilege and the blindness of white male privilege in particular, and asks a lot of questions about, well, who’s allowed to have these luxuries, who’s allowed to have vacations, who’s allowed to stop thinking about the news…

… the thing about privilege is that whether we have it or not… and whether we like it or not, it is something that infuses what we have to deal with every day… the power that people have intrinsically, based on their identity and social status, and the way in which they wield that power, and the way in which they expect that they should move around the world and the world should move around them, really is at the cause of not just so much of what is wrong with what is happening today but just everything… it really flows through the news and we have to not necessarily just, I think, call people out on their privilege and ask them to understand how they’re using it, … but we have to understand the way in which the system that creates privilege affects our worth.

In this show, … we also do want to provide something that is legitimately entertaining… we want to provide a worthwhile experience and an engaging experience… that causes you to think rather than telling you what to think about.

VS: You adapted this play from a 16th century book, The Unfortunate Traveller by Thomas Nashe. What attracted you to this book?

ZW: There was something about it. There’s this sort of gleeful nihilism about it. There’s a sense of being in love with it’s own cleverness, and there’s a sense of, sort of, equal opportunity attacking everybody and pointing out the faults of everyone, that it felt really contemporary to me when I read it…

In the book, this guy Jack Wilton, travels around Europe, sort of “Forest Gumps” his way around Europe and just kind of screws things up, gets in a lot of trouble and he makes a lot of mistakes, and there are a number of times where he is thrown in jail or is sold into slavery or is almost killed, but in every moment is saved buy someone other than himself…

VS: What makes “devised” projects unique?

ZW: Devising is… it means a lot of things to a lot of different people. It’s sort of become a catchall term for something that is collaboratively generated…. The first thing we did was we had the actors develop their characters… on aspects of their personality but not necessarily the same as their personality, and then from there we tried things out in the room…

A lot of the stories that we told, or that were told in the show, were developed either by sort of coming up with big strokes of the story and brainstorming them as a group or having people break up into small groups and write little proposals for it, or in some cases even doing some structured improvisation…

So even though there are moments that are written by me, there are moments that are wholly written by other members in the cast, we really… just developed everything in the room together.

VS: Can you describe what makes your cast so perfect for this project?

ZW: I would say they are absolutely wonderful… It is also pretty incredible because this show has been through so many iterations… To look at it, and see that it really reflects the people who are in it. And you can see contributions of everybody throughout… and to do what we have done is tough, and there were moments in the process that were really frustrating, but it was a group of artists who was able to overcome and work from being motivated by those frustrations… There was also a group of people who both, at the end of the day, trusted me and my vision and my ideas, and more importantly, were not afraid to challenge me and were not afraid to keep me true to the vision of [the play] and to make sure that their voices were heard and incorporated,… and then, you know, in the last two weeks to switch from being people who had their eye on the whole [project], to just being actors. As you can imagine, that switch can be incredibly difficult to make…

There were things that we did that we found hilarious, or were just a blast to do… It required a very particular type of person to want to work like this…

And I think you can feel it… I think even if you didn’t come in knowing anything about the process, you can feel the “buy in” that the performers have in each moment that they’re doing because it’s their work. They helped come up with it, and they understood why it was there, and they helped decide them to be in the piece.

VS: Any advice you can give people who aspire to direct or act?

ZW: I would say… just do it. If you’re in Chicago in particular, and you have an idea for something, this is an environment where it’s really easy to self-produce… the cost of renting space for a performance and finding people to do that with you is relatively low…

Something to remember is to… both take feedback and to take feedback into perspective. I think it’s really important to see how people are responding to you and what you’re doing, to solicit feedback and help from people who’s work you think is good,… and also when you have that feedback, try to take a step back and understand what it actually means or how it reflects on you…

I would also say that an important thing to do, that people I think are a lot of times afraid to do, is just email people and ask them to get coffee… The worst that they’ll do is that they’ll say “No” or ignore your email… you have nothing to lose. And I’ve both met people… and been able to connect with people whose work I really admire and have gotten opportunities because I reached out and I had a conversation… It feels weird to make a personal ask of time to someone who you don’t know, but you really don’t have anything to lose…

The other thing that I would say is: we can always be better artists… and if you are in a room and you look around and you think “I am the best artist in this room”, then first of all,.. you know, probably check yourself a little bit, but also… challenge yourself, then, to jump into the deep end and try to find things that are difficult, because you always learn from the people around you.

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