Of Chateau Chalets and Butterfly Bombs

Last year Minneapolis got a taste of the dynamic duo hailing from Bellingham, WA, known as The Cody Rivers Show.  They were a hit then, and even though I missed it (I contended that Kate Hoff saw it enough for both of us *coughcoughthreetimescough*), I knew they weren’t to be missed again. Lo and behold Andrew Connor and Mike Mathieu have returned. Not only with an entirely new Cody Rivers Show, but also with Boom, a solo effort of Andrew Connor, the shorter, but not lesser (neither is lesser – they’re equal), of the two Codys. I saw both Cody Rivers and Boom and got the artistic equivalent of a slap in the face – one of those where your subconscious puts its hands on both your shoulders and gives you a good shake, screaming, “What the hell are you doing with yourself?! You call what you’re doing ART? Look at those guys! THAT is art! Now go make something worthwhile!”

Of course that kind of reaction made me seek them out for an interview – I had to know how they do it. We began talking about The Cody Rivers Show Presents: Stick to Glue:

First and foremost – you're what we local Fringers refer to as the Out-of-Towners (don't worry – we don't tar and feather people here – if we don't like you, we just smile with vacant gazes and tell you your show was "interesting." And besides – you're safe because your show was astounding. ANYWAY…) We're thrilled that you're joining us from Bellingham, WA. Wikipedia, in all its dubious glory, purports that Bellingham is the "City of Subdued Excitement." True or False? Explain.

Andrew Connor: True. Bellingham is a funky somewhat-bohemian small town in the Pacific Northwest on the water, near the mountains, surrounded with beauty, ergo it is infused with a definite mellowness. It is a very vibrant place, however, and Bellinghamsters are a passionate and energetic lot, so there is a surplus of excitement as well. Mix that in with a dose of Northwest modest politesse, and you end up with: Subdued Excitement.

And just to give you some sense of the local quirk factor: The guy who claims to have coined the phrase "The City of Subdued Excitement" on a public mural in town, occasionally walks around town dressed in a full body Mr. Peanut costume and also regularly threatens to sue people who use the phrase in violation of his copyright.

Mike Mathieu: The Mr. Peanut guy also runs a junk/novelty store and with a sign in the window that says "Open Certain Hours," which as far as I can tell means never.

What made you choose to apply to the Minneapolis last year? Why did you choose to return?

AC: We chose to apply last year because Minneapolis was on our short-list of places that we wanted to integrate into our tour schedule, and festivals like the Fringe are usually the best way to begin to build audiences in a new place.

The return was a no-brainer. We had a wonderful time last year.

What do you do here when you're not on stage?

AC: Eat at Ecopolitan. Mike has been lake-swimming a few times.

MM: I like Cedar Lake, I like the #2 bus, I like the light rail, I like the Wedge and the Seward Co-op (and I miss the North Country Co-op like hell - it was located so perfectly! why why why?), I like Midwest Mountaineering's free climbing cave, and today I took a wicked nap. Went bowling later.

Your work is a hilarious, dance-infused, spastic-yet-high-precision love-letter to the oddities of this world, and a keyhole view into universes previously beyond our notice. Your mode of presentation is, as far as I know, without peer. That being said, how do you get yourselves from a blank page/stage to these dense, multi-layered final products?

AC: A long and sometimes grueling process of writing and re-writing and wall-staring and navel-gazing and rehearsal and confusion. All of the pieces travel very different routes from origin to presentation, but no matter what the path we are constantly scrutinizing them for ways they can be tightened, improved, densified, etc.

MM: Also, you might say we often create from the outside in, dreaming up a concept or gimmick of performance/staging first and then developing a story and content to match.

I'm guessing you come from the "yes, and…" school of improv. Is there anything that you will always say, "no" to? Artistically speaking, of course.

AC: We do try to be open-minded and to affirm ideas (of our own and of each other), and take chances with stuff that may not seem to have much potential at first, so in that respect we try to cast a very wide net and be very inclusive. We want to give all ideas a fair shake, and nothing is off-limits, strictly speaking.

That said there are lots of common comedy choices that we steer clear of because of their glut and overuse in the comedy landscape. Certain kinds of choices (usually regarding sex, violence, bodily functions, conflict, etc.) have to clear a much higher bar of value and worthiness if we are going to include them.

MM: I will always say no to content that degrades someone. I will do stuff that criticizes or challenges or even parodies someone, but I hope I would never do it out of mere mean-spiritedness and malice.

Do you have a director to help shape and refine your work or final stage-picture? Do you rehearse in a dance studio – or someplace lined with mirrors – so that you can see what your final product looks like, or rely on trust? Who makes the final, executive decisions on any given piece?

AC: We don't work with a director. We just keep an eye on each other.

Every once in a while we end up in front of a mirror (like, if we rehearse in the Jazzercise room at the Bellingham YMCA), but that is a rarity.

There is some deference in decision-making to the person who originated the piece in question (if that is clear), so as to allow for the fulfillment of certain visions, but both of us have full license to tinker with anything. There is no territoriality.

Based on your relatively extensive tour history, do you find your work resonates differently with different audiences around the U.S. and Canada?

AC: Every single place is different, and every audience is different, so it can be a little difficult to typify audiences by region. You can make some generalizations, though, such as: Minneapolis has the best audiences anywhere.

Some pieces or moments play consistently well in one place and bomb elsewhere, and it is a complete mystery as to why.

MM: My God, Andrew, what would Bellingham say? You're either pandering to the local folks or turning your back on our home and roots! Do mine eyes deceive me?

Is there anything else you'd like to share (besides show pimpage)?

AC: Have I mentioned that Minneapolis has the best audiences anywhere?

MM: Andrew!

And then we moved on to Boom:

Boom centers around a relatively normal guy who happens to be a genius at making unconventional bombs. Yet in addition to this normal guy, you also play at least nine additional characters – all in various moments of interaction with one another. What inspired this particular story, and which of the characters do you most personally relate to?

AC: The story came about as a synthesis of a whole mess of ideas that I was thinking about while I wrote it. I didn't go into it with a clear plan or agenda. It was the product of trying to find the story that tied together all the little fragments that I had assembled.

I relate most to the protagonist, Louis. He is the character most like me, and I think I navigate the situation vicariously through him.

Is this show entirely self-conceived and directed, or do you collaborate with a host of production-side talent to help refine your work?

AC: I wrote it and directed it. I had a little bit of valuable feedback on the first draft of the script, but I haven't worked with anyone else on it...perhaps foolishly...but it needed to happen.

If you could ask theater-goers to do/believe/expect/be one thing above all else when sitting in your audience, and it would be miraculously come to fruition, what would you ask?

AC: To accept the small mutations of reality that are central to the story, and to allow their imaginations to embrace a world that functions by slightly different rules than the one they know.

Was the creative process for getting this show on its feet similar to your approach with The Cody Rivers Show? How much time from opening ideas to opening night?

AC: The process was fundamentally different because I had only myself to depend on, which was a stark contrast to having Mike (my partner in The Cody Rivers Show) to work with. That was very difficult at times, because my normal way of dealing with dead-ends in my writing process is to let Mike fix them. That was not an option this time, so there was a lot of excruciating time spent plowing through confusion.

I brainstormed for a few weeks, and then spent a month writing the script and rehearsing it for its first performance, so probably a grand total of six or seven weeks from start to finish.

Is Boom set in stone, or are your pieces often/always works-in-progress?

AC: Works-in-progress. The severity of edits and changes has definitely tapered off over Boom's lifespan to this point, but nothing is safe.

Boom backstage: thrilling? Lonely?

AC: Both? Most of the time before the show is spent thinking: Jesus, do I really remember all of this?!

Do you wish for people to leave your audiences action-oriented, or do you wish simply for people to leave your audiences entertained?

AC: Tough question. I don't have an explicit agenda. I am a believer that the most important thing to do is to tell the story with the highest integrity possible, to help it be whatever it needs to be (whatever that may be), and that a story told fully and correctly will provide a viewer with exactly what they need.

So, if I succeeded than people may be inspired to some action, or they may just be entertained, depending on what they needed to take away.

Any words of advice for anyone wishing to create a solo show of their own?

AC: Do it, and know that it can be extremely hard, but it is eminently doable. Look around at all of the other solo shows and do something completely different. The solo show form is vastly underexplored, and novelty and innovation in that realm is a rare treat. Think about whether or not we need another solo show that looks like ______ and is about ______.

Anything else you'd like to share (besides show pimpage)?

AC: I heart Minneapolis.