PMA Podcast Episode 46: Andy Colpitts & Michael Wookey from The Family Copoli

PMA Podcast · Episode 46 - The Family Copoli



Chris Christensen  0:11  
Hello and welcome to episode 46 of the PMA podcast. In this episode, Gary and Chris meet with Andy Colpitts and Michael Wookey to discuss their upcoming production of the Family Copoli, a post apocalyptic burlesque and repopulation play. Today we have Michael Wookey and Andy Colpitts. With us to discuss the Family Copoli. 

Andy Colpitts  0:34  
It's Copoli, yeah, it rhymes with cannoli. Okay.

Chris Christensen  0:38  
Thank you. Thank you for the fix on that. Correction.

Andy Colpitts  0:42  
I've been having to tell my actors the same thing.

Chris Christensen  0:47  
Michael, you walked all the way up here from downtown today? 

Michael Wookey  0:50
I did. Yes. 

Chris Christensen 0:52
You're able to tell the tale now? How difficult it was to the arduous hike downtown of the Gorge Trail.

Michael Wookey  0:59  
And my first time here, and Cornell is very high. I didn't. I didn't expect it. So yeah, but I make it every day. And I get here and I have a nice time. So yeah, I'm all right. I'm very, I don't know, I just did never look my best. You know what I mean? 

Chris Christensen  1:19
Alright, easy enough. 

Michael Wookey  1:22
Everyone thinks I'm sick all the time. Like no, I just claimed to get here. But yeah. 

Chris Christensen  1:25  
So, are you here for the duration of the performance?

Michael Wookey  1:27  
Yeah, I'm here until Yeah, yeah. The last show. Okay. Yeah, right until the end.

Chris Christensen  1:32  
Oh, very good. And you are performing onstage as well?

Michael Wookey  1:35  
Yeah, I'm, I'm, I'm like the multi instrumentalist. So okay. Yeah, we have five, five of us. So we have a great piano player who's also my, well, she's also the assistant musical director, which is, I want to say my assistant, that is absolutely not true. She's the other musical director. And she's wonderful. And then we have a drummer who's amazing, and bassist who's amazing, and a clarinet player who's also amazing, and they're just really, really good. And I, I arrived, and they were already kind of ready. And like, yeah, because Daniela Did, did all the did all the all the kind of all the tough stuff. So I just have to kind of come in and be like, yeah, you can play this bit louder or softer, or whatever. And it's interesting. And then me, like, I, sometimes I don't even have to play, which is nice. But um, yeah, I can just, I can just listen, I can just kind of sit back and listen to these four musicians and the singers. And it's, it's, it's a nice, a nice moment in the show for me when, when I don't have to do anything. But yeah, it's also kind of, we've been practicing for like, a couple of weeks. And it's, it's evolving. Like, every, every day, every time we played together, it's, you know, we'll add something else, or the score is constantly evolving. So I've been doing rewrites all the time. And just what I'm doing, like, more and more toys, and more and more kind of bits and pieces to make it richer.

Chris Christensen  3:05  
Okay. I want to get to that about the toys. But I also am really curious, like, so what's the connection here, Andy? How did you pull Michael into this?

Andy Colpitts  3:12  
So Michael, and I met about 10 years ago, when I was living in Paris. And Michael also was living in Paris. And a friend of mine had seen him performing before in the UK, where Michael was from. And I knew that he lived in Paris. And so we went to one of his concerts. And then after that, Michael, and I just struck up a friendship. And that continued for seven years. And then at one point, I was toying around with this idea of a post-apocalyptic burlesque musical and brought it to Michael. He was having dinner at my house one night and said, Do you want to make this together? And I'm so lucky that he said, Yeah, absolutely. And from there, we started writing the script, writing the lyrics, and working on songs together. That was in 2019. I want to say that we started in the, or maybe even in 2018.

Michael Wookey  4:02  
 I think it was 2018. Yeah, it took a while in Paris. And it was slow. And it just happened to be a very, very busy year for both of us. Can I finish the story? Yeah, then it didn't. Then Andy left Paris. It was like, you know, I'm leaving now. So we didn't finish this yet. So how about like, coming to Andy's from New Hampshire? And like, how about coming to New Hampshire for a few weeks, and we'll finish the music and stuff. And so I did that and it was like, it was a vacation for me. And we just rather than do it, like every now and again like your work like we were doing it in Paris like in my apartment. We just went just went there. And we worked on it for like a month. A little bit less just just to kind of get the bones of it together. Yeah. And then over the last like, it's changed, though. I mean, we did a workshop version and then over the last like it was before COVID, wasn't it? Gosh, Yeah, before like, so over the last like three years, it's it's like we've added a couple of songs and changed little, little bits. It's, it's still changing. But that is how it came together. Yeah. It was our first it's our first collaboration. Yes.

Gary Gabisan  5:18  
Can you talk about a little bit about the writing process or the collaboration process that you, Andy, did you have a script and an idea for a scene and said, I'd like some music here or was like, Michael, here's, here's a song and let's create a scene. How did it? Could you talk about how it worked out?

Andy Colpitts  5:36  
Yeah, absolutely. So at the beginning, I wrote the lyrics and the book of the musical and Michael wrote the music, although we've also kind of collaborated on all of it, Michael has added lyrics in there and you know, been wonderful, and we collaborating on on creating the songs. But for the most part, I would come with a song with lyrics versus chorus, and maybe a couple of references of what I imagined it would sound like to Michael. And then he would take that and make just on the spot would sit down the piano and say, Oh, I think it would sound like this and already be thinking about arrangement and melody and harmony. And Michael is an incredible improviser, and an incredible musician, you know, all across it is true, it is true. And so he would just sit down, and we would work like that. And then you know, I would maybe give little bits of feedback, oh, could it be a little bit more like this? What about this moment? Could we have a pause here? Here, we want the drama to mount, we want it to become a little bit more, you know, dark, we want it to become more playful. And we'll just integrate the those bits throughout. And then we began with a few songs, I guess. Yeah. And then I began writing the script, and drafting what, what the plot would be of the show. And kind of just work like that way between script writing, songwriting, going back and forth. The plot went through many different iterations. It's, it's looked very, very different. But then a lot of the songs have also evolved, but certain have remained very consistent to even the earliest drafts that we wrote. 

Michael Wookey  7:21  
Yeah, it's true. And we started with, you know, we didn't start in the middle, did we? We started with the first song, which seems an obvious thing to say, but as he that we started with that one. And then the second one we did, well, the first one kind of laid the it lays the groundwork for the whole show. It's the introduction of all the characters. So that was a really good, like, you could write a musical from that, like, it's which we did. I mean, what happened, but it's gives like the introduction of all the characters and everything. And then the second song we wrote, is like a number between a brother and sister it's how could you explain that song?

Andy Colpitts  7:57  
It's a twin number. So this is kind of a trope in musical theater, you know, the the sibling number, you've got cats, you've got Mungo Geryon rumpled tees or White Christmas, you've got sisters, it's a little bit of a trope, and it's playing on that trope, except that the siblings are somewhat incestuous. And, and play playing off of that and sort of making fun of that that initial trip by adding this layer of sexuality to it.

Michael Wookey  8:25  
Which gave us yeah, so we had those two, even from those very those two songs it gave us like all the ingredients, I think for the show, like the second song, yeah, so it's like it's it's like referencing a lot of other musical theater which I, by the way, don't I don't come from a musical theater background really. So Andy is like, and is slowly educating me which is, which is really nice. But it's, I don't know, it gives it gave this that ingredient of like, okay, let's make like a bunch of like little numbers like little little pieces like duets and solos, and it's kind of I mean, you knew that you wanted to do this but it's essentially a cabaret with like, a bunch of little bits, like this pretty accurate, right. Which is really interesting, because it means that you have like, you know, you have the creepers and the weepers and you have all these different styles that, because we have like eight really great singers. So you can just go from like super kind of bashing chains into the ground to like, little twinkly glockenspiels. And, it just is all tied together. Yeah. So I think it ties together really well.

Gary Gabisan  9:35  
So, Andy, could you talk a little about where you get the inspiration for a burlesque repopulation play?

Andy Colpitts  9:45  
Absolutely. So, the burlesque bit actually came because at the time when I started writing this I was first dipping my toes into the burlesque scene in Paris. I had gone to see some burlesque shows and just absolutely loved it.I fell in love with the art form, I'm also a burlesque dancer myself and that's kind of grown in tandem with this musical. And I'm not exactly sure where the idea of a post apocalyptic burlesque show came from but but it really was that that question of, you know, what, what would a burlesque show look like in a world where, you know, we we don't have art or theater anymore because we're just thinking about survival. And that's where this question of repopulation came in. If the world is, you know, if the human race is dying out, burlesque actually presents this potential strategy for how do we repopulate? You know, so this family troupe is going around doing a sexy show with the explicit aim of getting the audience in the mood to copulate and repopulate. Right. And so that was kind of the the central, the central concept, out of which the rest developed, and it actually has gone in completely different directions, much darker directions than I first imagined. You know, when you push that idea of repopulation and at what costs to a logical conclusion.

Gary Gabisan  11:19  
Wow, that's great.

Chris Christensen  11:25  
Well, you know, along those lines, I guess it's like, further down in our list of questions, but there was something we had about the way in which the audience is anticipated, you anticipate the audience interacting with this performance. So, as you were just discussing that you've got a big smile on your face. What's your expectation?

Andy Colpitts  11:44  
So with burlesque shows, audiences are rowdy, and that's not always the case with with theater audiences, you know, theater audiences are taught to be quiet to applaud when the lights go down. And that's it, you know, to be very respectful, burlesque audiences, absolutely not, you know, they are whooping they're hollering, they're whistling at, as every bit of clothing has taken off, you know, over the music. And that really is, is my hope for the audience in this show, is to have that kind of interactive experience. Where because because the show, you know, acknowledges the existence of the audience, it's not a fourth wall kind of show, we want to have that engagement between the actors, and the audience, where, where they have a playful relationship where the audience can feel free to, you know, laugh at something right in the middle of someone's line or scream right when someone is, is doing a trick and have that be sort of held and encouraged even. 

Chris Christensen  12:49  
We’re talking about burlesque so recommended age cut off at this point or or start rather, whichever direction we're looking at it.

Andy Colpitts  12:56  
I don't know I've every family has their own have their own feelings about how early anyone should see certain things. But I would say in terms of the, you know, the actual exposure 16. It's, it does, it doesn't go beyond a kind of PG 13 rating, okay. In terms of you know, actually how much we see of the actor's body because for burlesque it's not really the point. It is and it is not the point, you know, to, to show skin, it is the point insofar as that is what the form is built around. But it's not just about that. It's about the dance, it's about the confidence. It's really about the tease element of the strip tease, you know, how is something being taken off? For for the musical theater fans out there, thinking about Gypsy Rose Lee, who is the figure in in the musical Gypsy. The idea was, leave the audience wanting more, and then don't give it to them. You know, the idea that you just take off the glove, and that's it. And that's what they have to live with. Being the most enticing part of the striptease.

Chris Christensen  14:04  
Was that always in your mind, in terms of the, as you were coming up with the ideas as it was all coming into fruition, because this has been performed at least several times, but in one particular location.

Andy Colpitts  14:16  
Yeah, one particular production, which was, which was in 2019, we did a workshop production at the Catamount Arts Center in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. And that was a very quickly put together, production. Michael played one of the roles, I played one of the roles. My father played one of the roles, my brother played one of the roles and then we had also a group of community actors who played the other roles, but it was really just to get it on its feet and see what it looked like.

Chris Christensen  14:42  
And did you pull the audience in then as well? Or was that was always part of the plan? 

Andy Colpitts 14:46
Yes, absolutely.

Michael Wookey  14:47  
Even more so, in fact,

Andy Colpitts  14:49  
Yeah, we had we actually pulled someone up on stage. Oh, physically, you know. 

Chris Christensen  14:55
Were they aware beforehand?

Andy Colpitts  14:56
No, but we but they loved it. We're not doing that this time. But, but that was something that happened last time and was tons of fun. Yeah.

Chris Christensen  15:06  
What else have you been involved with here in PMA.

Andy Colpitts  15:10  
So the biggest thing that I was involved in was last year, Kelly Richmond's production that she put together called “Haunted Natures Hidden Environments”, which was this big, immersive haunted house piece. So I've done that. And I've worked on a couple of smaller shows, I helped produce a radio drama in 2020. I did a 10 minute play. But really, Kelly's production was the biggest thing.

Chris Christensen  15:35  
I was wondering if “Haunted Natures” had any influence on this production?

Andy Colpitts  15:40  
Oh, absolutely. And yeah, in terms of thinking about the interactivity, certainly, and how how to do that. Also, you know, how how to work with actors, Kelly was was a huge inspiration for that. Her directing style is, is so thoughtful and so generative, and really respectful. And that was a huge influence on how I was thinking about this. And then also this element of environmental degradation. I think there are actually you know, little little set pieces that are being reintegrated in there definitely overlaps in the aesthetic between the two of you.

Gary Gabisan  16:15  
What was the process like about getting the getting the cast together? Because I remember putting out the the casting call, and I saw this description, and I was like, oh, oh, okay. These are? Well, I don't think in my time here, I've never seen a burlesque musical. So and a lot of these cast members are are our students. So could you talk about the casting process and how the cast received the things that they're going to do on stage?

Andy Colpitts  16:51  
Absolutely. So part of it is that we've been working the whole time with an intimacy coordinator, who is also at the stage manager, Sarah Bausch, who is terrific, as well as a student assistant, and [unknown] coordinator, Davis, who's also just fantastic. And they've really been leading us in how to, you know, put students in situations that are intimate where they're, you know, taking off clothing, where they're close to one another, and, you know, in sort of intimate, intimate positions, dealing with sexuality in a way that is respectful and ethical the whole time. So during the casting process, that really began with telling, telling the people that we're auditioning, here's what this show is about, here's what we imagined this character doing on stage, here's what's referenced specifically in the script. And here's what we would understand you to be comfortable with signing up for this. That said, there's always been an understanding of if something changes, we're not going to make you do something that you're uncomfortable with, you know, we have backup plans, and we have used those at as many different turns. But from from the get go, it has been, you will most likely be appearing on stage in your underwear or in very revealing clothes, and having really careful conversations with the students about that first with them, you know, reading a description of that and signing. And then me having a conversation when, when casting them and saying, I want to cast you in this role. Here's what that entails, how does that feel? And they said, Great. And then the final bit being saying, what this looks like, exactly, is absolutely negotiable. It's something that we'll figure out together, I have an idea of what I would like that to look like, but that can change. And so we've really been figuring out the precise level of undress for students in in that kind of careful dialogue with the students. Otherwise, I mean, the casting process was like a musical, you know, we would have them sing a number, we would do an improvisation where they would pretend to do a striptease, leaving all of their clothes on but just adding one extra costume piece like a feather boa, and they just have to take it off. And that was sort of the slow introduction to to the art of Burlesque. And, you know, dancing, acting all of that was was a little bit more standard practice for casting.

Gary Gabisan  19:21  
Beautiful, beautiful.

Chris Christensen  19:24  
I wanted to shift gears back to the musical aspect of things. So one of the things I'm really intrigued by Michael is the the toy orchestra watched a few videos online and one that really got me was when you were performing is it “so far in Naples”? Oh, yeah. With the bells. Yeah, it was just so so simple. And and yet you had the audience completely fixed on what you were doing, which is so different from I'm assuming that was Naples, Italy. Yeah, it was. Yeah. And nobody had a cell phone up and nobody was filming. They were We're all really engaged. So I guess one of the questions is like, how did you get interested in incorporating toys? Kids toys, music, I guess their toy instruments into your music?

Michael Wookey  20:12  
Yeah, that toy instruments, I think when I was, gosh, when I was like 13 I saw on my morning TV so Margaret Langton. She's this lady from from Singapore. She's been living in New York, her whole life. She was one she was the first woman to get a doctorate from Juilliard. And she was playing toy pianos. And it was like, wow, this is really, this is really amazing. And that kind of stayed in my head. And then when I started getting into music, like, I started composing and stuff around about 1516 These things started, like falling into my hands. And you know, everyone's looking for like, Christmas presents for people. And I'm really easy to buy for, because people started realizing that oh, he likes just anything that makes a noise, basically. So yeah, like Christmas time was fun for me, because I'd get like Toy pianos and xylophones. And all kinds of, you know, twinkly little things. And it's just, I don't know, it's just very gratifying to specifically the toy piano, it just sounds so it really is a toy. And it's that if you hear a baby playing, it's like, it's cute, but it's annoying, isn't it? It's like, bang, bang, bang. So it's so gratifying to actually make music from that. It's like, yeah, I don't know, it's maybe it's like the definition of avant garde or something. It's like, kind of repurpose something, you know what I mean? Like, 
I don't know if that's exactly what avant garde means. But to me it and it just, I don't know, these, these instruments just have like, they just have a sound and it's, you don't have to work so hard to make them sound like creepy, or, I guess the big word is original. So they just just, they sound special, like from from the get go. And, I mean, it's the toy piano like changed my life because I was back in the day I had a had a MySpace-

Chris Christensen  22:17
Had a what? 

Michael Wookey  22: 19 
It's still there. But yeah, and I, I tagged like toy piano and some French label invited me to Paris to do to do a concert. And I went there and ended up staying. And I still live in Paris. And it's been a long time, like, 15 years now. And it's just my, yeah, so the toy piano is that particular toy piano has like pride of place in my house now. But I think like later on, like with the, with the toy orchestra, that was like a request from a really big theater, like a big a big theater in Paris, they asked me to do a show incorporating toys. So then I had this I had the idea of kind of mixing, mixing toys with like Big Boy instruments, so like double bass and brass and some real drums. But then mixed with all these little bells and whistles and things. And that's when it started getting really thrilling for me. And yeah, and there are elements of that in this in this show. Like I had had Andy tracked down a toy piano a few years ago, insisted you had to drive that it was a while. 

Andy Colpitts  23:31  
Yeah, I drove, I had to drive three hours into the middle of Maine. And this woman brought the toy piano in the back of her car, and I met her truly on the side of the road. She like gave me a mile marker. And that's that's where I met her. It was kind of a sad story. She said, Well, it doesn't look like I'm going to have grandchildren. So I don't need this anymore. Well, but I think it's gotten a good life since then.

Michael Wookey  23:54  
Certainly, probably more than ever had before. But it's Yeah, and it's great. actually happened to be a very rare toy piano, it's like it's one of the bigger ones with an extra octave. But the extra octave is kind of useless. Like you have to play to play kind of in the middle because the low and the high end are just, they don't sound right. You know, there's original and then there's bad.

Chris Christensen  24:16  
Yeah. Was this on eBay? or Craigslist? Or…

Andy Colpitts  24:17
Craigslist? Yeah.

Michael Wookey  24:21  
But I mean, yeah, mine all my like, toy pianos are too. Really too fragile to fly with. Okay. So lucky. I live in Europe, so I can go and do like an Italian tour with them, because I can just drive there. So. Yeah. I think that was the question. Yeah. Pretty well.

Gary Gabisan  24:40  
Sure. Are you using any toy pianos in the live music for this performance?

Michael Wookey  24:48  
Yeah. So there's this big big toy piano that that Andy tracked down. That's like, that's a fairly it's a fairly large, pretty big part of the show. Yeah, it's like it's it's in there. Uh, I have all through like more more so even than in the workshop version, because I just find that it now that we have extra instruments, it just kind of sits in there really nicely. It's like so occasionally instead of using the real the real piano, we'll use the we'll use the toy, so glockenspiel, I'm using ukulele a little bit which is, you know, barely a toy because I had like, a little how to combat the ukulele, like, a few years ago. And now everyone can play it, but it's so it's no longer special. But actually, I found the ukulele in in town like down at what's it called-

Andy Colpitts  25:33  
Ithaca Guitar Works.

Michael Wookey  25:34  
Yeah, it's the Ithaca Guitar Works. And I got like an old 30s ukulele, which is really beautiful. So that's yeah, that's been incorporated in as well. Um, yeah.

Gary Gabisan  25:45  
Great. Yeah, I always thought the, to my ear that toy piano always de-tunes at certain points. And then it gives it a lot of character. And I think, but when it plays with, like, instruments who hold their, their sound, it's, it makes you go Who is that? And yeah, it's like, oh, this is bizarre, which, which I think, actually my coworker has been working on the trailer for the show and I got to hear a little bit of the music and I heard the pieces in there. It's like, oh, that sounds sounds really cool.

Michael Wookey  26:27  
I ended up yeah, you can hear it just doing some melodies. Yeah. Yeah. That's a pretty is a good example. Yeah. It's it's, it's in there with the double bass and the banjo and everything. Yeah. Yeah. I wanted to do like, if you go back to like, you know, these vaudevillian cabaret performances like that would often be like a little glockenspiel tinkling away in the background. I guess I've just basically replaced it with toy piano. So made it a little bit more detailed and yeah. But it still has the still definitely has the cabaret like classic cabaret element, I think, kind of what do you call that, the kick line.

Chris Christensen  27:11  
What about the costumes in this production?

Andy Colpitts  27:14  
Oh, Sarah Bernstein has just been going completely wild. And it's thrilling to see. She's the costume designer for the department. And from from the get go has just had such amazing, just wealth of research and ideas for it. So I mean, the there are many costumes, I want to say each character probably has three to four different costumes and everything from very traditional showgirl burlesque costumes, to animal head dresses, and, you know, show stopper kind of traditional Broadway costumes, and everything in between as well as traditional garb. But one of the things that she's really been thinking about and integrating into every aspect of the costumes is the fact that they're living in this post apocalyptic world. So the idea is that they are 73 years, 72 years after this apocalyptic event, which I won't spoil because come to the show, but after this apocalyptic event, and they're repurposing things, right, but a lot of things have broken down a lot of plastic things, you know, things wear out. So how are they making do with materials that they have. So Sarah has been thinking about that in terms of, you know, repairing things, having even just a normal pair of pants be patched together with lots of different kinds of fabric, but all in the same color, or having, you know, things being beaded or crocheted or having a feather bow is made of rags, instead of feathers, because the feathers would have broken down by then, or having little, these kind of little tassels skirts made with old neck ties. So really, it's been this whole kind of level of sub creation on the material level that's just been thrilling to see. And a lot so a lot of the things that she's drawing from are truly repurposed garments, you know, garments that have broken down and have been mended, which let lends this kind of beautiful layer of authenticity to everything to everything in the show.

Chris Christensen  29:24  
How does gender play into this?

Andy Colpitts  29:27  
So gender, gender is important. I mean, I'm on one level, this is a very queer show. And on another level, it's a very gendered show. It's because it's about repopulation. A lot of the show really does kind of revolve around gender and specifically sex and you know, biological reproduction. And what does that mean in in a post apocalyptic world when reproduction is so central? You know what because we're kind of at this moment in the world right now where reproduction is actually kind of antithetical to what we want, you know, it's where we are, in many ways overpopulating the world. And, you know, and struggling to keep up with that. And what does that mean, when that's turned on its head and which is not always not always a comfortable thing, right. At the same time, you know, we have, we have actors that are playing across gender that are non binary that are that are playing in otherwise ways with gender, and sexuality. So, so it's kind of that tension of what what do you do with with a world that on the one hand is devastated and has lost some of its ideas about gender, but also has created new ones.

Chris Christensen  30:53  
Thank you. I'm curious now thinking about it, and I apologize if you said it earlier. Are you on stage at all in this performance? 

Andy Colpitts  31:02

Chris Christensen  31:03 
You're not, okay. Michael, what's your costume look like? Do we know? Do we want to talk about that? Are we allowed to talk about? 

Michael Wookey  31:09  
Well, I'm like onstage for for I'm on stage the whole time, but not necessarily visible Like, behind the curtain, which is like you can may be able to see me a little bit, but then there are moments when I'll be visible. But yeah, my costume is not. It's not much. It's, it's I don't know yet. Exactly. But it's like, we're gonna have a black base. And then…

Andy Colpitts  31:30  
And then in different post apocalyptic element vests, jackets. Yeah, hats, probably. Yeah.

Michael Wookey  31:36  
But we're just we need to be comfortable. Like, we're just sitting there and playing so you know, but yeah, I'm not. I don't know. I haven't seen it yet.

Chris Christensen  31:45  
What's the total size of the cast?

Andy Colpitts  31:47  
Eight. Eight actors and five pit members.

Michael Wookey  31:53  
And then like, 500 crew members? A lot. Yeah, that's true. Everyone's amazing, too.

Gary Gabisan  32:00  
Let's talk about the set. Because I, I, you know, when I'm leaving the office, I was see Tim like working on something odd. And I'm like, Oh, that looks like a bird. But I'm not sure what he's, like sanding it down or doing something with it. And, and I did catch a glimpse of what's happening on stage and it looks, it looks awesome. Could you talk about the sets?

Andy Colpitts  32:26  
Absolutely. So the set is the the idea is that it's inside some sort of large barn or old theater that is that is rundown and breaking down. And the Family Copoli comes along, and they set up their their own, you know, stage curtain and set up to do the show for a few nights in any given place. And then they move along. And so most of it is just this big central platform that has a show curtain in it. And around is the kind of the idea of the barn, it's a lot of repurposed wood, and, you know, old bits of junk, there are wagon wheels, there are picture frames, there are old doors that are cobbled together to make to make these hard borders around a smaller stage within the proscenium of the KIPP. And the central conceit of of this show is that it's an onstage backstage show. So we have this post apocalyptic burlesque show that's happening, quote, unquote, on stage, and with the real audience, and then at certain moments in the show, we see what's happening within the family, backstage. And so the set actually will rotate around. And we see then, you know, the backstage, all of the trunks, all of their costumes flying everywhere. And so that's kind of the big the big moving part of this set is that it literally rotates.

Gary Gabisan  33:56  
Well, I didn't know that. Awesome. Awesome. The other thing I wanted to talk about while here’s  funny story, I'm actually we are running ads on the local NPR station for for the show. And I gave him the, the, the description you gave me. And they pretty much sterilize it down to, to just very basic words. I tried to get them to include more things, but they're, they're still reviewing, but I think their fear is, you know, the, the racy topic that's that the show is about. Could you I guess, talk about what will the audience expect?

Andy Colpitts  34:46  
The audience should expect a good time first of all, to to laugh a lot to hear beautiful singers, to see lots of gorgeous costumes, and then also to to dip into the darker elements of it, you know, to there are definitely heavier themes that come up in the show that talk about sexual violence, that talk about suicide, which become realities, which are realities now, but become even even more present in in this post apocalyptic world. And so, you know, we have to take the the glittering, frivolous, you know, beauty of the performance alongside with its polar opposite. Right, and, and put those together and, you know, see what comes from that from that chemical reaction.

Gary Gabisan  35:41  
Great, great. Wow, that's exciting. So, let's, I know, we just jumped right into the conversation, but I'd like to hear more about you guys’ background. So I know. Let's start with Andy. Andy, you are a PhD?

Andy Colpitts  36:03  

Gary Gabisan  36:04  
Okay. Could you talk about, I guess what, what your research is, what are you studying? Or maybe the classes you're teaching?

Andy Colpitts  36:11  
Yeah, absolutely. So my research focuses on rural theater in the United States, and sort of the sociological purpose of theater in rural communities. You know, what does it serve for rural communities when it's not necessarily about making money, you know, you have Broadway, which is this giant commercial industry. But if you take away that commercial element, which might not be viable in the same way, in smaller rural areas, what do we what is theater for and how is theater different in rural areas from urban areas? Anyway, that's, that's the kind of main thrust of my research. But then, in terms of other other things that I do here, I teach a class on musical theater adaptation. I will be teaching another class on rural theater in the fall. I'm preparing a class with Dr. Ellen Gaynor that is a comprehensive history of musical theater. Well, maybe not fully comprehensive, but a large lecture on musical theater history. And, yeah, I also dip into puppetry has been been a big part of my, you know, my own artistic practice, as well as my research a little bit and there is a puppet in this show. That's the bird that you that you've been seeing, Gary.

Chris Christensen  37:29  
And you were gone for a little bit of time working with a Puppet troupe? 

Andy Colpitts  37:34  
Yeah, so I was gone all of the fall semester because I was on tour with the Bread and Puppet theater, which is based in Vermont about 45 minutes from where I grew up. We did a national tour of the Apocalypse Defiance Circus, was what it was called. Had a had a moment of not being able to remember so you know, pocket Apocalypse was very much on the brain there, too.

Chris Christensen  38:01  
Michael, jumping over to you, you have a fairly extensive library of music recorded at this point six albums, 6-ish? 

Michael Wookey  38:12  
Yes, six including one of those as a soundtrack. Yeah, yeah.

Chris Christensen  38:17  
Okay. And you started started recording your first album how far back?

Michael Wookey  38:21  
Oh, gosh, 20 years ago? Yeah, 20 years ago, and I, Oh, gosh. Yeah, that's like the album's or something that come every few years. Its like, a diary, you know, my life and in between, there's a lot of my life is like, my professional life is touring. I tour a lot for myself and also a musician in various other other projects, like multi instrumentalist, mostly a banjo player. My guitar was stolen. And I replaced it with the banjo temporarily and then it became, everyone liked it more. So it was like, okay, I can do this. And I yeah, I just do a lot of I mean, mostly in Paris. I do a lot of film music, TV documentaries like composition and I produce people that's like certainly the last six months have been more heavily, yeah, I guess like more kind of heavily. I've been I don't know how to say that.

Chris Christensen  39:27  
So this is a full time for you.

Michael Wookey  39:29  
Yeah, this is full time for me. Okay, but just the last six months I've been doing a lot more recording of other people is what I wanted to say simply Yeah, but like musical theater is is is new, like the stage is very is like you know most of my life, but I'm actually working with like singers and everything. I did it a long time ago did a version of Alice in Wonderland in, in Paris, and I really missed like the sense of family like just I like that every day I see the same people and it's a It's really nice like the opposite of touring actually, because touring you, it's cool that you meet different people every night. So you just have these ephemeral friends, you know? Yeah. But yeah, here I've actually it's nice. It's interesting getting to know people and actually hearing getting more input and it's just a big, big family from from the cast, like right up until even even to the crew. Like everyone has their ideas, and everyone has an input and it's super interesting. Yeah.

Chris Christensen  40:33  
Are you doing any performances here in Ithaca?

Michael Wookey  40:36  
No, no, I'm just working on this. Okay. Yeah, that's my…

Chris Christensen  40:41  
Quite a bit of music going on here in town, but plenty check out.

Michael Wookey  40:45  
Yeah, I've, I've, every time we go for a drink or something. It's like we're at we're at the end of like, we see bands packing away. So yeah, I need to like I need your timings off. Yeah. Working late. Yeah, I need to check out some stuff. Saturday, we're going to see a musical.

Andy Colpitts  41:03  
There's another musical on campus that's happening the week before, which is the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. That was that it's going to be in Risley, it's a student production. That's done by the Meladramatics Theatre Company. They do they do musicals every semester. Okay.

Michael Wookey  41:19  
And Daniela is also involved in that she is just, she's a machine. She's just, she does our practice. And then often she goes to the other practice after until, like, 2am. I'm already asleep by then. But

Chris Christensen  41:31  
sleep by nine, right?

Michael Wookey  41:34  
Yeah, she's she's still got energy. She'll hit 30. And then it’ll, you know. 

Chris Christensen  41:40  
Something happens then.

Gary Gabisan  41:43  
So your thoughts on the future of Family Copoli?

Andy Colpitts  41:50  
Oh, goodness, I hope this isn't the end. I don't think it is. I don't the way Michael and I have been talking about it. I don't think we have any intention of this being the end for this production. You know, we'll probably after this, go back, do more rewrites and see if there's, if there's another theater that would want to pick it up, see another place that we would be able to stage the next iteration.

Michael Wookey  42:14  
It's fun, right? It's fun. It's a fun show. No, no, yeah, I'm having like, the last time I had a real hoot  doing it. So and it's been the same this time, and I think it's gonna be, it's gonna be really good. And every time I don't know, like, we've learned already so much this time around. And we're already thinking about little changes. And yet since last time, we wrote like two new songs, which is not a lot in like three and a half years, but it didn't need you know, we're not gonna write 10 new songs, it would be double the time. But yeah, it was a newer a bunch of a bunch of new scenes. Yeah. So yeah, I mean, I would really, really like to continue to do it again. Yeah.

Chris Christensen  42:57  
I don't think you asked this question, Gary. But maybe you did. Is there something you want the audience to take away when they step out the door? What are the takeaways from this production?

Andy Colpitts  43:10  
Oh, gosh.

Chris Christensen  43:14  
Is it secret?

Andy Colpitts  43:16  
Well, it's not it's not secret. I think the big the big question for this show, kind of like my research about rural theater is, what good is entertainment? Why do we care? You know about entertainment? It's not. It's not literally keeping us alive. Accepting this musical? Maybe it is, right? And so it's really a question about what is the value of entertainment in our personal lives, in our community lives, in our global lives and existence? Think that's it. 

Michael Wookey  43:57  
Something I talk about a lot. Like people say why, you know, why France, and it's not the most obvious place for being a musician. But there is so much value given to art in France, not just Paris in I mean, I taught in like, tiny little towns and people, and people come to the shows, and it's like, I just, I just feel like France has understood the value of entertainment arts, whatever you want to call it. And it's, it's, it just gives, I think, I think it's absolutely essential for, for happiness. And it's like that it kind of forms the center of a community, especially in these little towns when they have like one little town hall, which is, you know, used for like, basketball games and plays and everything in between. And it's, yeah, that's where people meet, and it's just really nice. That's and I guess, that's kind of, I don’t know, the link to what you said.

Andy Colpitts  44:53  
Yeah, absolutely. And I think also part of it is and this is one of my obsessions is This distinction between art and entertainment that we kind of arbitrarily make and say, you know, this is art, and it's worthwhile, and that that's entertainment. And it's frivolous. and this show really tries to push against that, you know, and say, entertainment, frivolous, that though it may seem, also does something to us at a really core level. And, and I think that that's, that's part of this question, why entertainment, as opposed to just why art.

Gary Gabisan  45:35  
I would say, even during the pandemic, it made me realize the, the, the, the true need for art and entertainment. And because of, it's like, a, it's a basic human need that I discovered that if, when I wasn't so distracted, of like, paying the bills, or are working as like, I need I need something else to keep me going. And yeah, and I realized that during the pandemic, I was watching a lot of films, listening to a lot of music, more than just the sitting there just to get me up in the morning with like, really analyzing and going deep in the emotions of it all. And then also creating music too. And it just, and I guess the overall depression of the pandemic made me want to do this because I realized, like, I am not distracted anymore by trying to make a book.

Chris Christensen  46:38  
Did you write a lot?

Gary Gabisan  46:40  
I did. I do. Yeah.

Chris Christensen  46:42  
I think I got 10 songs, but only one that I really cared about. One song out of the pandemic.

Michael Wookey  46:49  
Are you both write music? 

Chris Christensen  46:51

Gary Gabisan  46:52 
Yes, yes. 

Chris Christensen  46:53  
I'm not as prolific as you are. I have that other job that I'm doing seems to get in the way of things. But I got to stick around. I've been here 20, it's my 23rd year at Cornell. So I figured I might as well stick it out to retirement.

Michael Wookey  47:12  
Okay. A lot of people I met a lot of people who who came here like to study and then they stayed and yeah, it's, I guess it's got something, Ithaca. I and I also see it like, it's not like I'm not like, wondering why people are here. It's a beautiful town. It seems, yeah. There seems to be a lot going on.

Chris Christensen  47:31  
So is there any chance that you're sticking around like summertime rolls around? Not Andy’s pointing with a big grin on his face. Michael, welcome to Ithaca. It's really nice to have you here. 

Michael Wookey  47:45  
Thank you. Yeah, I would stay, but Paris is also nice, you know.

Gary Gabisan  47:51  
Paris or Ithaca.

Michael Wookey  47:56  
I don't know, it's exotic to me, like Ithaca. It's…

Chris Christensen  48:01  
Is it the hills?

Michael Wookey  48:03  
It’s also just simple things, like there's a diner here. We didn't have that in Paris. And that's a I love that. You know, I love, I love American culture. And yeah, you have it here. But then you also have this. You have like the lovely nature and I don't know, it seems seems like a great place to settle down. Yeah, maybe I'll try and yeah, maybe I'll make a family here. We'll see.

Chris Christensen  48:30  
Is there anything we didn't ask you today that you're just dying to talk about?

Andy Colpitts  48:35  
No. Don't think so. This has been a very fun conversation.

Chris Christensen  48:41  
Yeah. Thank you both so much.

Andy Colpitts  48:43  
Thank you.

Gary Gabisan  48:45  
Thank you very much. All right.


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Two pianos set up next to each other on a stage