She's back and everyone is talking about it. It's been two years since Tamarie Cooper, Catastrophic Theatre co-founder and artistic director, put on one of her iconic, deliciously witty and zany fast-paced shows. Houston is primed for it.
The United States of Tamarie: An All-American Revue (Made in China) written by Cooper and Patrick Reynolds also showcases original music and lyrics by John Duboise, Joe Folladori and DeWitt Gravink. With a huge cast of Catastrophic company members and friends, the show promises to be an "unflinching look at the inherent absurdity of our modern national identity."
"At the same time, it's not about politics. Nothing is sacred and everyone is made fun of. Though I don't think Sarah Palin would find the show very funny."
On a rainy afternoon, I paid a visit to the theater maven, funny lady, writer, dancer, director, choreographer and mom in hopes of getting some insights on her upcoming show. Though I arrived late due to the predictable bad-weather traffic through downtown, Cooper welcomed me chilled and collected, sporting one of the many wigs that personify her onstage appearances.
After making our way through a maze of costumes, we settled in DiverseWorks' conference area accompanied by DW's resident three-legged dog.
And we talked...
CultureMap: There's a buzz about this show. After being on hiatus for a couple of years, people are really excited to see what Tamarie Cooper is up to with this All-American revue made in China. What's different about this show?
Tamarie Cooper: No matter what the title to my show, even though the topics are very different, there is a unifying style to all my pieces. I wrote a cabaret-style show, a speakeasy, most are very personal. But they all follow a vaudevillian formula you don't see much these days. I take the topic, filter it through my own brain, add personal insights and real-life experiences. That's the basic formula. I am using a large cast of ridiculously funny crazy actors, original music, lots of dance and 1,001 costume changes.
The thing that sets this show apart is the very broad topic. Just because of the nature of America, it allowed for more social commentary. It's edgier and sassier.
At the same time, it's not about politics. Nothing is sacred and everyone is made fun of. Though I don't think Sarah Palin would find the show very funny. There are plenty of jokes at her expense.
CM: Your shows always weave in an aspect of your personal story. Is it difficult to put yourself out there? For The Tamarie Cooper Show: Journey to the Center of My Brain in 3D you really were out there front and center, hormones and pregnancy included.
TC: Self-deprecation is very therapeutic for myself. When I display my most embarrassing moments from my high school years and look back, I laugh at them now. I guarantee you that some have had the same experiences. That's what has made my show successful over the years. Other people can relate.
CM: With 14 shows under your belt, what has changed over the years?
TC: The production value alone and the skill set of the actors and designers has certainly advanced over the years. I have wonderful memories of my past shows, but when I watch them, they were very rough.
It is very interesting to realize how much more layering there is and how much more complex they are now. We didn't have scripts before. We used to just go out there and say stuff.
I have been so lucky to have a great talent pool to work with. Some of them have been performing with me for many years. I went to high school with Richard Lyders (actor). He has been in all but two of my shows.When he and I are dancing together in the "Born Again Texan" number in this show, we have moments when we realize we've been doing this since we were both 15 years old.
Kyle Sturdivant is also a great talent. He has played my husband in past shows and is one of my closest friends, my sidekick, and he is very funny.
CM: Is there something you've always wanted to incorporate into a show that you have not had the opportunity to yet?
TC: I've had some wild ideas like doing something where we take the audience camping. But then the reality of spending a month-long of weekends with strangers in the woods made me think of serial killers. I have always wanted to do a water ballet, do a show on a cruise ship, but that requires a different type of underwriting that I really don't have available.
I don't know what I'll do next. People are already asking me about that. When it comes, it comes.
CM: Are you happy to be back? How does it feel to return to put together this show?
TC: It's great to be back. After being off for two years people were starting to ask if I had regretted being away. I haven't. My baby Rose is now 21 months and she is my greatest production of all time. Having the time to spend with her has been incredible.
She is doing very good and adjusting to a working mom. I do take her to the theater. She's very fond of wigs and costumes, very into that, and she's quite the dancer. If I sense that she wants to be involved, she'll be welcome.
I am not going to force her. She may be more like my husband, and have no desire to be on stage. Maybe she'll be a designer or builder, working on that side of theater.
The United States of Tamarie: An All-American Revue (Made in China) opens Friday night and plays through Aug. 20 at DiverseWorks ArtSpace. All shows are pay what you can with a suggested ticket price of $20.