EDINBURGH FRINGE 2023 / INTERVIEW
"I love working with writers, and John and Mike have been amazingly generous in letting me into this world that they’ve been building for over a year now."
21 - 27 August 2023: 16:55 (1hr15)
July 8, 2023
Set at a parole board hearing, Ted Kaczynski (aka The Unabomber) recounts his life through song in the hope of proving that he never wanted to be a monster, he only wanted to be a star. While he may have spent years sending explosives, this is one performance Ted can't bomb. Written and performed by John Lampe and Michael Wysong, this new musical comedy dares to ask the question no one needed an answer to: What if this notorious eco-terrorist was the next Bob Fosse?
Hi Liz, thank you for talking to The New Current, how does it feel to be bringing The TUNEabomber, to Edinburgh Fringe and C Venues this August?
As a director do nerves ever set in ahead of a show’s opening or are you able to enjoy the process?
Rehearsing brings me so much joy that I’m usually a happy little clam right up until about five minutes before the lights go down on opening night, when I realise that people are actually going to see what we’ve created suddenly feel like throwing up. In an ideal world I’d go full Bob Fosse - sneak out the back when the curtain goes up, wander around chain-smoking and stopping into dive bars for the duration of the show, then return just in time for a rapturous standing ovation.
Will this be the first time you’ve brought a show to Edinburgh Fringe?
Yes! I’ve directed at festivals in New York, but never at Edinburgh.
Can you tell me a little bit about how your involvement with The TUNEabomber came about?
I’ve known John since I cast him in a play back in 2018, and we’ve been pals and collaborators since then. I saw an earlier version of the show last spring, thought it was terrific, and told John I’d love to work on it if they ever wanted a director. He emailed me this spring to tell me the show was doing a couple of festivals and would I like to come on board, and now here we are!
I asked the guys this and thought I would as you as well, did you have any apprehensions at all about creating a satirical show about Ted Kaczynski?
The idea probably would have spooked me a bit in the abstract, but because I had the advantage of joining the project after seeing John perform that earlier version, I knew that the show was strong enough to overcome any objections to the material.
Had you known much about Kaczynski before you started working with Michael and John, was there anything about his life and experiences that really struck you?
I think I knew about as much as most millennials – basically, mail bombs and supermax prison. Weirdly, the Unabomber was a recurring character in the grammar book my high school English classes used, along with Bill and Hillary Clinton and an imaginary couple named Bismo and Boxanne – the exercise questions would be like, “Identify the error in the sentence ‘Bismo’s heroes are Boxanne, the Unabomber, and Bill’s and Hillary’s daughter Chelsea.’” So I guess that was my primary association before now.
When directing a satire like The TUNEabomber what have been some of the challenges you’ve faced?
Trying to balance the unforgivable nature of his crimes with the more appalling facts of his life – if you ask me, no one should be in solitary confinement for life, especially not someone who was the victim of unethical government experiments – while staying true to the show’s zany sense of humour and razzle-dazzle spirit.
Directing the co-writers and performers much also have its challenges, how essential is the creative collaboration between you all on a project like this?
I love working with writers, and John and Mike have been amazingly generous in letting me into this world that they’ve been building for over a year now. I think we all operate with the assumption that there are no bad ideas – that is, if anyone has an idea, no matter how silly, they should speak up, and then we can all decide together whether it’s right. It’s been a really fun and productive way to work.
If you could describe The TUNEabomber in only THREE words what would they be?
Exhilarating. Eccentric. Explosive!
Are you able to keep a level of flexibility with material once a show is running or are you someone who prefers to keep to the book?
Depends on the project! I come from a very text-first background so I’ll generally defer to the writer’s wishes when it comes to changing the actual words on the page. With a piece like this where the writers are not only present but performing the material each night – who knows! I guess we’ll find out.
What has the process like for you working with Michael and John?
It’s been so much fun – we’re all true nerds about musicals, and I think we all have an appreciation for the genre’s fundamental silliness as well as its enormous power to move and inspire. I’ve been having such a good time that I’ve been actively bullying them into writing another project so that I can direct their material again.
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
Absolutely. Even as a really little kid, my favourite time of year was the holidays because I would get to go to Christmas pageant rehearsals - I was the most fanatically dedicated baby angel you could imagine. Then when I was about eight, I saw a youth theatre production of Twelfth Night and was immediately like “Oh okay, this is where I want to be.” I actually quit theatre for complicated personal reasons after graduating college, but after two years of that I was so depressed that I would end up sobbing in the cab home after a night out - like, abjectly miserable over the idea that I would never be in tech again. Theatre is the only thing I never get bored of.
Has your style and approach to your theatre changed a lot since your debut?
Yes and no! I’ve always tried to direct to suit my own taste ahead of any other standard, but when I was younger, I was much more enamoured of subtlety and naturalism because that’s what had been held up as the ideal in my training. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that my taste actually has a much trashier streak, for lack of a better word – I love camp and excess and anything that swings big even if it doesn’t quite connect. So I’ve been trying more and more to honour that part of my own taste as well as the part that’s been trained to applaud well-turned phrases and exquisitely subdued performances.
"Everything is fucking hard, so barring any extenuating circumstances you might as well choose the hard that feeds you instead of the hard that drains you."
Do you have any advice, tips or suggestions you would offer anyone thinking about getting into theatre?
When I was younger, I thought “Okay, I can pursue the thing I love and it’ll be hard but rewarding – or I can get a decently-paid job I don’t care much about and my life will be easier and more stable if a bit less fulfilling.” What I learned when I quit is that there is no such thing as an easy path in this day and age – capitalism and austerity and the cost of living and the pandemic and climate change are all conspiring to make our lives impossible. So I’d say if you love theatre, if it fulfils you – you should go for it. Everything is fucking hard, so barring any extenuating circumstances you might as well choose the hard that feeds you instead of the hard that drains you.
And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from The TUNEabomber?
My greatest hope is that they walk out with the songs stuck in their heads! The kind of songwriting on display here is so hard, and John and Mike make it look easy. Next on my list is for anyone with cash to burn to go “Wow, what a great show! I should give these nice young people some money – I bet that director could do great things with salary and a lighting designer and a real set, maybe with a staircase.” Mostly I want a staircase. Money would be nice, but I’d prefer the staircase.