The university's oddest professor has made a remarkable discovery. He's thrilled – but why is his lecture today even stranger and wilder than ever? An odd, surreal comedy about Dickens, shipwrecks, the Venus de Milo, fainting poets and the perils of original thinking. By two-time Fringe First winner Brian Parks. Performed by Stage's Best Actor David Calvitto.
Hi Brian & David, thanks for talking to TNC, how are you doing?
Settling in and solving last-minute things – I’m about to go find some missing E strings for a mandolin, and just ordered an “understudy” for one of our props. Pleased to see the venue bars open!
What does it mean to you to be bringing The Professor to the Fringe?
The Fringe is my favourite place to have a play. Every play I write I hope can someday be done here. I had the Fringe especially in mind while working on the Professor.
As this is your World Premiere, does that add any extra pressure on you?
This is actually the UK premiere – the piece made its debut at the Adelaide Fringe this past February. But the Fringe is indeed still pressure-filled, given the size and importance of the festival. It’s a very significant event for us.
What was your first fringe experience like, winning the Fringe First award must have felt pretty amazing?
We won it in 2000 for the play “Americana Absurdum,” a two-part surreal comedy about both a family-owned funeral home and the (comic!) fallout following an airliner crash. It was indeed pretty amazing, especially since we were all new to the fest and the meaning of the Fringe First. We won a second Fringe First in 2017 for our production of “Enterprise.” Both plays, like “The Professor,” was staged at Assembly.
What as the best comment you got for your debut show?
We heard the word “genius” used several times. At least I think we did. Let’s assume we did. The Scotsman wrote that it was “The Simpsons meets the warped logic of Being John Malkovich.”
"We rarely add new material, but sometimes do some trimming here and there."
Can you tell me a little bit about The Professor, what can we expect?
“The Professor” is a comic solo piece about a university’s most unusual professor. He’s that type of strange, idiosyncratic teacher that students love, but who constantly irks university officials. Let’s say that many of his insights can be described as “curious.”
How important is the creative collaboration for you both?
Dave is an immensely talented comic actor, and versatile. Plus he inherently understands my “non-standard” comic sensibility. I feel like I can write even the strangest lines and that Dave will both understand them and bring them alive.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced bringing this show to the fringe?
A damnable flu bug!
When a show is running are you able to let it live or do you continue to make tweaks?
We tweak at first, as we get adjusted to space, and, in this case, because the script is still relatively new. We rarely add new material, but sometimes do some trimming here and there. But then it will settle in and we basically let it be.
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
Mine started late in high school when I saw “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” at a theatre back in Detroit. That was the first play I ever saw that truly captivated me. Some of my plays show the influence on me of that Stoppard piece.
Has your style and approach to your work changed much since your debut?
Some plays I write these days are similar to that original style, such as “Enterprise.” But a play like “The House,” which we staged at last year’s Fringe, is a somewhat more realistic kind of comedy. Though not too realistic!
What has been the best piece of advice you got when you started out?
I don’t recall any specific advice, but seeing “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” that time in high school unlocked me, making me realize that theatre can be both weird and funny at the same time, and not just earnest domestic drama or silly musical theatre. Though “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” is a fine song.
Do you have any advice or tips for any emerging theatre makers?
Don’t be boring!
What 3 words best describe this show?
“Fast-paced, semi-surreal comedy.”
And finally, what do you want your audiences to take away from The Professor?
Our plays do not teach lessons, or try to change people in any way – thank Zeus! – but we hope that the audience enjoys this odd voyage into the professor’s rather peculiar mind.