TheaterJones: Tell us about your play.
Van Quattro: It’s an account of a year in my life where I was a boxer. I was taking a lot of drugs, and I had just broken up with my first girlfriend, and my dad was trying to find something for me to do with my life and he said, “Hey, why don’t you become a boxer?” It’s sort of the trials, tribulations, mishaps and triumphs in that period of my life. To me at the time, I was incredibly wayward and I thought, “Well, I’m not doing anything else with my life.” It’s not like I had any inclination to be a boxer.
How did you become involved with Solo Fest?
I worked on this last year and [Audacity Theatre Lab artistic director] Brad McEntire was doing some workshops, and he was asking people if they wanted to do something for the fest….When the submissions came up, I submitted and they accepted it. I had just done it at WaterTower [Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival] as well.
Describe your writing process.
I didn’t intend for this to be a one-man show. It just started to write itself, and it seemed to be a piece with a beginning and an end, and it started to get its own voice. I had shown it to a couple of people, and they said, “You may have something here.” I started designing [the play] that way. The director is Clay Wheeler, and he helped me to personalize it even more, and by that I mean in the direction. We used actual photographs [of me], things from my life back then. Seeing that during our first tech rehearsal was pretty shocking. I said, “Oh shit, that’s me!”
How did Clay help bring out aspects of your story as your director?
I think it’s all been a bit of serendipity for whatever purpose this thing may have. I think it’s all been serendipitous simply because Clay is much younger, he’s probably 30 years younger, and he seemed to have the worldly experience to understand what I was doing. He would help with some of the edits and things like that. I really think on a piece like this, to have somebody come in and say, “Oh, I understand this. Let’s try this here,” he really got the emotional value of what was going on. I trusted him. I was able to trust that he had peace of mind. And he also encouraged the honesty of it if there was ever a point where I wanted to write [a part] off. He encouraged that honesty. And like I said, when I walked into tech rehearsal, I saw my very first girlfriend life-size on the back wall and I thought, “I don’t want to do this.” But there it was.
How have your previous acting experiences affected your approach to Standing Eight Count?
As an actor, I like to do work that is going to be eventful. When I say eventful, I mean it’s going to be the best way that I can bring out great need or desire or passion in the character I’m playing. I think that because of my experiences in life, the result is that I do work that way. It’s kind of the flip side of one coin, because of my past and some of the things I’ve gone through, it’s forced me to try to work on an incredibly deep level of finding the need and passion in the character. And so in writing this story, it was the same thing. I said, “Okay, what’s really going on?” Like I said, I like to take things as far as I can take them. And I don’t know if this sounds self-grandiose, the way I like to work. If it’s not going to be some kind of event, then it’s not worth doing.
In a Dallas Observer article, it mentions that you auditioned for roles that would go to much younger actors. Since Standing Eight Count is from an earlier time in your life, is it like a fountain of youth for you, or maybe just a collection of really impactful memories?
That’s a good question, because I look at it [the script] and say, “Wait a minute, I’m a 60-year-old guy trying to play some 30-year-old guy. I’m gonna look stupid.” That did cross my mind, “why am I going back so far and what am I trying to do?” There was that part of me that was a little apprehensive about it. I don’t think I was so much trying to capture my youth in a way. I think I had to get back to the storytelling aspect, and there’s still a part of me that goes, “What does it mean for a 60-year-old man to be reminiscing about this time? What does it mean about who he is today, that he wants to go back into that?” The only thing I can say about all of that is I’ve got stories to tell, and that’s one of them.
There have been a few performances of Standing Eight Count. How does your approach to the performance itself change each time, if it does? And what does it mean for you to be in the Solo Fest?
I was scared to death. I’ve not done a one-man show before, let alone something I’ve written that is so close to me, so it was pretty frightening. But luckily enough, I have the actor chops to go, “Well, OK. This is how you act, so that’s all you need to go out and do. Forget that you wrote it, forget all that stuff, and just go out there and act.” It is a little terrifying, because you go up on that line. As far as doing it again, I’m looking forward to it because going over it and reviewing it again, I haven’t really done any rewrites or edits. But it’s like any play, it’s like any piece of work you do. The more you revisit it, the more you find, the more you feel comfortable, the more you go, “Whoa, I can dig into this a little deeper emotionally.” Things start to have a different meaning to them emotionally. That’s what’s keeping it exciting.
In the same Dallas Observer article, you said writing Standing Eight Count gave you more control over what you want to do at this point in your life. And like you just said, you’ve always had stories to tell.
I’ve led a very rich life. I’ve gotten into all kinds of trouble, and I’ve gotten out of all kinds of trouble. I’ve also done some pretty amazing things, and ended up in some pretty amazing places. It’s just simply because of my will to go on, and my will to explore. That being said, there’s a lot of stories to tell. Now whether people are going to relate to them is up to me to find that common theme that I have with humanity, about survival, peace. The stories are there. As far as the things regarding taking control of my own work, I think you absolutely have to at some point. If not, you’re just auditioning for the next play that’s coming up.
Out of these many stories you have, is there one main theme in Standing Eight Count?
I think the through line to most of my writing things like that is about survival. It’s about [the need to] keep on going. And love. Love and survival. This whole play is about a guy who wants to die, but he has to live to find some kind of love in his life.
In reading about you, I was really struck when you said that you would never want to put yourself out to pasture and you referenced Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails, which he sang right before he died. What can we expect from you in the future? What would be your “Hurt”?
I’m doing a lot of writing, mostly short stories, but they’re always adaptable to the stage. I know it will ultimately be about the same things I’m writing about. [They will be about] glory and depth in the love and in the mystery in life that this world doesn’t have. We don’t live on that level. And I’m not trying to sound grandiose, if it does I don’t care, but it’s what I believe. Artists and everybody strives to find some kind of deeper understanding. We’re true to what’s going on in something that’s a little bit broader than Fox News, a little bit broader than well-groomed anchormen. I have a 15-year-old son who I love incredibly, and it would be about passing on. After all, we’re going, then we’re gone. There’s nothing else left to do. It would be some form of acceptance and passage.
[Quattro later messaged me to say that his "Hurt" would be Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”]
» Van Quattro's Standing Eight Count is performed at the following times:
- Sunday, June 7 @ 3:30 p.m.
- Friday, June 12 @ 7:30 p.m.
- Sunday, June 14 @ 5 p.m.
» Our review of Standing Eight Count from WaterTower's Out of the Loop Fringe Festival
And you can follow our coverage of the 2015 Dallas Solo Fest in our special section, here.