Dallas — The drive to succeed is a subject that artists struggle with constantly. How do I know when I have “made it?” Will I even be happy if I ever get there? Is contentment actually a comfortable feeling for a 21st century millennial? Justin Locklear’s new musical Dreamless, opening at The Ochre House, explores these quandaries of ambition through clown-like characters. The title refers to “a waking insomnia where you’re trying to ignore your dreams until you no longer need them.”
As with many works at the Ochre House, Locklear is developing the work within a five-week rehearsal process, where the ticking clock signaling opening night encourages risk-taking and bold decisions. While Locklear shows respect for other processes that include a lengthy incubation process, writing drafts of scripts over a series of months, he says, “It’s super fun to say ‘You don’t have that time.’”
Locklear’s first show at the Ochre House was in 2010, when Matt Posey’s theater was more of a scrappy operation. Locklear was suspicious about the outcome of the early projects—devising with limited time and huge ideas. “I thought ‘This is never going to work.’ But it did. Perfectly.” In the beginning, Posey also had a 10-year vision for the Ochre House, including national tours, collaborations, and a full-time staff. As Posey keeps checking those goals off, Locklear is now working full-time at The Ochre House as their artist-in-residence—spending his days making edits to his script and constructing tech elements for other productions.
For Dreamless, Locklear wrote an outline and roughly 50 pages of text, then spent the first two weeks of rehearsal “honing in on the devices and getting the fat out.” The open rehearsal process offers the opportunity to truly write for the performers, as discoveries are made ever night in rehearsal. Even within a couple of weeks, the project has transformed immensely as Locklear says, “This show was a lot easier to describe in the first week, the characters have all become more interesting.”
As a work in progress, you can hear Locklear’s active discovery as he clarifies each statement about Dreamless. That’s how new, collaborative theatrical work evolves—it changes every time you meet it in the rehearsal room. New work constantly has a way of revealing itself, revealing what it wants to be in the process. In the beginning, you start off with an idea, a rough sketch of what you’re trying to articulate. As the performers starts to bring their own ideas and histories to the characters, the overall picture becomes more complicated, and new pathways form right in front of you. Through our conversation, I joked that I needed to make a flow chart of the ways Locklear clarified the summation of his work. It’s tricky to pin down while it’s still changing.
In every Ochre House show, Locklear tries to attempt something new (which is one of the reasons why he is such a multifaceted artist). For Dreamless, he’s implementing commedia dell’arte and clowning techniques as the contextual environment for his ambitious millennial characters. Clowning is an important element, particularly in the way characters express themselves.
Locklear says, “I’m finding a lot from employing those positions on the chessboard and finding out how they fit into millennial characters.” While this may seem like a stretch initially, consider how quickly we are to make a meme of a person or a joke to get attention on social media. The millennial conundrum is usually lampooned everywhere (#firstworldproblems). At first, the tone of the play may seem familiar and comfortable, fitting into our humor-filled media culture. The tropes are set up—ingénue, lovers, the villain—and Locklear aims to connect those tropes to the character’s innate ambition and the millennial sensibility. Eventually, that starts to turn. Locklear notes that Dreamless is actually “a drama filled with people that are distracting themselves with comedy…until they can’t anymore.” Sounds familiar, yes? This also seems to be a working definition of the 2016 Presidential race.
We constantly make fun of how easy we have it and yet we live in a constant state of anxiety and irritability for our current circumstances. “For millennials, you’re told your opinion is valid and your point of view should be expressed.” There’s a delicious narcissism associated with the millennial perspective—everything is processed through me, for me, and is about me. Locklear has more questions than answers, as this struggle is even on-going for an artist. In our conversation, he brought up the saying many theatre undergraduates hear as a word of warning: “If you can be happy doing anything else, DO IT.” That’s always spoken in love, because the consequences of pursuing a career in the arts are always difficult, particularly in a culture that doesn’t seem to value artists.
With ambition, it can be a crumbling pursuit. What gets left by the wayside? Locklear has more questions than answers on the subject, “How do you nurture longevity to my relationship with creativity or my instincts? Do I give up? When is contentment a success in itself?” The characters in Dreamless all come from Locklear’s experiences, they are a past self or a kind of tactic he has attempted in order to deal with ambition. He says, “I have to write from what I know…and what I have to negotiate with the most is the space between a fear of failure and a fear of success…I want to reflect on what I’ve learned as a creative person.”
At some point, all artists have to reconcile why they pursue a creative life. Why do we have this aching ambition inside to keep pursuing a seemingly unachievable dream? When do we wake up?
» Shelby-Allison Hibbs is a Dallas-based teaching artist, playwright, director, performer and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. In her Work in Progress column, she'll have conversations with playwrights, theatermakers, directors, designers, dramaturgs and others involved in the process of realizing new work from page to stage as she explores new plays and musicals being developed/created by theaters of all budget sizes in North Texas.
NEW WORK CURRENTLY ON LOCAL STAGES
- Pegasus Theatre presents the world premiere of Kurt Kleinmann's comedy The Coarse Actor Rises at the Bath House Cultural Center, through Aug. 27 OUR LISTING
- Hip Pocket Theatre presents Lake Simons and John Dyer's visual theater adaptation of Don Quixote, through Aug. 28 OUR LISTING
SELECT UPCOMING NEW WORK
- The Ochre House presents Justin Locklear's Dreamless, Aug. 20-Sept. 10 OUR LISTING
- Amphibian Stage Productions presents a staged reading of the musical Music City USA by JT Harding and Peter Zinn, Aug. 21-22 OUR LISTING
- Fun House Theatre and Film presents the premiere of Jeff Swearingen's Old McDonald’s Farm: A Children’s Fable About the Obama Presidency at Plano Children's Theatre, Aug. 19-27 OUR LISTING
- Pocket Sandwich Theatre presents Scott Eckert's Death the Musical II: Death Takes a Harmony, Aug. 26-Sept. 24 OUR LISTING
- The Dallas Theater Center and New York's Playwrights Horizons presents Kirsten Childs' musical Bella: An American Tall Tale at the Wyly Theatre, Dallas, Sept. 22-Oct. 22 OUR LISTING
PREVIOUS WORK IN PROGRESS COLUMNS
- Len Jenkin's Jonah at Undermain Theatre (April 15, 2016)
- David Lozano and Lee Trull's Deferred Action in a co-production between Dallas Theater Center and Cara Mía Theatre Company (April 28, 2016)
- Janielle Kastner's Ophelia Underwater, presented by The Tribe at Margo Jones Theatre (May 11, 2016)
- Caridad Svich's De Troya, a developmental reading presented by Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth (May 13, 2016)
- Steve Yockey's Blackberry Winter and The Thrush and the Woodpecker in Kitchen Dog Theater's 18th New Works Festival at Undermain Theatre (May 18, 2016)
- Stefany Cambra's Finding Myself in Bed from Proper Hijinx (June 1, 2016)
- Acoustic Nerves/Therefore, a collaboration by Dean Terry and University of Texas at Dallas artists, at the Texas Theatre (June 9, 2016)
- Checking in with playwright Jonathan Norton (July 22, 2016)
- Lake Simons and John Dyer's visual theater adaptation of Don Quixote at Hip Pocket Theatre (Aug. 6, 2016)
- The Third Dallas One-Minute Play Festival, presented by One-Minute Play Festival and Kitchen Dog Theater (Aug. 8, 2016)