Collin McConnell on Bedlam Nightmares

by Collin McConnell · September 15, 2015

Editor's Note:  Collin is an Indie Theater artist who has worked with the Blood Brothers since 2011, appearing in Freaks from the Morgue (2011), Raw Feed (2012), and two installments of Bedlam Nightmares -- Strapped In and Execution Day (2014). So who better to answer some questions introducing us to Bedlam Nightmares Quadrilogy, a new Adventure pack from Indie Theater Now.

collin McConnell

Collin McConnell

To start—can you introduce yourself a bit to our readers? In a few sentences, please talk about where you studied theater, how you got involved with theater, and some of your credits/interests.

I grew up in North County of San Diego doing community and small professional theater, and eventually moved to New York to join the BFA Acting program at Brooklyn College. While in school, I discovered I had a love for ensemble-driven work — and it was studying Artaud that really sealed the deal for me: art should be immediate and driven by the artist-audience relationship. Graduating, I've gone on to work with some great professional and independent Shakespeare companies and am a member of Stable Cable Lab Co (and helping to drive their devising wing!).

How did you first hear about the Blood Brothers?

Summer of 2007, I got thrown into Brian Silliman's darkly hilarious The Magic of Mrs Crowling at the vary last moment to replace one of the leads (the costume/set designer was a Grad student at Brooklyn and graciously recommended me). Patrick Shearer was in the show (he was playing a wizard) and Stephanie Cox Williams was stage managing (like an actual wizard) and somewhere along the lines, auditions for the Blood Brothers was mentioned. I'm also certain the rest of the Blood Bros crew were around at some point, I just didn't really know it yet.

How did you get involved with them as a performer?

I went to the audition after Crowling closed. And they didn't cast me (probably rightfully so — I was young and still in school and probably far too eager...).  Then, years later (2011), I ran into them all at a bar, and they mentioned they had Blood Brothers auditions coming up and that I should audition. So I did, and this time they brought me on board. And managed to keep me around, too, which was awesome and flattering — they're a sickly talented bunch of freaks that I am always so happy to work with.

What was it like working on Bedlam Nightmares? Are there special challenges working on a play that is psychologically disturbing? And what about the challenges of the gore?

I am perhaps odd in that it doesn't ever bother me so much to work on material that's psychologically intense or disturbing — I actually really like it (again with the love of Artaud). I'm a fairly positive and happy, mostly calm and passive person in real life, and so it's exciting for me to dig around inside stories and characters that are so removed from me — they all have, at the bottom of everything, very basic, familiar human needs. Uncovering how those lead to such awful behavior is thrilling work.Though I will say, the characters I have played for them have tended towards being the victim.

As for the gore: again, Stephanie Cox Williams is a wizard, and I was always thrilled to work with whatever fun new way of covering me in blood and ripping off body parts that she could find to make happen on stage (the eyelids for Bedlam were a particularly fun, small detail that was also rather difficult to manage, but a lot of fun to figure out how to make work - both in ripping them off and in building the scars for later installments). But yes, there is a technical difficulty - it is difficult to allow yourself to react truthfully to being stabbed or having your intestines ripped out while also popping squibs in the right direction or operating some such other more difficult device - all while trying to mask the technical work, too, of course. 

Why is it fun for an audience to see a show like Bedlam Nightmares? What, if anything, is uplifting/enlarging about the experience?

I am not normally one for gratuitous violence - particularly in film, but also on stage. And yet, to be almost contradictory, it is so exhilarating and satisfying to see it done well on the stage. Also, the ridiculous carries with it its own catharsis. With the Blood Brothers, the excitement is in the, well, execution. There's a playfulness set up with the Blood Brothers - we have these narrators that have come to tell us horrifying bedtime stories, and so we sit up, waiting to see just how crazy this all will get. We can gasp or laugh or freak out and hide as we watch someone get decapitated or disemboweled, because, either way, there isn't a concern outside the confines of the theatrical. It is set up so well that it becomes easy to accept the rules of the evening.

As for what is uplifting... That seems to be a difficult question, but perhaps it's simple. The writers here (all brilliant and wonderful humans) have done fantastic work. These characters - all of them, even Doctor Queen - are human. They are, like it or not, us. And so we see our own fears - not those outside of us, but of what is perhaps frighteningly close to home. It reminds us that, yes, there are real nightmares in this world, but those nightmares are not so far away, and so we must remember to be good, and to love.

What do these plays — and plays like them — say about the state of the world in the 21st century? Do they have particular social significance?

Not much has changed in several hundred years, other than we've found other ways of hurting each other and making the world a more upsetting place. I first started working with the Blood Brothers during their work inspired by the Grand Guignol - these characters were actually real people, the stories came straight out of the headlines. But that was us making theater in the style of a theater in France from the early 1900s. And that was inspired by the Romantics (1800s), which were inspired by the Jacobeans (1600s)... and it goes on. And so we tell the stories of our time, which haven't changed much outside of some of the details.





Broken Bone Bathtub
After being asked who is comfortable with audience participation, we are lead one by one into the small room and guided to our seats. A young woman sits amid pleasantly floral scented bubbles, face turned away from us.
Broken Bone Bathtub
After being asked who is comfortable with audience participation, we are lead one by one into the small room and guided to our seats. A young woman sits amid pleasantly floral scented bubbles, face turned away from us.
Adapting: Five Takeaways
The fifth (and last) in a five part series on adapting a play from a novel as it occurs.