Bob Tully is a well-paid, well-traveled middle-aged white man living in Orange County. Definitely the kind of authority qualified to mansplain about abortion, #metoo and police shootings of black people, right?
But though Tully, who has launched an innovative theater company called Playhouse, which will stage its second production Saturday amid the Santa Ana Art Walk, has written three short plays about those subjects, he admits that he’d prefer other people to pony up and produce material. He’s talking material that is contemporary, topical and not strictly confined to any one point-of-view about a controversial subject.
“The gap between people saying that’s a good idea and let’s do something about it and actually writing something tends to be a bit large,” says Tully, as to why he’s been the sole writer so far in Playhouse’s short history. “But now I want to reach out and find out other voices. I still want to retain an even POV, but I want people who are more involved [with an issue like] immigration, or gay rights, or whatever, or who it’s more pertinent to, rather than me as an outside observer.”
Black and Blue, Playhouse’s second offering, is a 20-minute play featuring a white police officer and an African-American professor. Like the first offering, Buchenwald, which addressed the issue of abortion and featured a character who had bombed an abortion clinic, the latest play confronts an urgently compelling and timely issue but without preaching or shouting. In fact, as important as the actual play is, it’s the talk-back after the show where Tully hopes audience members will be engaged enough by what they’ve seen to express their views.
“This whole idea grew out all this stuff going on, like Trump and #metoo and Black Lives Matter and those of us in theater always talking about theater that comments on society, and wanting to do something and then we turn around and do Neil Simon,” said Tully, a veteran of Orange County storefront theaters such as Rude Guerrilla, the Hunger Artists and Stages (as well as being a former ringmaster for Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey circus, and playing the lead role in The King and I more than 800 times in productions around the world. No joke). “I understand the limitations of brick-and-mortar theaters. They have a subscriber base and have to please those people, but my thought was can’t we do something that is smaller in scope, more topical, more socially relevant, that comments on current issues?”
Additionally, Tully wanted to do those shows during an art walk.
“I go to the Fullerton Art walk every month and usually Santa Ana’s, and I see art hanging on the wall, and hear music and see sculpture and dance, but I never see theater,” he said. “So, I thought, ‘you know what? Theater is an art last I heard, and wouldn’t it be nice to have some representation at one of these art walks?’”
After inquiring about spaces in downtown Fullerton and nothing coming together, Tully hooked up with Melisa Cole, another local performer, who had just moved into a loft space in downtown Santa Ana.
Playhouse was born. And Tully is determined to keep producing a one-night show every other month. But he wants help. He wants to work on plays that look at multiple aspects of an issue, rather than existing inside a bubble with like-minded audiences.
He knows that his perspective is “incomplete. I’ve written the first three things and received a lot of feedback from Sam Garza (the African-American actor in Black and Blue) on this one, but I don’t want this just to be my perspective. The next step in this is getting other voices involved. The next thing we’re doing is a commentary on #metoo, and I’ve written the first version, and I’ve submitted it to women friends and women of color and they’ve given me feedback of how they look at a certain aspect of it. That’s the direction I want this to go. More voices. Not just me.”
Melisa Finds, 201 N. Main St., Santa Ana; https://www.facebook.com/nobudgetnoproblem/. Sat., 7 & 8:30 p.m. Free.