Photo | themulliganbrothers.com
Date: Sept. 6-8 and Sept. 13-15
Venue: Mobile Theatre Guild, 14 N. Lafayette St., mobiletheatreguild.org
Tickets: $15-$20 available through the venue’s website
The Mobile Theatre Guild will be featuring one of its most unique, innovative and ambitious dramatic performances to date. Described by director/playwright Mark Wyatt as “True Grit” meets “Fight Club,” “Calamine” will transport the audience to Texas in the late 1800s to ride alongside Wesley Haddon Chambers and a man known only as Calamine. While the prospect of witnessing Chambers’ emotional journey under the tutelage of the “deadly” Calamine makes for an interesting story, the origin of this play is just as intriguing. Its creation is an exercise in translating art into a different medium.
“Calamine” began as a dark, enigmatic track on The Mulligan Brothers’ second album, “Via Portland.” Band member Ross Newell composed this song in an effort to break a case of writer’s block. Newell was accustomed to filling his songs with snapshots from his life. At the time, the songwriter had not been moved by any personal experiences, which was not conducive to his creation process.
“I’d occasionally get stuck if nothing interesting was happening to me,” Newell explained. “I was trying to expand into some fictional stuff and trying to be able to write from another perspective, so I didn’t have to sabotage my life in order to keep writing songs. I came up with the groundwork of ‘Calamine.’”
Newell says it took over a year to pen the lyrics and measures for “Calamine.” Along the way, he kept falling in love with the “nuances and details” of the song. Newell says what started as a song expanded into an epic short story. Another year passed as Newell began sifting through the song in order to condense it to a final draft that would be satisfactory to him while maintaining the spirit of the original concept. When the song was finished, Newell approached his bandmates to discuss including it on an album.
“The band was kind enough to let it slip through and were OK with how weird it was,” said Newell.
Around the time “Via Portland” was released, Mark Wyatt was falling in love with The Mulligan Brothers’ music. Wyatt says he was initially attracted to the regional qualities of the band’s modern Americana. He found the group’s music to be a perfect sonic representation of Gulf Coast culture, filled with imagery of the area. He also says he was sold on the band’s local connections as well. Then he experienced “Calamine.” Wyatt found the cinematic qualities of the song to be most appealing.
“It’s almost like this story started unfolding in my head along with the song, not as it appears now,” Wyatt explained. “I could tell that there was a storyline to it. Of course, there’s a twist to the song, and I loved it. I thought it was a brilliant song. I think that Ross crafted it so well. It’s got impact to it.”
Fate brought Wyatt and Newell together. Wyatt and his wife were at the Bluegill enjoying the featured performer. He and his wife were pleasantly surprised to find that this performer was well-versed in The Mulligan Brothers’ material. Wyatt decided to make a few Mulligan Brothers requests, and the performer obliged. He returned the favor with a $10 tip.
“When he took a break, he came by the table, I thanked him and he didn’t want to take the tip,” Wyatt said. “I said, ‘Listen, Mulligan Brothers are going to be in concert in a couple of weeks.’ He said, ‘Well, I’m with the band.’ I got his name and found out it was Ross Newell. He was so kind and so humble. He never made me feel stupid. Still, Ross is one of the kindest, most gentle, most genuine people that I’ve met.”
During this time, Wyatt (an author/publisher) was also experimenting with writing a screenplay by using Blake Snyder’s book called “Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting that You Will Ever Need.” Snyder’s concepts of screenplay creation almost mimicked songwriting. Wyatt says the book explains that movies include certain beats that are harbingers of certain events. When he sat down to pen his screenplay, Wyatt found “Calamine” served as great fodder for his screenwriting needs.
“I just wrote the screenplay from one beat to the next and weaving in specific words and lines from the song into the story,” Wyatt said. “I wanted it to be an expanded world of what Ross gave us in four minutes with the song. It started developing in me as I wrote.”
A few months later, Wyatt returned to the Bluegill during one of Newell’s performances. He approached Newell onstage and dropped the script on a table. Wyatt wanted Newell to see what “Calamine” had become. Newell says his excitement over the prospects of this screenplay made it hard to complete the gig.
“I had to play the gig with that script burning a hole in the table,” Newell said. “I couldn’t wait to get home and read it. I did, and I was blown away. That’s been a couple of years ago. I think it’s gone through a couple of rewrites and some workshopping. Mark took the inspiration and ran with it and expanded it out into this big, beautiful story.”
With the expense of filming a period piece, Wyatt thought his screenplay would go no further than being an experiment. However, his experience in the local theater scene provided a new direction for his composition. Eventually, Mobile Theatre Guild president Sherrick Sandy read the screenplay and was enthralled. After some encouragement, “Calamine” was adapted into a stage play.
When auditions were held in June, Wyatt admits he was nervous no one would be interested in acting in this play. He was pleasantly surprised to find many local actors wanted to be a part of this, including veteran actors such as Gene Murrell, Timothy Guy and Joe Fuselli.
With tech rehearsals and full-show rehearsals complete, Wyatt and the rest of the play’s cast and crew are ready to plunge their audience into the world of “Calamine.” Newell will also play an important role in the play. Each performance will feature a “mini concert” from Newell. Wyatt says Newell has also composed small transitional pieces to take the audience from one scene to the next. Even though the screenplay has been pitched to several producers (including John Schneider), Wyatt says he is satisfied to see his version of Newell’s story come to life on stage.
“If all we do is run it for three weekends and people have fun with the show, I’m good with that,” Wyatt said.
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