Ben Dicke, local theater professional, looks for Kickstarter Funding to Premiere the Controversial Emo-Punk Musical at the Aurora Fox, Just in Time for Election Day.
Could it be any more … prophetic?
In an election year that’s rife with populist rhetoric, where pundits on both sides seem to pontificate endlessly about the problems of the common folk of Main Street, the excesses of the rich and Wall Street, and how neither side has the right idea about either, Ben Dicke, a local theater teacher and accomplished producer, director, playwright and performer, has been called by the muses to produce an uncannily appropriate play in the Aurora Fox – “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”
These always tricky (or so I’ve been told) muses have called out to him over an emo-sounding band (actually, it could be argued that emo – with its roots in common angst and the everyday futility of making it through in an overwhelmingly unfair (but often tearfully beautiful) world – might be the epitome of rock’s populist side), to produce and act in one of American Theater’s few emo-rock operas. And – also like much of the real-life action and rhetoric of this year’s supremely important pastime – this musical-American-political-history-lesson-slash-controversial-production promises to pack a strong comedic punch.
“This subject cuts us to the core as Americans because of our staunch belief that Constitutional Democracy is the greatest governmental invention of all time. It is. So far. But, Manifest Destiny came at a price. That price was blood.” – Ben Dicke
The most interesting part of this story, though, isn’t the fact that the musical is about America’s first independent populist president, or that it (and Andrew Jackson’s biography) is replete with populist doctrine – and the somehow always extreme measures that come with it, as well as its way-too-often devastating results – or even that the production seems to be just a little too much for many theaters to add to their season.
The most interesting part of this story is that this particular production of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” is, in itself, teeming with populism. As I mentioned before, the musical has an entirely emo-rock soundtrack – as populist (you might say – even in an adolescent sense) a genre of rock as there ever was. And, like so many savvy creatives today, Dicke is basing a chunk of the funding for the production on a campaign on Kickstarter, the popular (and there’s another mention of that pesky notion) social network dedicated to internet-based grassroots fundraising.
Check out Ben’s Kickstarter video:
I mean, does it get much more populist than that? It’s almost synchronicitous. The social network by it’s very nature is an experiment in, and an outgrowth of, the populist roots of Constitutional Democracy. It’s also a constant, living experiment in synchronicity (a more fitting explanation for “viral” YouTube posts you will never find – but if you do, please let me know).
And, if you’re a fan of synchronicity, you might already have a glimpse of why I believe there’s a huge chance of this play taking off in a big way – and the Kickstarter campaign is just the beginning.
I took some time to speak with Dicke recently about the play, its weight and its “synchronicitous-populist-aura” (we’re claiming the coinage of that new-age phraseology here at DenverThread.com – before the general election really gets underway), and a little about his personal history too. You can read all of that below.
But before that, I want to plug the hell out of said Kickstarter campaign, and encourage all of you to give whatever you can to get this roots-based ship of American emo-based history and intrigue rolling. Like Dicke points out on his Kickstarter page, you’re not just giving away money – you’re investing in the play – and your return is guaranteed (once it’s produced) with tickets (or at least arrows, if all you can scrape up is a merciful dollar or two).
Dicke has also planned some real-world fundraising activities – he’s held two fundraising parties in the past few weeks at Cap City Tavern that have been damned successful – and he also hopes to take full advantage of any and all Election-Year-Buzz to get the people talking about this production – and, subsequently, about what the story means to this country.
TIP: Any politically affiliated groups, tacticians, planners, activists or what have you – signed on with any party – this is a perfect place to set up a soapbox to get people talking – and voting – on your agenda. Any ideas? Contact Ben Dicke – he’s more than happy to talk!
The Bloody Bloody DenverThread Interview with Ben Dicke
(after a quick introduction and Skype setup, Dicke and I jumped right into the thick):
DenverThread – So the Kickstarter seems to be picking up some speed?
Ben Dicke – Yeah – well, we did $1100 today. I feel it was a big turning point on Monday, though, after we did that party – it wasn’t massively well attended by any stretch of the imagination – I just think it got people …. y’know – I’ve been thinking for some time now, it’s time we really take this to the streets, y’know? get it out of the few circles that are on my news feeds and the few people that really pay attention to what I’m doing – I think that was a big turning point. ‘Cos we shot up big time that night, and again for the following couple days…”
DT – Tell me about your party? I didn’t hear about that….
BD – Well I hosted a party at Cap City Tavern last Monday [April 16] – and we’re doing it again next Monday [April 23]. Just as a way to invite a couple people out – we did three numbers from the show – I brought a few friends to play – and we’ll do a three different numbers this Monday. It’s really cool – it’s just a hang out time for some people in the theater community and some other people who had an interest in the show but weren’t sure what was going on.
DT – And that shot you up by, what, $1100 in a day?
BD – Yeah – well – wait – I think we were at, like, $1800 last weekend – so we’ve doubled that in the last week.
DT – WOW! It shows the value of a thing like Kickstarter – once you get people going immediately things seem to kind of snowball.
BD – Kickstarter is a whole fascinating thing in itself, is what i’ve learned. I’ve have this whole theory now that it actually takes a critical mass of backers, rather than focusing on the dollar amount, y’know? You’ve gotta get that whole kind of inertia going….
DT – I think that’s exactly right – and it’s basically the whole idea behind any social media, really, isn’t it?
DT – Tell me a little about yourself – you’re not a Colorado native, correct?
BD – I grew up in Wichita. KS, and got involved in the theater there in Middle School, and also did some touring with a Christian rock youth group in Middle School (laughs).
DT – You sound a little bit embarrassed….
BD – No! No – not at all – a big part of my life, actually. Big part of who i am – it was one of those things where I got thrown into performing heavily after not having hardly any experience at all – at about age 12. And then I thought I was going to be a theater teacher. So I looked at a bunch of different colleges around the country, and then decided on a little liberal arts college in Kansas, and got a theater/communications/education degree, and did the whole student teaching gig, and then, by the time I was almost done, I realized I really wanted to be an actor.
BD – The school was a tiny town of 1500 called Sterling College – it was 1500 when school was in session.
DT – How many years ago was that?
BD – I graduated in ’01, but after that I came out here in between undergrad & grad school. I went to grad school at Roosevelt in Chicago and after I graduated I stayed out there and lived there for 7 years.
DT – And you’ve had many things produced, from what I understand?
BD – Well, from the production side I’ve dabbled a little bit – but, y’know, if you go to school in Chicago, the idea is that you and all your friends think you’re going to graduate and open an ensemble-based theater company and you’re going to revolutionize the international theater scene.
DT – (laughing) Which is a given, right?
BD – Absolutely! So some friends and I produced a show back there, and then I’ve been directing as much as I’ve been acting for the past five or six years. I produced a show that I wrote for the Boulder Fringe Festival the first year that I moved out here – and that was really exciting – a great way to get into the scene and find out about all of that. I was also the marketing director for a theater in Indiana for a few years too, so I know that side of it.
DT – What was the play in Boulder? Was it just for the Fringe Festival?
BD – Yeah – it was called “I, Oedipus.” It was basically an adaptation of Oedipus Rex, kind of a modern, a postmodern, strange Thornton Wilder-esque take – really weird stuff…. (laughs)
DT – Any chance of re-doing that one? It sounds awesome….
BD – Somebody asked about it the other day, actually! Yeah – it’s on the hard drive… (laughs)
DT – Oedipus is one of my favorite characters – and for some reason I love Medea as well.
BD – Yeah – we cast a diminutive soprano – she usually plays, like Laurie in Oklahoma – her name is Racheal Turner – she was our Oedipus – y’know, she was running around the stage and killing everyone and gouging her eyes out… It was great!
DT – As far as “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” – is it because it’s an election year?
BD – Yeah, actually, and I had very little to do with that. I saw the show on Broadway last year and fell in love with it. We sat on the front row, and my girlfriend at the time was immediately accosted by the lead actor on the stage and I thought “Wow – this is my kind of theater!” It never took itself seriously, while at the same time addressing super serious questions about our national identity, and our obsessions with fame, and the presidency and also our sordid past with, y’know, slaves and Native Americans and all that – in an emo-rock musical. You don’t see those things on Broadway every day.
DT – No – you don’t (laughing)! I haven’t seen the whole play – I’ve listened to the soundtrack a number of times – but the more I hear about it the more it seems to have elements of some of my favorite dramas – like “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
BD – Yes – my favorite as well… Someone needs to do an acoustic rock version of that show soon!
DT – Off-topic, a little: While we’re not a religious family – spiritual, like they say – one of the things I love to do with my kids is to play “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Life of Brian” back to back – to show them that “Between the two of these films – this is probably pretty close to what really happened.” So when they go to church and talk about that kind of stuff…. They react well to that (so far). It also seems to smack just a little bit of “Cannibal the Musical” [the film by Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame].
BD – Yes – although I haven’t seen that yet, but it’s on my list.
DT – Well you know how ridiculous those guys are – I just think that this play has a similar tint. You’ve already said that it doesn’t take itself very seriously, but do you think it’s going to be taken somewhat seriously, seeing as it’s an election year, and turning out to be a quite populist one to boot?
BD – Yeah! Exactly! And in a way I hope so. And I’ve said from the beginning – part of the reason I started the Kickstarter is because I want to sell advanced tickets. I don’t want to just produce a musical. I want people to come and see this, and the reason I want people to come see it is because I want to have a dialogue. I’ve already begun groundwork to get Young Republicans & Young Democrats and Young Greens involved with our talkbacks. Maybe register people to vote at the door (there might even be a discount if you choose to do so). I really do want to involve the political atmosphere that will surround September and October of this year.
DT – Andrew Jackson, being a very populist figure – and then you, for this play, using a very populist mechanism – in both Kickstarter and all the other social networking tools – it almost seems synchronistic – almost like it’s meant to be, or it’s going to happen, no matter what you do…. What do you think of that?
“Y’know, this is a neat, creative collective, and these people are using the power of consumer capitalism to see cool projects and cool visions and cool ideas come to life.” – Ben Dicke
BD – I was enjoying those concentric circles today, too. And – this is off topic a bit – but Obama’s doing a Kickstarter thing . It’s not Kickstarter, but – see, George Clooney is hosting a dinner, and if you donate $3, you could possibly go. That’s the Kickstarter
DT – I just got that email today….
BD – It’s like ”Here – we’re dangling a reward out in front of you. Just buy in for a little bit….” But if i can get a million to buy in for three bucks, then I’ve done something.
DT – And in your case, if you can get – I’m no good at the math….
BD – If 300 backers buy in for $15, I’m halfway there, y’know?
DT – Right – and the whole process – the excitement, everything – mirrors the whole idea of what we’ve been fed as “democracy” since we were young kids y’know, “… if we get the streets involved then that’s how we make the change,” and that’s what I want my kids to learn. Not to get all patriotic, but it’s great to see all the artists and creatives leading the way – and i wanted to thank you for being an example of that.
BD – Yeah – I had that cool moment today where I was like. “Y’know, this is a neat, creative collective, and these people are using the power of consumer capitalism to see cool projects and cool visions and cool ideas come to life.”
DT – What a perfect way to put it, too. Thanks for that.
DT – Are you, by nature, a very political person?
BD – Yeah, I think so. I grew up very conservative, and went to a very conservative k-12 – but I work in the theater. (laughs)
DT – Which is a story in itself, I’m sure….
BD – Absolutely! So I consider myself an eternal fence-rider, who can see both sides of everything, and I definitely understand the point of view of the far right and the far left – and I’m not even talking about the American far right & the far left, but globally. I get where people are coming from and I … I find it all so fascinating.
DT – As do I – and I think – and you’re helping to confirm this for me – that you have almost seemed to have taken this on not only because you love the play itself, but because you want to. Maybe you even said this once in something I read – because you want to “…put a mirror on us.” Is that accurate?
BD – Absolutely! There’s a theater that wanted to produce it in Spring 2013, and I thought – well – isn’t that kinda too late? Waiting ‘til then to talk about these things? And there’s this idea of theater being a catalyst for dialogue and a catalyst for reflection, it’s very important - and this play does that from start to finish
DT – I think it’s a great idea to wrap in things like registration drives, and to bring, like you said (I think), College Republicans ….
BD – I said Young Republicans – they all have there little groups. And – oddly enough – the Young Republicans had their meeting the other night at Hamburger Mary’s. I was shocked. I thought “What? You got Hamburger Mary’s to agree to that?”
DT – Huh – that’s a kind of a slap. That reflects well on Hamburger Mary’s – as long as they didn’t try to arrange some sort of protest, or ridicule them in some way. Have you been approached – or do you think you’ll be approached – by political groups for some band-standing, or whatever?
BD – That would actually be my absolute dream! For some people to come forward and want to use this as some sort of platform for their agenda or something like that, and I would definitely do my best to exploit that….
DT – That would help it go viral, that’s for sure.
BD – Yeah – y’know – I think it’s the kind of show that folks … you’re not really ready for it until you’re confronted by it – and maybe not even then. So I would hope that it would get people if not really excited, maybe a little agitated.
DT – Me too – so, but you’re not involved in the original production or writing of the play?
BD – No. I became friends with the writer [Alex Timbers, along with music and lyrics written by Michael Friedman] and we had a conversation just a couple months ago and we have some mutual friends ‘cause he’s a Yale guy, but I don’t know anyone from the original team.
DT – So – and this seems to happen in election years and tends to become more evident as we get closer to the election – this play is the second thing I’ve seen that has come out with a political bent in in the midst of this election year’s hype. The other is a book called “Taft 2012,” by local author Jason Heller, and it’s about William Howard Taft falling asleep like Rip Van Winkle and waking up just in time to run for president in this election.
BD – Oh – that’s fascinating. Is this a play?
DT – It’s a work of fiction, at this point. Just got released recently.
BD – That sounds amazing.
DT – I bring it up to ask if you’re seeing any other similar artistic productions – jumping back to presidents, elections of the past, things like that, this year?
BD – One thing I know is happening – Equinox Theater is doing a show called “Assassins” which I did in Chicago, and this is a play about the guys who assassinated presidents. It explores their lives musically. It’s a really interesting show – they all sing about their obsessions with wanting to kill a president and they all sort of have different reasons for doing it. It starts with Lincoln’s assassin, and then goes through to the Kennedys’.
DT – Did you act in this in Chicago, or produce it?
BD – Yeah – I was in a production in Chicago as an actor. It’s a really amazing show – it’s been around for – maybe 20 years?
DT – So, what can I do to help get more political people involved? Y’know, what can we do on the street to help?
BD – Well I’ve been thinking a lot about that. One big thing is, I really want to look at non-traditional casting. When it comes to casting this, I – like the Kickstarter – I don’t want it to just be limited to my group of theater friends. So – with the role of Andrew Jackson, whether or not Andrew Jackson is played by a local rock star, or a local comedian, or even a local political person who’s never really thought of doing this – now of course I’m not going to compromise the quality of the production or the quality of the actor just to have a name – like they like to on Broadway… (laughs)
DT – Thank goodness!
BD – Right? So – but I would like to see a lot of different types for all these roles and a lot of different people, so I think when it comes to casting, that’s going to be one of our first points of contact when it comes to marketing. And then – as we get closer, what I like about your blog is that there’s a reach outside of the theater community, to people who – if they’re interested in Rock ‘n Roll – they’re probably interested in politics and they’re probably interested in the political implications of everything in our world
DT – That’s a the direction where I was going – the DenverThread gives me connections – and since our focus is strictly local we get bands and folks that are more willing to be a part of something like this – to get a foot in the door and some exposure. When, after the Kickstarter comes through, are you going to begin casting?
BD – Im probably looking into a couple weeks into May before having an official call – maybe at the earliest, say, May 14th…
DT – Do you have band members – in the form of union jobs or whatever – for the show?
BD – My musical director played for Wedding Singer & Xanadu – two shows I did out here – he’s a guitar-based musical director and going to be involved in the band. Whether or not we hold auditions we’ll need a drummer and a bass player. The other thing is – any of the parts, if they can play any instrument, we’ll definitely utilize that in the score – whether it be guitar, piano or whatever – so musical capabilities are so welcome at the audition.
DT – Well – as I said, the whole thing seems synchronistic – like it’s going to happen. You’ve picked a great year to do it – or has the year maybe picked you? Y’know?
BD – Yeah – just like we’re finding out that the Mayans picked Dick Clark to go down this year….