Go Deeper

Gatos y Cervezas, A Conversation With Playwright Chris Davis

Posted June 20th, 2012

Here's a picture of Chris in the woods.

“If you are careful you can even hear the love at the very depth of a drunk’s voice. It’s always there, and even though they’re annoying as shit you can hear it if you listen closely.”  Chris Davis, Drunk Lion

Cats and beers. How can you go wrong? Oakland-born, Philly-based playwright, director and actor Chris Davis brings them together in his Solow Fest show Drunk Lion, a tipsy, bilingual, man-to-lion dialogue on love, life, and alcohol.

Davis’s ’11 Philly Fringe hit Lion (El Leon) won “Most Original Script” at the 2011 Philadelphia Urban Theatre Festival, with festive puppets, a fantastic Spanish-speaking metropolis, and animal noses replacing human ones a la Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. Drunk Lion is his second show about big cats, but marks the first time he has taken the challenge of acting in one of his own plays. We caught up with Chris to learn more about the show and his process.

Live Arts: How did this show originally come about? Can you think of a specific moment or event that spurred you to write it?

Chris Davis: I wrote the show over a year ago in about two weeks. At the time I was writing a full-length play called Lion (El Leon) and I was struggling with parts of it, so writing this show was an escape from the show that I felt like I should be writing. The original concept was simple, it was in the file name, which was called “One day I ran into a lion with a sombrero.doc.” That was the entire prompt that I started with.  Eventually it evolved and bits and truths filled out the rest of the story.

LA: How is solo work different from work with a company? How do you approach it?

This lion is like, whaaaaat?

CD: I love working in theater whether it is with a company or solo-work. To me they are similar. Ultimately, you just need to produce quality work. Good theater. On a realistic level solo work is very affordable and cheap to produce, which really was my initial draw toward it. I spent a lot of money and time producing my own plays, but financially it wasn’t working out. Solo-work really has allowed me to circumvent that.

LA: You have described this show as your most difficult theatrical task to date–what makes Drunk Lion so challenging, and different from what you’ve done previously?

CD: My process for this show has been simple. I spent a week or so drilling the lines over and over in my head. I often went hiking or walked somewhere and carried the script with me.  I started blocking the show almost immediately with director Mary Tuomanen. I would come in to the rehearsal with what I had thought up, and we would see if it worked or not. When it didn’t Mary would change it. I then took the work I did with Mary and showed it to a group of people, specifically Kate Black-Regan, Corrinna Burns, Gwen Rookers, and Kennedy Candra. I performed the show for each of those people and then took their feedback and integrated it into the show. Ultimately I made a lot of the decisions but all my big challenges were solved by other people and their direction.

Drunk Lion is difficult in that most basic sense of solo, you know, that I’m alone up there, and no matter what I do no one is going to suddenly enter the scene to help me. The entire show rests on me, and how comfortable I am with it. Making sure that I draw distinct lines between the characters through movement and my voice at all times. When I am the Lion I make my hands into claws, but when I’m Chris, they have to relax again, and as the dialogue can move very quickly between the two characters, you risk suddenly becoming Chris but still having a Lion claw hand. So drawing those clear lines between the characters at all times is essential; you really cannot have one missed moment.

And this is really the first play I’ve performed in that I wrote. I’ve avoided that for a long time. I liked the idea of separation between playwright and script, like church and state, for some reason. As time went on I realized that I needed to try a new formula, and it made sense to finally mold acting and playwriting into my own show, as I had been doing the two independent of each other for a long time.

Drunk Lion is presented at Robin’s Bookstore (110 south 13th street) June 21-23rd, as part of the SoLow Festival 2012.
June 21 – Thursday – 7pm
June 22 – Friday – 9pm
June 23 – Saturday – 8pm
Tickets are CASH only.  Suggested Donation: $10-15.
Reservations: (include date you wish to see the show) or call 215-495-5863.
Running Time: 65 minutes