Hold me, Bat Boy! Touch me, Bat Boy! Bring me to the light of Colonial Players’ edgy production of the cult classic Bat Boy: The Musical. In a behind the scenes look, I’ve captured area actor Ron Giddings and asked him to give us the insider’s track to playing the title role of this rocker “out-there” show.
The last thing you did in the area, something that our readers might recognize you in, in case the ears and the makeup disguise your appearance a little too well?
Ron: The last thing I did at Colonial Players was 1776 where I played Rutledge, the villainous one with the pompadour wig. I only really get to do one or two shows a year because I work full time at an Arts Magnet school in Anne Arundel County as the creative writing teacher. I teach sixth, seventh, and eighth grade creative writing. I work at St. Paul’s after school in the fall as well; I’m the Musical Director for their musicals. I just The Wiz with them, we’ve also done The Music Man, Urinetown, and we’re doing The Mystery of Edwin Drood in the fall, which I’m thrilled about! And the last thing I directed was Shipwrecked at Colonial Players a while back. Shipwrecked actually won Best Play at the Ruby Griffith Awards and was also nominated for six WATCH awards that year, including Best Director and Best Play. We did win two WATCH awards – one for Outstanding Featured Actor (Robert Tucker), and the other for Outstanding Featured Actress (Christina Enoch Kemmerer).
What is it about Bat Boy: The Musical that made you want to audition to be a part of it?
There is a whole long story behind that, actually. I’m not sure how much of it you want to publish. I only wanted to spend my bio thanking the people that helped to make it happen because it has taken a ton of people to get Bat Boy the character up on his feet. When I was in middle school I can remember seeing the Weekly World News article behind my English teacher’s desk, and he was a big mentor of mine in becoming a creative writing teacher. I needed to thank him because of the experience I had with him which put this thing in my mind, and that was 20 years ago. Now that was just the phenomenon itself, I had no idea it was a musical until much later when I went on a scuba-diving trip up to Pennsylvania with a friend. He played the musical on the drive up there and I was “This is great! I’ve never heard of this!” So I thanked him in my bio too.
Before Colonial Players launches their season they do this preview sort of event where people who have sort of adopted the show— not necessarily the person that will be directing that particular show for the season— will do a little seven to ten minute reading or presentation of the show for all the creative design people and actors who turn up at this event to experience; it’s a great way for performers and designers alike to see what projects are available to become involved with for the upcoming season. So when that happened for this season, David Thompson who is on the artistic team for this show, asked me to be a part of the ‘reading team’ for the previewed segment of Bat Boy. And when I came into sing for it, I think that was the moment when I became truly hooked.
I love the piece. The music is very much fit to what I like to sing and I think it sits on my voice well. So that is a big draw for me. Then of course, the arch of this character, it doesn’t get any bigger than this. I can’t really compare this to what I’m about to compare it to, but when I was a senior in college I played Alan Strang in Equus and the enormous character arch that he has reminds me of Edgar’s character arch. It has that similar notion of “from catatonic to explosive” the way that Bat Boy does. It also reminds me of playing in John and Jen. That was in 2008 or 2009, it’s an Andrew Lippa piece, and in the first act I go from ages 4 to 17 and the same age spurt in the second act but as a different character. So that extreme and sudden growth reminds me of Edgar as well.
How is the Bat Boy/Edgar role similar or different to other roles you’ve played, and do you find yourself relating to him more or less easily than other roles?
I play the villain a lot. I don’t know why but they’re fun. I love them so much. I’ve played Jeffrey in The Lion in Winter and he’s arguably the one with the best one-liners and zingers that just bite at people, and of course Rutledge from 1776 is the same way. I just love playing those secondary villainous type roles. So it’s a nice and interesting change of pace getting to play an anti-hero. Ever since I left high school I’m not the romantic lead, which is totally fine since I find them somewhat boring. I think I’m drawn to roles that are out of my comfort zone. I really enjoy the challenge of “can I do this role?” I’m constantly looking to push myself. And this is definitely a role, and pardon the pun, but it’s a role that I can really sink my teeth into because there is so much there.
I love Edgar so much as a character. His looks are deceiving, well maybe not deceiving -because that sounds so cliché -but his looks betray his character. He looks so freakish but he’s so nice. He doesn’t cope well once he learns all the things he learns, certainly not the best response in handling his anger and those other strong emotions that he has. He’s so good-hearted, and that makes for a really great juxtaposition against his freakish looks. I play up his kindness and it creates this disparity that’s just great.
What sort of preparation and commitment and sacrifices are you talking about for this role?
So the physical part of it was a big part of it. Immediately I went to the gym. I got a trainer. And I thought, “If I’m going to sacrifice all of the stuff that needs to be sacrificed for this role, I want it to be 110%.” At that point I didn’t know if I was going to be a part of the production or not but I was preparing for it like I was, I couldn’t come in unprepared. It started with a trainer at the gym last February. I spent two months in Europe over the summer, and while it was great to get away it was not great to be away from the gym for two solid months. I got back in September and from the moment I got back I was hitting the gym six days a week; six months of six days a week to get Bat Boy into shape.
I was talking to somebody about the physicality during the show and I ended up saying, “You know it’s not that hard,” and they countered with, “Well of course not you’ve spent six months preparing at the gym!” It was hellacious in the gym, doing all the body weight exercises, the squats, jumping up on things and hanging on things. But once I got into the space, save for a couple of cuts and bruises, I was pretty much ready to go. With all the conditioning I put myself through I think it really helped. Do I like bouncing around the whole time on 33-year-old knees? No. But have I been practicing it so that it now feels like second nature? Absolutely. I took a big chance because who knows who’s going to be cast in the show. I didn’t find out until the middle of this January that I was going to actually do the role, but I guess I thought all along ,“Worst case, I’ll be in good shape.”
Another big part of it was thanks to David Merrill. He is a phenomenal Musical Director so he really helped me get a lot of the sound that Edgar has and he helped me put that all together. It’s been a long process with a lot of people to really get me to where I am now with the character.
Where do you draw your inspiration for these two very different characters that you play in this production?
There are two parts to it, I think. The physical theatre stuff is something that I’ve loved for a while. That comes just from training and thinking about how to be as small as I possibly can. I’m tall and at the audition when they asked me how tall I was and I told them six feet, I thought that meant that I didn’t get it. You know what I mean? You’re almost expecting this impish sort of Bat Boy. I tried to make him as small as I could. I didn’t want to give him ‘wings’ but I did want to indicate something that represented the timid and coldness of her persona and I really wrapped that up in making myself as tight and small as possible for his “uncivilized phase” as you’re calling it— which I’m totally fine with— so that I could juxtapose that against the elongated stature of Edgar.
I watched a lot of Downtown Abbey for Edgar. The scene with “Show Them a Thing or Two” is really a show-stopper. It’s this great transformation where he goes from Bat Boy to Edgar. He goes from squatting and down to cartwheels and splits. But the scene after that is more telling, I think. You don’t have to be as on-point with that song because the audience is so mesmerized by the tricks. The part that I think seals the deal, and it gets a laugh every time, but when I come out polished in my suit and Shelly says, “Oh you look so great,” and then I say “You’re looking splendid yourself, Shelly” which I do in the accent. And to have the totally proper British posture and accent I think it really keys people into that moment of “Oh, this is how it’s going to go from here on.” They may even miss the fact at first that he has an accent because it comes out during the song, there’s even a line about the BBC language tapes.
A big part of both characters for me were the feet and the hands. Even when he becomes “proper” when he gets into nervous situations he starts wringing his hands, pulling on his fingers and his hands physically revert to that internalized gesturing that Bat Boy had when he was what he was before he became Edgar. It’s a lot of fun, but it can’t be too much, so I focused on body parts. People pay attention to the extremities and posture. So I focused on those. He sort of reverts back once that big shocker is revealed to him near the end of the show; his first response is to immediately crouch back on the ground. He has a Jekyll and Hyde moment and a lot of that stems from the physicality. So working the balance of those two characters physically and going back and forth with them, it really was just so much fun.
What were some of the challenges you had with preparing for the role?
I am a dancer, so the choreography was fine. Jamie Erin Miller, our choreographer, is fantastic and incredible to work with. She’s a great choreographer for proscenium or the round, really just anything she does. She and I are friends so working with her for the big “trick number” was really easy. She said send me a list of tricks you can do. I had jumped over a cane before during Pippin, I can do a split without using my hands to get back up, and so both of those got used. We took all these things I came up with and started working them into that number and she really helped get them in a good working order so that the song would flow correctly. It was very collaborative.
I will tell you what I have struggled with since before we opened and I am going to continue to struggle with it until we close. Not the quick changes on stage, because those are fun and not a big deal. But this show is written so tightly that I have quick changes backstage that are an absolutely nightmare. I go from “Dance With Me Darling” where I get thrown up against the cage with blood all over me, and then have to rush back stage, get all the blood off of me, reapply makeup to where all the blood was, and change into the double layer of clothes, which is the tuxedo underneath and the 70’s shirt and outfit on top. I do that number, where they strip all that off, and then quickly change into the proper polished outfit. There is no time. I am literally running. I have three dressers in the back. The same thing happens at the end. There is a 20 second change where I run off-stage after the big shocker reveal, and have to run back stage, get covered in blood effectively and run back on-stage with the cow, and then sing a three minute aria. Wait, not an aria, that sounds pretentious. But a crazy three-minute singing solo that has all this emotion packed into it after all that rushing around.
It’s great that it’s written so tightly because the second act really just flies, but it makes it so tough for me. Even though I’m not on stage the entire time, I’m running like a madman backstage. People are actually concerned for me because I’m sweating so profusely at times from the rushing. It is just non-stop. I almost go on-stage just to take a break. It’s easier to go on stage just to breathe. I’ll be frantically dashing through my changes backstage and if a sock gets turned inside out I have a panic moment of “I’m not going to make it back on-stage for my cue!”
The other thing that I’ve struggled with for this show— and I had mentioned this early on in the rehearsal process, I had this thought of how it would be really interesting to play this role and have Bat Boy look completely normal, no special effects or makeup, and just use my acting to play out his freak-like nature. Of course that isn’t how we handled this and mad props to our make-up designer, Eddie Hall, for the way he handled this. He made the make-up work in such a way that I really love the effect, but it is a huge time consuming effort. That’s a big challenge for me because I have to get to the theatre three hours before we start. For an 8 pm show I get there at 5:00 pm and it takes me two hours to get all the make-up on, and then another hour for the ear prosthetics and the teeth and getting my costumes on. I can’t eat in the teeth. I don’t want to break one. I’m worn out by the time the show starts. Then we do two hours and 20 minutes of show, and then it takes me another hour to get everything off.
Tell us a little more about the concept behind the physical look of Bat Boy and how that evolved to the final product we see on stage.
It is a big deal. We went back and forth with all these notions of “do we just do the face or do we do the whole body.” It is so effective to do the whole body. I sat back and said “I’m shaving my head, I’ve been working out forever, I’m vocally practicing, so at this point I want to do the full body make-up.”The ears were a great collaboration between Beverly and I, we shopped around for quite a few pairs. We really had to ask ourselves, what size do we want? If you look at bats their ears are sticking out of their heads by like two times the length of their actual head. But we knew we had to be practical, at the same time we didn’t want to go Vulcan. We wanted really cute and kind of sad. Think Gizmo if he were bald and gray. I think that they really work.
With this show, more than any other show that I’ve done in the Annapolis area, I have really felt the involvement of the community. I went to Doctor Ehmann (of Kathryn Ehmann & Associates dental practice) about the teeth and she said, “We’ll do them for free in exchange for an ad in the program and some comp tickets.” We’ve been advertizing for her, she’s been advertizing for us, thank you for mentioning her in the review; we really appreciate her involvement in this. It wasn’t just like I showed up to her office once, I had about five visits with her where she was resizing things, fixing things. They gave us two sets just in case one broke like it did the first Thursday of the run. I was upside down and I was not concentrating and when I did “Home for You” I went running, and then pulled myself up and flip upside down, I think I must have clenched my teeth and the right side cracked and went somewhere into the audience. We did not find it.
Premier Fitness, where I train, my trainer put stuff on their Facebook page and at their location so they’ve been doing this reciprocal thing with them because we got such a response after me talking about working out there for so long. They’ve really been great. All of those things that made me look the way I look as Bat Boy— the teeth, the physique, all came from community support. And I think that is so great because that is just a missing piece of community theatre. When you think “community theatre” your mind immediately creates this idea of “amateur actors who live in the area.” And I think there is so much more that can be there. It really is about getting the community involved. Sure, Dr. Ehmann is a dentist and maybe she doesn’t act, but she loves the theatre. She was thrilled to be asked to help us. I think a lot of people get immediately discouraged because they think,“Oh gosh, we can’t do real fangs because that would cost us a thousand dollars.” And then you get these plastic Halloween vampire fangs and it looks awful, but right here in our own community we had someone who was thrilled to donate her services! How exciting is that to have the support of the community, which makes us able to put on a better quality show for the community?
We’ve had such a great response from the community and it has just been so great to have that support and involvement. We can ask for help and people are totally willing.
How’s the blood. I noticed a lot of it. Is it tasty? Let’s talk about the blood, ’cause you know everyone’s going to want to read about the blood.
Haha! Oh my God! It’s a lot of blood! It is a pain in the butt! It is a total mess. It is slippery as crap. And as soon as it’s not slippery it’s sticky as crap. Beverly wanted a lot of blood. That wasn’t a surprise, that was made clear in the beginning it wasn’t like they just showed up for tech week with gallons of blood. It’s really challenging with the make-up because the blood is super staining. If it doesn’t come right off it’s on forever. I dip my head in the head in the bowl in that one scene; the blood goes up my nose and it doesn’t taste great, it tastes a little bit like metallic mint. I’m spitting the blood out constantly, I’m so glad I don’t have to swallow it because it’s disgusting. That’s thicker and gross. But the other blood has to be thinner, more runny; the stuff in the rabbit and the stuff in the bowl and the stuff on everybody is homemade. That is easily washable, to some extent, with Oxy-clean.
It’s a little unpredictable. Opening night I flung my head back after the rabbit and all the blood ran down my face and into my eyes. That was awful because I had to try and ignore it because I had to hurry up and sing. At least it was just one note, but you know, singing one note with eyes full of blood, can’t say I’d ever done that before. The blood that’s in the cow is absolutely disgusting and it gets on everything. It’s all over the floor. It’s all over everyone. It’s in Shelly’s hair, it’s everywhere. That stuff does not come off. So when I go out and greet people at the end of the show, as you saw, it is stained. I go home and take a shower and wash my face and it’s still stained. The blood has been a challenge; it’s just so unpredictable you don’t know where it’s going to go. I try really hard not to get it on the furniture or on my clothes but it can’t be helped.
Do you have a moment or song in the show that really stirs up your passion?
Yes, I do. I’ll tell you the number that sold me on the show is “Joyful Noise Reprise,” the revival where I get to scream and yell on top of the bench. But I also love “Apology to a Cow.” It’s really fun to sing. It’s quiet, it’s bombastic, it’s all over the place. I’m running across the stage, it gets a great reaction. I feel like it is so clever and yet it’s serious. It has jokes written into it, I mean the first line is basically “I shouldn’t work my problems out with food” while I’m holding this huge cow head. It’s kind of the epitome of the show for me because even though there are those two funny lines about “don’t kill Mrs. Taylor’s kids” and “you can’t raise cows on the side of a mountain,” that’s all wrapped up by this song of regret and teaching a lesson. Laurence O’Keefe is just so intelligent in the way it’s written.
“Joyful Noise Reprise” is just so much fun to do as well, the whole cast is on stage at that point. I was talking to Debbie, who plays the mayor, and I’ve worked with her tons of times before, and I mentioned to her that I don’t really get to interact with the ensemble at all except for in this number. It’s the first time I really get to address them. I’ve never done a show that’s really that segregated before; my character is either with the family or alone, and never really with the others. It’s interesting to me because I do know and have worked with so many of the people that are in the show.
What would you say to people who are skeptical about enjoying this show to entice them to come and see it?
I think that the music is incredibly catchy. I think the characters are all very relatable. Even if you don’t know the show a lot of the archetypes are there. A lot of the musical theatre themes are there. I think that there are enough lively musical theatre sounding numbers— like “Dead Cow” and “Show Them a Thing or Two” that people can really latch onto. I do lots of theatre and I know a lot of people who want to come and support because they’re good friends but don’t think they’ll like it because they’re not “theatre people.” But this is a show that you do not need to be a theatre person to really appreciate because it is so diverse and so funny.
It’s not one of the standard Rodgers and Hammerstein or Sondheim musicals that only theatre people really enjoy; you know, “theatre people love theatre people.” This isn’t that. I think that it’s sort of the musical for everyone. It’s “R” rated and that’s a fun, adult night out. But it’s not that cutesy, tap-dancing “Anything Goes” sort of feel that people always assume go hand in hand with musical theatre. I don’t personally feel that it’s “edgy” since it’s been around for a while.
It’s worth taking a chance on because there are enough relatable things for people to connect with in this show. It’s not one of those “out there” musicals that’s sole purpose in existing is to offend people. I actually don’t think there’s anything in there that’s really designed specifically to offend anyone. Maybe “Children, Children.” At least that scene happens during an intense fog. There was actually zero fog the first two nights we opened, and I think the tech crew just decided “we’re going to hold the button until the place is smoked out” on the third performance, so there was a lot of fog by then.
Paige, who plays Shelly, and I had actually both been saying “come on, guys, we’re both totally fine with this scene.” It’s supposed to be in shadow, or under a sheet, or in a tent or something. I mean, I can live with it being in the middle of the floor, but then we had no fog those first two nights. So after we mentioned it I think they went overboard, and we had so much fog, I couldn’t even see her face. That was definitely a compensation thing.
I like all kinds of musical theatre. I will do Sweeney Todd, I will do Urinetown, and I will do Oklahoma!. I think that this is just one for everybody. I honestly think that even if you don’t go to see theatre, you will honestly love this show. Some musicals are honestly just torture if you don’t love musical theatre, but this is definitely an amazing piece to enjoy. There is a lot of humor in this show. It’s not just dark humor. There’s slapstick, and there’s physical comedy, there’s ad-libbed and improv-style comedy. There are great one-liners, and that Neil Simon style of ‘set up and deliver.’ There are a lot of styles of comedy in the show.
This show is out of the ordinary for Colonial Players and has been described as a ‘risky show’ to put into the season, what are your thoughts on this?
I think it’s great that Colonial Players is taking a risk on a show like this. They did do Annie, and I mean, you can pretty much do anything after you do Annie. But I think that this is a message, to Colonial Players first and then to other theatres in the area that this is musical is packing the house. We were sold out opening night and opening Saturday. It was pouring down raining on opening Sunday and we were still pretty full. We are sold out for a good portion of the run. And up until it opened it was talked about as the “huge risk” and there were concerns that it wasn’t going to draw the crowds. Now that it’s open and we’ve had huge audiences, I think that speaks pretty clearly about the show.
It says that there is just as much of an audience for Bat Boy as there is for Annie at Colonial Players. I am against Annie? No. Absolutely not. But I want to see a season that has both Annie and Bat Boy in it; I’m seeing it right now. That gets everyone to the theatre. You can’t get much more diversity than that. I don’t want to see a season that is middle of the road all the way through and there is no way to get passion behind that sort of season. I think this season at Colonial Players is so driven, so passionate, and having Bat Boy as their second musical was such a smart choice.
Bat Boy is often seen as a sacrifice type of show. If we do Bat Boy we have to do this, this, and this really ‘safe’ show to make up for it. And it’s really interesting because this show is really moving; it’s selling out despite being swept under a little bit. There are eight out of ten board members involved with this show somehow, and how successful this show has been, again, that really just speaks for itself that it was a good decision for this season and for this theatre.
Bat Boy: The Musical plays through April 19, 2014 at Colonial Players—The Colonial Players of Annapolis—108 East Street in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 268-7373, or purchase them online.
Amanda Guntrher’s review of Bat Boy: The Musical on DCMetroTheaterArts.