This profile of Travis Marsala is written by Song River, featured in the previous Arizona Profiles post. Song River was intrigued by the goals of this site and agreed to lend her own multi-faceted talents to helping out. Thanks Song! – MB
Travis Marsala – Young Playwright, Actor, Director and Renaissance Man
It’s a warm summer afternoon as we finally get time to sit across from each other on two dark brown leather sofas. I’m sipping a large iced water with lemon, and the proverbial actor/director/writer’s bag of red, white, blue and yellow ‘David’ Sunflower seeds are being cracked and crunched by Travis Marsala. Travis, who just a few months ago had his first play produced, called ‘Joy’ which showed at the Brelby Theatre in Glendale, Arizona. The play reviews were positive and both weekend shows sold out.
Travis is an Arizona native, not something very common. Born in 1986 in Tucson, he traveled extensively during his teen years, then settled in Flagstaff. He is currently in Chicago to further his schooling at Second City. He is living his goal to write for TV shows, sitcoms, and situation comedies. Second City‘s training and his acceptance into the conservatory are his next logical progressions on his journey.
SongRiver: Travis it’s a pleasure to sit down and actually have time to chat. After coming off the road with the Missoula Children’s Theatre… you’ve literally been living out of a suitcase for five months. Are you exhausted yet?
Travis Marsala : Exhaustion probably isn’t a strong enough word. On just the second day of coming off the road my mind already creating the next project, so the script- creation never rests. However, the connections we made as we toured across the Northwestern United States was invaluable. We all learned more from working with the children and creating theater productions in only a week, a whirlwind to say the least.
SR: This busy transitional period of your life is now taking you to Chicago and on to Second City, as you further your career in improvisational work, writing and acting… any misgiving thus far?
Travis: None that I can think of, I’m looking forward to Chicago, Second City and continuing multiple projects.
SR: As you reflect over the multiple scripts you’ve written in story form, movie format and playwright, not forgetting the diverse roles you’ve performed- how is it at the young age of 26 are able to pull real life situations together, at times some so gut wrenching emotional, and have the viewer become the participant? It takes an observer of life, one who is profoundly astute in gathering those observations and creating believable… a talent, a gift, or a measure you’ve practiced?
Travis: To tell the truth, truth is a funny thing. In comedy we laugh “because it’s true.” But in drama, truth becomes something we don’t want to face directly. When an actor falls on stage, the audience concern can immediately switch to the concern for the actor, rather than for the character.
I don’t know how often I’ve heard people say they won’t watch the news because there’s too much violence or bad news – then they turn on Law and Order or some other crime drama where someone gets murdered nightly.
Truth in drama has to be just that – dramatized. We can’t be too true, or the audience will reject it. I suppose that’s why I picked a minimalist setting and have a direct physical interaction with a higher being. So I guess you could say vi veri universum vivus vici.
SR: In your play, ‘Joy’ you used the terminology ‘loss of a child’ I find that interesting in verbiage choice… explain why you’ve used this terminology instead of coming forth with the ‘crux of the word?’
Travis: I must admit that my intent behind that is deceptive. If I were to say the play is about “abortion,” which it’s not, my audience is already divided and has made up their minds about the show. The word is never spoken until roughly half an hour into the show, giving me a brief amount of time to set up sympathy camp on both sides of the issue.
We as human beings do this all the time. Homosexuality, Religion, Christianity, Terrorism, the Occupy Movement, War – these words immediately elicit a gut response, and any opportunities for discussion are discarded. The play by no means is about abortion. If I were to say it’s about one word, it’s “consequences.” The play neither endorses nor condemns abortion in itself, but explores the consequences of one. Consequences are something we’ve become afraid to face.
SR: Was ‘Joy’ a reflection of personal experience? From where did you draw the building of this relationship and its final outcome?
Travis: I have never had the misfortune of being in a position to choose with a partner. I’ve had friends make the choice though. Some have chosen to keep the child, others have aborted, and both have suffered and delighted in the results of both.
This play is just one result that I felt like didn’t get talked about much.
SR: Explain the title for your play, ‘Joy.’
Travis: Oh, several reasons – it’s set at Christmas time. A baby is referred to as a bundle of joy. Words and their meanings are deeply explored in the show, so “Joy” and it’s meaning are explored.
I’m sure people who have worked on it and seen it have derived their own meanings, and I don’t want to detract from them. That’s what theatre is – interpretation.
SR: Is there a message you’re desiring from your audience to walk away with? Is there always a message, or at times do writers write for the sake of writing?
Travis: Hopefully people walk out of the theatre with a fresh perspective. Empathy is the great destroyer of barriers – maybe someone will learn to empathize. A far right conservative may understand more – as well as a gung-ho feminist. Then maybe if like the play, they can meet in the middle and talk it out.
SR: Do you feel the topic of ‘Joy’ is an over beaten dead horse? Or is the topic of emotion tied to a shared intimacy ever passe?
Travis: Of course it’s beaten like a dead horse! Everyone’s sick of the pro-life or pro-choice rallies! Their blind submission to a doctrine is so staggeringly degrading to the human race that it’s embarrassing. A person who is staunchly pro-choice has no capability to see the other side and vice versa.
I have my own personal feelings on the subject that I won’t delve into here (I probably subconsciously integrated them into the play for someone to pick out). The point of the play is to reach across the aisle and let people talk about it on the way home from the theatre. Neither condemn nor endorse.
SR: There are many ‘hot’ issues being debated within politics, society, churches, and families the world over. How does writing help expose these subjects to a wider audience when they become produced? Do you think productions whether by stage, TV, literature, or movies can help open doors to discuss and maybe resolve some of the daily challenges we face?
Travis: I toured with a Children’s Theatre. You can tell which kids are watching violence on TV and which ones are not. Believe me.
If the last thing you watch before going to bed is someone getting their head blown off by a shotgun – you have to wonder what that does to your psyche. If you watch a play that exposes some terrible atrocity – you have to wonder what that does to your conviction.
If the book, ‘The Jungle,’ can do it about the horrid conditions of food factories – surely we can do the same today. Charlie Chaplin was a master at exposing the plight of the poor in his films. The Kid and City Lights are two of my favorites. But he made us laugh about it. Not by being bawdy, or over the top, but by telling the truth, or rather showing the truth. He also wasn’t afraid to pull at your heartstrings and put some drama into his work.
There is no magical combination of words anyone can write to instantly resolve all of the problems in the world. That becomes the responsibility of the ones receiving the message. It is my duty, and the duty of writers everywhere, to spread our message. And hopefully the message takes hold somewhere.
SR: How many times, if any, did you change the outcome of this story?
Travis: The ending has always been more or less the same. I was really working backwards.
SR: In your varied works Travis, what and how do you prepare yourself to enter into the modality of creating?
Travis: Closing Facebook is always a big step.
Basically, if I have an idea and I jot it down, and that idea is still on my mind a few days later, I know I got something so I work on it a bit. After a couple of weeks, if I still can’t get it off my mind, I attack it head on.
If it can subconsciously keep my brain that entertained for that amount of time – it seems like something worth doing. I have several notebooks of random ideas lying around.
SR: It is my understanding aside from your current produced play, that you’re are also working on a series of children’s books, tell us a little about this. As well, you are working on a script for a puppet play? Will that revolve around children as well, or is it for all ages? Share with us a brief synapses of the writing of the play and is scripting a puppet show different than a play? Or are characters… still characters no matter if they are moving, talking walking humans or a hand stuck up inside a sock? Do you build and create your own puppets?
Travis: I like to have several projects going at once. It’s like a puzzle: if you can’t figure it out, walk away, do something else, and come back to it. Suddenly, you see exactly where a piece should fit.
The books are something that I’ve always wanted to do and was never sure how. So I’m just really figuring those out as I go. They are about Jack and the Beanstalk – but it’s a giant twist – in that Jack befriends the Giant.
The Puppet play is something else entirely. We’ve become so damnably scientific, I wanted to create my own sort of mythology. It’s about The Skybuilders. The ones who built the sky at the creation of time. It’s really no different than a play.
And a puppet can be oh so much more than a hand up a sock. Warhorse is the first thing to come to mind. I run a blog (www.giantdreamspuppetco.blogspot.com) about puppetry as well. It’s new, so I’m still trying to get in the habit of posting once a week in it. I’m sure there will be many updates in it as The Skybuilders starts to come together more.
Other than that I’m continuing to work on writing, performing, and enjoying all the learning at the conservatory here at Second City. As well, looking forward to being back home for awhile in Arizona for Christmas. It’ll be great to catch up with family and friends again… plus it’ll be a little warmer for me for a couple of weeks so my bones can thaw out!
Writing and performing life takes a little psychology and a turn of psychosis to understand the plight of human beings. You have to take on their character traits and delivering them to a captured audience.
SR: As you move on to perform, write and direct in Chicago we wish you continued success and know you’ll always keep the heart of Arizona in your soul.
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