CHP Dialogue

Brian Morvant talks with Stacey C. RIvera

Brian Morvant has one of those smiles. It’s completely cliché but he, well, lights up a room. And his laugh, well, it’s…infectious. As a matter of fact so is Brian, with his extreme love of comic books, his willingness to give anything a try, his genuine curious and positive attitude and his non-annoying use of the word awesome. You’d kinda hate him if he wasn’t such a good guy to have a beer with, which we did in the Fall of 2009 at the Scratcher. profile, go.

Oh jeez. I’ve been in New York for six years.  I’m from New Orleans.  I do theater and TV and film and stunts.  I used to write and I’m writing again.  I like comic books. And sunsets.

Why did you leave NoLa for NYC?

Well, I came to New York and I thought I would do theater. I left college [Loyola University New Orleans] after two years to come here and work because I didn’t like what I was getting out of college. I had taken a program in England [BADA; the British American Drama Academy] and learned about what sort of training I could get.  Then, when I got back to college, I did two days and I was like, “This is not the training I can get.” So, then I applied to other colleges, and I auditioned for Julliard and got a call back. The day I got my letter that said I didn’t get in, I showed it to my mom and said, “I’m moving to New York.”  I came up here a week later. So, I didn’t know what would happen.  I just knew I would start working and that’s what I did.

One of the reasons I left school was because I went for TV production.  Loyola was really great for TV production but they had a program that for the first two years you sort of barely put your hands on the stuff and I was freelancing as a cameraman and learning what it was at a studio and at the Superdome and getting paid for it.  I had a hunger to just do; just do it, you know?

And did you get the training you were looking for?

No, that’s funny because there were a lot of things that when I first moved here I said I wouldn’t do.  Classes and seminars and things like that.  When I moved here, I would say something, like, young and stupid, you know, in terms of my own perspectives for myself. “I wouldn’t do a commercial” or “I wouldn’t want to do a soap” but the longer I’m here, the more I realize I would do anything.  You know, it’s all work and it all helps. 

So, the longer I was here I got notes from people about different hang-ups I had or things that I needed to, sort of, smooth out of my technique.  So, I started taking classes.  If I didn’t have a day job [part-time at an investment bank and at a promotions company] and I just was working and had good money, I would take a dance class and a stunt class and an acting class everyday.  That would be awesome.

What was your first paid acting gig?

New York Renaissance Fair. The first year I was a sheriff’s guard.  The second year I was Don Juan.

What was your most bizarre audition?

I auditioned for a soft-core porn accidentally. It was one of those auditions that say “It’s an improv, short film, and come in.”  I went in and I did the first audition.  Then, they called me and said, “We want you to come in for a callback/the first shoot” which was weird. “It’s at my apartment in Brooklyn.” So, I went to this guy’s apartment and I was sitting across the table from three beautiful girls in his living room. He was sitting in a chair and I was sitting in a chair across from him and he was like, “Okay, we’re just going to record this.  The scenario is that you’re Bates; Bates the mechanic and you’re at a stop and repair gas station on the middle of the road.  These girls pull up on a road trip and they don’t know how to pump gas and so you help them.  But in the process of helping them you see that they are really gamey girls, and you convince them to take their tops off and make out with each other.”  I was like, “Oh yes?” He was like, “Just before we shoot, sign this release and we’ll be good to go.  Let me just go get a pen from the other room.”  He walked away and the girls were staring at me and my eyes were, like, supper wide. 

As soon as he walked away I stood up like a ninja, threw my bag over my shoulder and ran down the three flights of stairs.  Then I ran all the way to the subway. [Brian was about 21 at the time]

I’ve seen you in two CHP productions [as Lars in 2008s Appetite for Destruction and Sam in 2007s Tucker in a Box and we’ve both participated in CHP workshops. How’d you get involved with CHP?

I got into Collective Hole because my friend Garrett Feek did the first Collective Hole play [Run the Maze, Burn the Maze, which Brian saw]. He said once or twice, “You should meet Rebecca.” For whatever reason, it never worked out [Brian attended an early reading of Tucker in a Box].  Then they had auditions for the next play, Tucker in a Box [which Feek was also featured in]. I auditioned and I got cast. It was awesome because I had been doing a lot of Shakespeare, and I was really hungry to do a contemporary show.  It was really easy to invest in it.

Why was it easy to invest in?

I get excited about Shakespeare, but I get more excited about stuff that people can readily access without turning on a certain heightened sense of their brain.  You know, language that people can readily understand; sets and situations and clothes that people can readily relate to.  The way you sit on a sofa is more relatable than the way you wear your tights and position your ankles.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m much more excited about contemporary storytelling than classical.  Classical is exciting in another creative way but contemporary is cool.  That’s what CHP is.  It’s all relatable, cool stuff and language. And the process was awesome and fun and very collaborative.

Process is an important word for CHP. Give me your take on it.

Collective Hole is so much about process. One of the reasons that I’m so excited about the future with CHP is that with Rebecca we have 100% trust, that we’ve earned. [Brian is in the early writing stages of a one-man show based on a novel he began years ago. In Brian’s words “I’m an actor for sure and it’s weird to say I’m not a writer.  But I’m creative.  When I moved here I started writing. But it was just, sort of…it was like a way of expressing myself.”]

I know that from the beginning, before the actors come on, Rebecca and the writer, in the case of the first three shows, Edward Clapp, had a great process where they played together. They would pitch names and storylines and past histories of characters.  He would write and they would shape. Then, they would bring it in workshops for an audience and listen to their perspectives and shape... 

It was cool because Rebecca has a way of…you know, one of the things that she likes to do is let you block yourself—just move organically.  I think the main root of her process is to ask you questions.  She’s not giving you a line, telling you how to say it.  She’s not coming in saying, “Here’s your movements” because everybody has their own and that’s just the way she works. When I went through two or three rehearsals saying, “Well, when is she going to give me blocking?  Is she going to give me blocking?  When am I going to know exactly what I’m going to do?”  Eventually, I started to learn, “Oh, I may not know, but I’m going to feel free to be creative in the moment and play with what’s going on and play with my fellow actors.”

But then, the second time around it was awesome because I knew what her process was, I knew her philosophy on blocking and stage directions and the freedom you have.  I knew how she was going to direct by asking questions.  Those questions are going to be up to me to answer in performance. 

We just met after I showed her a first draft of a first scene for the one-man play.  It was nice and she can just say what works and what doesn’t work.  We can do it for the story, and we’re not so unknown to each other that we have to walk on eggshells.  We can just create from a great place of creating.

Part of CHPs mission is to create a community, tell me why that’s important to you and how it works.

Kurt, who was in Appetite for Destruction, told me a story once about a seminar with an agent. Someone raised their hand and was in some way trying to win the agent. The agent said something like, “Look, don’t try so hard to win me.  Maybe I’ll get you a job, but I don’t need you to try to win me over to be your friend or to network with me. My network are the people who came up with me since I was 20-years-old.  Those are the people who are my genuine friends, who I genuinely love, who I genuinely collaborated with. I don’t need you to do that.  You need to do that to the people who you’re close to now.  Invest in them, bow down to them, support them.”

I guess, just the longer I’m here, it’s been like six years now, the more I just connect with my friends.  I mean, obviously I reach out to other people but things like CHP are cool because Rebecca is my friend and you’re my friend and Julia’s my friend.  I’ve made great friendships with people like Kurt Rodeghiero and Sara Gozalo [cast of Appetite for Destruction]. We all answer each other’s questions.  I say, “I don’t know what I can do with this story I have,” and Rebecca says, “Maybe I can help you as a director and editor and collaborator in putting it up.” And we’re all here to help during the staging of it. Whether it’s sitting in on auditions like Nina Morrison does or helping with the show itself like Erin D. Coffey does or stage managing like Julia Middleton does.  You know, we’re all here to help out friends and then do it professionally too. Things like that feel much more important than bouncing from person to person.

When Rebecca was saying, “I want to put together a show for March, April tentatively.  I’ve met a writer who I’m really excited about, his name is Paul.”  She told me as a friend and I told her then whatever happens with the show, I want to help you in some way while the show’s up.  I want to come to your workshops or help you out with marketing and PR or securing a space.

It’s just been a cool collaborative, collective family, you know, we all just toss it in the collective hole.

Where do you see Collective Hole in the landscape of theater in New York City?

Collective Hole is one of the theater companies that made me excited about theater again.  There’s another theater venue called The Brick in Williamsburg that I’ve seen theater at that I feel like is a community of artists who are just putting up their own geeky, gleeful productions. Collective Hole is doing the same thing.  Everybody has their own thing.

From the creative perspective, everybody is really putting in. I just think that’s what it is, us creating theater that matters to us and we think that audiences would be interested in. We all have a collection of geekarhythms that we’re going to do and put together and hopefully it’ll geekily excite or geek out audience in some way.

Do you think that’s easy to do because the “we” of the company sets the “we” of the audience through fundraising and networking and creating work that is relevant to our lives, in this moment?

Yes.  I think so.  I think it’s a delicate balance of, like, we’re really interested in making sure these are very character-centered things and that we really see things that we can relate to and that are genuine.  It can be emotionally raw. Audiences are engaged by that, you know? I mean it’s cool in the sense that it’s just the idea of everybody giving each other something and it’s representative of what we try to do during the process; just give to each other and I think that’s cool.

Read More:

Dialogue with Rebecca

Dialogue with Paul

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