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Friday, December 19, 2008

Interview- Danny O'Connor (Zero)

The Fab Marquee interview by Dianna Martin.

I was so moved by Danny O'Connor's performance in Zero and so interested in the script, that I thought it would be a treat for all of us to find out what inspired this one-man show, which was co-written by his deceased brother Robert. Fortunately for us, Danny was happy to answer a few questions about his family, his work, and what Zero means to him.

Tell me a little bit about your theatrical background, particularly how you think living in Chicago and Dallas effected you. What was it like going from Boston to there, are you originally from Boston?

I'm actually originally from Dallas, but I knew Emerson was a fantastic acting school, so I was ecstatic to be allowed to study there. After Beantown I made my way to Chi-rock, where I acted for three years, but I would definitely say that seeing the Chicago scene greatly affected the creation of the show. I found myself slowly getting burned out, especially with some of the larger, more well known theatre companies out there. I won't say any names, but there was definitely some shady stuff going on. One couldn't get an audition unless you took their class, which cost a couple thousand dollars. Then, after taking the class, maybe they'd look at you. Us blue collar actors couldn't afford that, being waiters, temps, etc...
therefore as usual, ya know, the rich get richer... so the trust fund kids could afford to pay for the auditions, while the rest of us were trapped. I would see the shows, and the guy with a million in the bank from daddy was up there, not doing a very tremendous job, while my friend with ten times his talent was barely paying his rent and not being allowed to even audition! I found it very disheartening, and it was then that I decided, 'screw these guys, I'm doing my own thing.' And here I am!

I know that Zero was written by both you and your brother Robert. How much did he have to do with the playwriting? Was a lot that involved his hand in it coming from overseas? When did you start writing and working on this?

My brother and I began work on this in the fall of 2005. He was already in the Army by then, and I was still living in Chicago. We had written a one man show before, while I was in college, and when I decided to have another go at it, I knew he was the man to call. Unfortunately, we only got to have one face to face conversation about it, during Christmas of '05. Everything else was written via emails while he was at Fort Drum in New York, or by good old hand written letters while he was overseas in Iraq. He was flattered that I wanted to involve him in the show, yet I was far more flattered he cared enough to write lines while sitting in a humvee in the middle of the desert. Then, by pure luck, he got a break at the exact same time that we opened for the first time in Dallas, TX, so he was able to see the show. He loved it; and looking back it makes me so happy knowing I didn't totally screw up all his hard work.

Was this originally intended to be a one-man show, or was Robert going to be in it? Was he also motivated to be a performer?

Oh, it was always going to be a one man. Robert was never the performance oriented type. He was always the poet, the literary giant. I knew I couldn't write this on my own. The comedy I could handle, but the moments of poetic vulnerability he had a much finer touch for. I guess all great poets have to meet a tragic end, right?

You both graduated the same year, were you two twins?

Actually, we were step brothers. We had a very Brady Bunch house, my Dad married his Mom, but my Mom and his Mom are good friends, and there's our sister who was born via my Dad and his's all very confusing. We're a sitcom really. However, our parents got together when we were very young, so I don't have a memory where he wasn't my brother.

Are your characters based on real people?

Yes and No, really. I know, great answer right? The Alex character is the most definite, as he is based on my brother. But the other characters aren't completely based on specific individuals. They're mostly conglomerations of folks I've worked with, acted with, and gotten drunk with. Most people want to know which character I am. The best answer I can give: all of them, yet none of them, thank God!

Do you think that these characters bring about a sense of self exploration for the audience?

I certainly hope so! I've definitely met a lot of people who can relate to the idea that their dreams are slipping away from them, or the conundrum of whether or not to keep trying. Yet there are others who have told me they find comfort and solace in the fact that maybe it's okay to be happy with who they are, and not have to feel the pressure of 'making it big' in order to feel satisfied with who they are. I try not to spoon feed the audience about what answer is right. I find it much more interesting to present the question and let the audience member decide for themselves. But yes, there are definitely people who have told me the show hits close to home, for some a little
too close.

What made you decide to go the route of creating a cast ensemble that are all in dialogue with one another at the same time?

Probably because I'm crazy. Ha! No, the first time I attempted a one man show in college days I took a previously written play and decided to try it myself. It was very artsy fartsy pompousness really. I mean, who the hell did I think I was?! But I realized in the process, that with a lot of hard work I could really convey multiple people talking at the same time and not lose the audience. It's unique theatre, and there's actually a lot one can do with this format that can't be done in a basic full cast show. Here I can decide which face the audience sees, much like a movie. The editor decides which character is seen grimacing or laughing. In a full cast show, the entire cast is visible so you have no control over that. But here, I can cut to one character, switch to another, and it's a totally different and unique experience! If this show were done by a full cast, though I still think it'd be great, the laughter would come at completely different moments. I think it's a fun twist on the one-man format, which is usually one character talking or a string of monologues. Of course, there are some people with no imagination
who sit there befuddled and have no clue what the hell I'm doing, and think I'm totally batshit insane. And that's fair too.

Octaviar Productions presents
Danny & Robert O'Connor's
Nov 15-Dec 30, 2008 (Mon-Sat @8:15pm)
Roy Arias Theatre II

Tickets are $29, students/seniors are $24, active military are $19. For tickets please visit or call 866-811-4111. Tickets may also be purchased in person half-hour prior to the performance at Roy Arias Theatre II. For more information visit

Roy Arias Theatre II | 616 9th Avenue | Manhattan.

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