Christopher Clough Interviews James Valcq

Read highlights from the Green Bay Press Gazette and Key to the Door.

photos by Tina Gohr

Valcq brings TAP a ‘Velvet Gentleman’

 

Leave it to Third Avenue Playhouse co-artistic director James Valcq to come up with a show theater goers haven’t seen anywhere else, and about a quirky character of who few have heard.

Valcq wrote and stars in “Velvet Gentleman,” a one-man stage show opening this week about 19th- and 20th-century French composer, writer and artist Erik Satie, a man most commonly described in his today as “eccentric.”

The terms used about Satie in his day were usually a bit harsher — consider that the title of the show was a sobriquet given him because he wore one of his seven to 12 identical gray velvet suits, with matching hats, every day for about 10 years so he wouldn’t need to worry about what to wear in image-conscious Paris.

“Oh, he’s a completely fascinating character — and I do mean, character,” Valcq said about Satie. “We all know people who are a little eccentric, but as I’ve come to know him, I believe he was born that way, but he cultivated it and worked it, not always to his benefit.”

Satie was a prolific writer and speaker, and Valcq compiled quotes from his writings, lectures and diaries to put together the majority of the show. Valcq portrays Satie at various points in his life, from a young man to older, using Satie’s own words and music to convey Satie’s thoughts and personality.

And Satie’s art, too. He was a highly regarded poster and sketch artist, and the show has a multimedia angle by technical director Logan Thomas with about 300 changing displays of Satie’s art and writings.

“I didn’t choose a conventional production for this show because Satie was so unconventional,” Valcq said. “With him, you didn’t know what was coming next. There’s some linear arc to it, but along the way, you never know what’s going to happen next. I think that’s the way to do justice to the essence of Satie.”

Satie may have been considered anything from a weirdo to a lunatic while alive, and his irascible personality probably didn’t help, but today he’s considered one of the most innovative piano composers of his day, influencing composers such as Debussy and Ravel and paving the way for the later Minimalist movement. Likewise, his writings and art, often laced with an off-kilter sense of humor, are now considered a forerunner of the post-Word War I Dada movement.

Bringing the unusual to stage

Valcq has brought obscure shows or shows featuring offbeat characters to the TAP stage prior to this. He directed and co-starred with Claire Morkin in its 2012, ‘14 and ‘15 productions of the Stephen Temperley play “Souvenir” about comically bad opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins — yes, the same Jenkins portrayed by Meryl Streep in the movie “Florence Foster Jenkins” last year — and last fall adapted and directed “Madame Sherry,” a 1910 musical that hadn’t been on a stage in about 30 years.

“The way I look at it is, I’m bringing things to the stage you’re not going to see anywhere else,” Valcq said about those rarities. “Sometimes, it’s a piece that’s a little more obscure or rarely done; other times, like this, it’s something you’re not going to see anywhere else, literally.

“We’re so lucky because our audiences seem willing to go wherever we want to take them, so we can take some risks … It has to be 90 compelling, entertaining minutes. If I achieve that, I achieve my goal.”

This play marks the first time Valcq is performing in a one-man show. That includes playing piano on several Satie compositions; he started studying the instrument in December to prepare.

“This is something I thought I’d never do, as recently as a year ago,” he said. “It’s crazy, and I’m so out there, alone (chuckles). I’m just having so much fun. Yes, it’s a challenge … To sustain a character for 90 minutes is a challenge, even if I write to my strengths. I’m going to places I never had to on stage before. But I’m finding it freeing, fun to let go.”

photo by Tina Gohr

 

Valcq said he finds Satie freeing to portray because the character said and did what he though was right, damn the consequences or peer pressure.

“I think the best actors are able to access their inner child. They don’t think about looks or effect, they just do it,” Valcq said. “Satie, to me, seems a very childlike man. He has the vocabulary and syntax of a Rhodes Scholar but the heart and mind of a capricious child. It’s so fun to be able to just let go on stage.”

Despite Satie’s cantankerousness and eccentricities, Valcq said he thinks audiences will warm to the character.

“I have found him very accessible as a person,” he said. “In writing and rehearsing as him, I feel I’ve gotten to know him, and I hope the audience does, too.

“I love him, love the music, love playing it, love speaking his words. I can’t wait for the audience to be there, can’t wait to share this.”

Christopher Clough is the editor of Your Key to the Door Weekly. 920-743-3321, Ext. 4143, or cclough@doorcountyadvocate.com.

To read the full article by Christopher Clough, go to the Green Bay Press Gazette.

Go to TAP’s home page to see a VELVET GENTLEMAN trailer.