Monday, July 6, 2015

Spotlight On...Riley Thomas

Name: Riley Thomas

Hometown: River Forest, IL

Education: Real Life University

Why theater?: Art is the only thing in the world capable of effectively placing a new thought into someone's head. The immeasurable power music has over emotions and the irrefutable power of a live energy exchange between actors and audience makes theater an unparalleled medium of influence. I want to use that power to help heal minds and souls.

Tell us about Wearing Black: Wearing Black is a dark, gritty, visceral, deeply emotional show about a young man's struggle to deal with the death of his twin brother. As audiences watch the main character struggle with his spiral of self-destruction, they're pulled into a riveting journey all about love, communication, and all the different ways people grieve. It's an intense show, but it isn't a total downer. The essence of the piece is hope and the show never wallows in itself - there's plenty of humor and plenty of sex. Don't bring your kids! I'd say it's in the vein of Fun Home, Next to Normal and Rent.

What inspired you to write Wearing Black?: I'm one of those writers who is constantly working on several projects at once, putting my efforts into whichever one causes the muse to whisper in my ear. Several years ago, among other things, I was working on three plays. Each of them were very autobiographical - writer's therapy. I hate self-aggrandizing masturbatory autobiographical therapy theater and knew that none of these plays would ever work on their own, but I realized if I combined elements from each play it would make for an incredibly compelling musical. Wearing Black is the musical culmination of those three plays. In order to best serve the piece, the autobiographical elements have been distorted to the point where they don't directly correlate to my actual experiences, but I still have such personal emotional investment in these characters. They're as real to me as anyone else in my life. The themes that anchor Wearing Black - how we accept and reject love from ourselves and others; how we grieve; the "right" way to handle difficult situations like loss, addiction, personal growth and communication - are all themes that are incredibly important to me, and things that I wish to share with the world. I hope Wearing Black helps people connect with themselves and others.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love any theater that does not sacrifice substance for spectacle. I can be moved by just about anything as an artist... people, places, things... but it's usually the intangible ideas that do it for me. Human nature, the essence of good/evil/emotion, whether reality is absolute or subjective, whether people are born or made, bias, prejudice, love, loss, ambition... anything that can't be quantified, that's what interests and inspires me as an artist.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Joss Whedon.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: On the Town is a really solid revival, an excellent demonstration of the classical Broadway musical. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is one of the best adaptations I've ever seen, and there are some truly remarkable moments, as well as some really intelligent design elements.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: "Shocked but not Surprised" starring one of the lesser known Muppets.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original Antigone by Sophocles. To be able to experience one of the first master playwrights' works in its original form would be an unbelievable honor.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Chicken parmesan. I could eat it every day.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: hopelessly lost.

What’s up next?: Beyond Wearing Black at NYMF 2015 is the release of the film version of my musical Stuck, and its subsequent transfer back to the stage!

For more on Wearing Black,  visit

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