Thursday, August 20, 2015

Spotlight On...Oliver Trager

Name: Oliver Trager

Hometown: New York City

Education: Bennington College; B.A. Literature

Favorite Credits: Dig Infinity! which won the 2014 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity award as Outstanding Adaptation, I won best actor in an adaptation and my co-star (Russell Jordan) won best supporting actor in an adaptation.

Why theater?: It can serve as a portal of shamanic transcendence like few other mediums.

Tell us about Dig Infinity!: Dig Infinity! is the culmination of a 40-year vision quest to reclaim the legacy of Richard “Lord” Buckley (1906-1960). Buckley was the hippest flipster, the coolest cat and a truly original performer. A combination jazz comedian, storyteller, philosopher and gospel rapper, he was known for his unusual cadence combining African-American argot, beatnik slang and the King's English while drawing on sources ranging from the Bible, Shakespeare soliloquies, the Classics, myth, legend, history and modern whimsy and transforming them into one-of-a-kind hip-talk flights of verbal fancy. His jazzy patois and worldview anticipated psychedelia and rap by decades. "Jonah & The Whale," "The Hip Gahn," "Scrooge," "Hipsters, Flipsters & Finger-Poppin' Daddies," and "The Nazz" are just a few of his hallmark monologues that are the stuff of bohemian fable. Dig Infinity! transpires in a surreal radio station where, on the midnight after his death, Lord Buckley spins out his life story to a DJ named Orpheus while demonstrating his signature material. As the two talk, a dialogue interspersed with flashbacks to various points in Lord Buckley's life, the conversation shifts into a discussion about the importance of truth and art, a topic which includes a trip to Hades and a cameo by God as it becomes increasingly apparent that Lord Buckley is bargaining for his very soul. Lord Buckley’s life and art remain so resonantly timely and why each new generation seems to rediscover and revere his legacy are the ways in which it confronts and comments on controversial components of contemporary American life: religion, language, art, sex, drugs, and race. Yet despite being a secret subterranean hero to the likes of Bob Dylan, Robin Williams, the Beatles, Grateful Dead, Bill T. Jones, Ken Kesey, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Julie Taymor, George Carlin, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez and scores of others, Buckley's achievement has remained tragically overlooked.

What inspired you to write Dig Infinity!?: I was first exposed to the genius of Lord Buckley in the mid-1970 as a college student. Because he merged two passions of mine (literature and jazz), I was immediately dazzled by his unique canon. Ten years later, I began researching his life and work for a book, Dig Infinity! The Life & Art of Lord Buckley which was eventually written and published in 2002. At some point during the process I began writing a screenplay which a theater friend of mine could be adapetd to the stage. So I did.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I am more of a literature maven with a taste for American roots music and the avant grade. While I do derive tremendous insight and pleasure from just about anything good, work that is both fresh and addresses the contemporary moment is what scratches my itch and what I strive to create.

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

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Anything by August Wilson.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Actor: A young Elliot Gould Title: “Wrong Place, Wrong Time”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: If I was limited to a play, it would be Hamlet at the Globe Theater. But, frankly, I’d choose a day in New York City circa 1954 where I would catch a game at the Polo Grounds and a set of Charlie Parker at Birdland.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Collecting Grateful Dead music and listening to baseball on the radio.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Well, as all life is a stage and we but small players, I guess I’d still be in the theater.

What’s up next?: Taking dictation from my muse.

For more on Dig Infinity!, visit