“The Art of Bad Men” at Theatre B: Creating a Role With Taylor Schatz

Theatre is immediate, it’s ephemeral, it connects us to the action on stage and to each other. And the best work aims to challenge us, to change us, to hit us right in the gut and make us think and feel and question our own lives and beliefs in both in the moment and long after the lights come up.

Nobody does this kind of work better than Theatre B in Fargo. They’re not just committed to doing producing great plays, although they do that as well. They want to change the way we interact with art and with each other.

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The first show of the Theatre B season is “The Art of Bad Men” by Vincent Delaney. The company’s opening night performance made history — it was the first time a fully produced version of this play had been performed anywhere in the world. The playwright joined Theatre B for a series of workshops and rehearsals as the script and performance gelled into a final product.

Vincent Delaney’s play an intimate, complex and surprisingly funny look into the lives of World War II German POWs held in Northern Minnesota. Through the characters’ conversations, a play they produce in the camp and the work they do on the farm as part of their sentence, we get a nuanced, highly personal look at a war that defined a generation. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Today I’m talking with actor Taylor Schatz about what it was like to create a character while the script was still evolving. His interpretation of his character, Gerhardt, is at once bitter, aching, sweetly hopeful and wryly funny. It was my favorite part of this production.

Here’s Taylor.

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Taylor Schatz as Gerhardt and Clare Geinert as Cordelia in “The Art of Bad Men”
Photo by Brad Delzer

What was your favorite part of working on this show?
“There are too many favorites to list, but I would have to say having the author, Vincent Delaney, come in and work with us was a real treat. It was great to talk with him and get some insight into the process by which he came to write this show. He worked with the actors and gave his thoughts on character and alleviated any pressing questions we might have had, either historically through his research and finding or logistically how something might work when transitioning from the page to the stage.”

What was the biggest challenge in working with a script that was still evolving?
“We got an earlier version of the script way before rehearsal started, so some of us were getting used to the flow of that piece. By the time rehearsal started, Vince had sent us an updated, final, performance draft of the script. It’s been workshoped at other places for a while now, but never had a fully produced staged show. It’s a process and it takes time…with any art. The powers that be finally decided it was the right time for this one to be fully produced.

There weren’t huge plot changes between the two scripts I read, just more tightening of dialogue and charcter. So, the challenge didn’t come from an ‘ever-changing script’ where we would have to memorize and forget lines quickly, but rather the happy challenge came from developing a character that’s never been fully realized before.

Acting, amongst other things is all about choices. There are strong choices and poor choices. Being one of the first — or the first — to help mold a character through performance can be a rewarding and fun venture.”

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Cameron Wintersteen as Franz and Taylor Schatz as Gerhardt rehearse a play within a play in “The Art of Bad Men”
Photo by Brad Delzer

What did you like about your charcter?
“Gerhardt isn’t what you would stereotypically label as a soldier, let alone a German soldier, let alone a Nazi. He’s a musician who, much like many of the people of the time, was thrust into a war that he wasn’t expecting, nor did he want to be a part of. I think people lose that fact sometimes. Not all Germans were bad. Not all Americans were good. Were all creatures of our emotions and our surroundings.

Gerhardt is a musician. He wants to create art. War destroys that which we create, so in that, Gerhardt doesn’t want any part of it. But also knows that he is just a cog, and very conflicted. He loves his country, but what these countries are doing he doesn’t love. I think there were more soldiers that were like that than weren’t. But you couldn’t say anything. You would’ve been killed. So that was always hanging over eveyone’s head. It’s fun to play the conflict and the duality of it all.”

What do you like about performing with Theatre B?
“It’s always great working with Theatre B. They do a really good job at bringing culturally relevant works to the area. It’s good to go to the theatre and get lost in a show. Its good to go to the theatre and come out thinking something you hadn’t before. It’s good to think about issues that are relevant to our times and our location. And it feels good to be entertained. Theatre B does a good job at doing all those.”

Want to learn more about Taylor and his work? You can find him on Twitter @TheTaylorSchatz and Instagram that_taylorschatz

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“The Art Of Bad Men”
Now through October 10
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday Matinee October 4 at 2:00 p.m.
ASL Interpreted Performance October 3

Theatre B
716 Main Avenue
Fargo, ND
701-729-8880
Bus Routes: 18, 15, 14

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The #PrairiePeople, #PrairiePlaces project is sponsored in part by a grant from North Dakota Tourism. All opinions are my own, always.

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