“Comics and clowns … are allowed to say the things and do the things and point out the things that we’re not really supposed to talk about, or do, or point out to each other in life,” Quay said. “They live larger. They live, often, more passionately — and certainly more absurdly.”
Quay created and will star in this year’s Chau-Talk-One, which has its one-time show at 7 p.m. tonight in Bratton Theater. A 2011-12 alumnus of Chautauqua Theater Company’s Conservatory, Quay’s CTC credits include Love’s Labour’s Lost, A Philadelphia Story and Three Sisters.
The show centers on Quay’s character, Maxwell Dunn, a small-town magician with somewhat of an ego. Quay said the act combines comedy and magic, and likely a dose of Vaudeville glamour and kitsch.
“When I was younger, all my heroes in acting were Vaudevillians,” Quay said. “That’s a world that’s really compelling to me.”
Drawn to the technique and style of early comedians, Quay said he has always been intrigued by comedy more than any other style of acting.
“These guys would literally spend decades refining eight or 10 minutes of material, distilling it to perfection. I’ve always admired that,” he said.
The actor, now living and working in New York City, said he appreciates magic that incorporates a degree of naturalism. Shying away from seemingly mystical tricks and performers, Quay said he respects magicians who are “exactly like the audience” and act as facilitators of magic. To do this, a magician must investigate human experience much like an actor does.
“Both of those art forms, acting and magic, they require a great deal of observation and perceptivity about the world around the performer, because you can’t really be an actor if you can’t truly experience something,” Quay said. “There’s a lot of crossover between acting and magic and the study of human experience.”
Andrew Borba, associate artistic director, proposed to formalize CTC’s Chau-Talk-One series several years ago. Over the years, many conservatory actors had worked on solo or small ensemble pieces outside of their rehearsal schedule, often performing their partially complete piece at the end of the season for the company.
Since then, the Chau-Talk-One has evolved from an informal model to a yearly component of CTC’s programming. The series has two criteria: a show has to either be a solo act or feature CTC alumni. Quay’s piece does both.
Pieces presented in the show are still in development, making the Chau-Talk-One another phase of CTC’s promotion of new work.
“He’s got a very sophisticated vocabulary — a linguist and a clown,” said CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch. “I’m excited to give him a platform to develop his work — that’s what the Chau-Talk-One is about. It’s not a finished piece, it’s another opportunity for our audiences to come and see something in development but with a performer that I think is exceptionally entertaining.”
In addition to the run of The Tempest in the season’s last weeks, CTC crams in the Chau-Talk-One and its Bratton Late Night Cabaret. Company leadership said both shows evolved out of CTC’s desire to offer as many platforms as possible to showcase its actors.
“Vivienne loves to give opportunity to everyone,” said CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy. “If you look at our brochure, we are so packed to the bone in the eight weeks. If we have two hours to spare we’re like ‘What can we do?’ ”
Though Quay has been interested in magic and comedy for several years, the chance to show his partially complete, one-man show to an audience diverges from many of his experiences as an actor. Showcasing a solo piece is different from working on other productions, but Quay said he is looking forward to returning to the Institution to present his work to Chautauquans.
“It’s scarier and it’s daunting but it’s also extremely exciting because good or bad, everything that happens on that stage, I’m going to be responsible for,” Quay said. “It is what it is, there’s no backing down.”