Theatremaking Outside of the Box in “Trainspotting”

If you think you might be offended by simulated sex, extensive drug references, or toilet humor, Trainspotting is probably not the play for you. However, if you’re a fan of the filmor are up for something a little more out there in your theatregoing adventuresthen you might want to make a priority of catching the upcoming final weekend of what is certainly among the craziest productions I’ve ever been in the cast of. 

Yes, that’s right; I said in the cast of. Though I’ve now embraced my place in the theatre community primarily as a writer and critic, it was indeed through acting that I first fell in love with the art form—and for some reason, it seems to make perfect sense that I now find myself jumping back into it by joining a ragtag team of castmates and director James Cartee in presenting this strange, subversive story of Scottish youth searching for thrills,  comfort, and purpose and finding a facsimile of all three in the thrall of heroin. 

But though this is the first show Cartee has produced independently in the South Florida area, it also represents the continuation of a longstanding tradition: a guerrilla theatre project known as “Citizens of the Universe” (aka COTU) that he first pioneered in his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina in 2001 and then reignited after relocating to Charlotte, NC. 

There, Cartee spearheaded the collective for almost a decade, producing a plethora of shows in an array of unique spaces that included parking lots, warehouses, and breweries as well as more conventional theatre venues.

“People would come out because we did events, and our events were shows that weren’t necessarily supported by the theatrical community,” he describes. 

“We were bringing new people to the table, that’s what we were all about. New people, new places, new ideas. And it was successful.”

After initially capitalizing on what he describes as audience “nostalgia” with adaptations of well-known films, Cartee later expanded COTU’s lineup to include less accessible plays, something he refers to as “exposing people to theatre through subterfuge” in an effort to expand interest in the art form.

This work continued until 2017, when Cartee was prompted to leave the city that had become his home to take care of his ailing mother. After she passed, he found himself drawn to find a place where he could start over from scratch—and the place he found would turn out to be Lake Worth, Florida, where he accepted a position as technical director of the Lake Worth Playhouse that he has occupied since. 

Accordingly, his original plan when he requested the rights to Trainspotting—which he’d first produced through COTU in 2008 and then remounted in 2010, earning rave reviews with both ventures— was for the show to be a part of the playhouse’s Black Box series, and not one that he planned to direct himself.

But when this failed to materialize, he found himself inspired to take matters into his own hands and to take on the show as a personal passion project, returning to COTU’s established practice of utilizing non-traditional “found spaces” to bring innovative theatre projects to life. 

And though the journey to finding a space for this particular show would be a bit more complicated than he bargained for, with two more potential venues temporarily secured only for arrangements to fall through before opening, Cartee’s show-must-go-on spirit ultimately prevailed. Thus, the show’s first weekend of performances were held at local kava bar Mystic Roots, and its upcoming second and final weekend will take the stage a few blocks down at Monka’s Beer and Burger Bar. 

But despite the logistical difficulties this fluctuating location posed during the rehearsal process, Cartee believes these unusual circumstances actually enhanced the character of the overall production, which he describes as “more visceral, more different, more shady and more hardcore than I’ve done it when I was doing the show literally in a punk rock club.” 

“The last time I did this show, what I was able to do was exactly what I saw in my head. And I didn’t want this to dumb that down. I didn’t want this to be better than or less than, I wanted this to be equal to, and I think it achieved that in a certain way,” he said.

He also notes that this production is set apart by its cast, describing lead actor Ted Luxana as a “shining star” and praising the entire company’s energy and commitment, not to mention their  willingness to adapt to these less than ideal circumstances. 

“For them to sit here like, yeah dude, we’ll follow you right down the street to an abandoned burger joint, that just shows that the enthusiasm’s there, there’s something to be said about that,” he describes. 

“If we had not done a single show with Trainspotting, I would not have been left depressed… I would have been let down, but meeting everyone on this show, and the fact that not only did we stick together, we learned together, I love that. That’s what I want out of a team, and that’s what we achieved. That’s what theatre should be. It shouldn’t be bickering, and it shouldn’t be backstabbing, condescending bullshit. It should be propping each other up, saying you got this, let’s move this forward, let’s make this happen.” 

As far as what’s next? In the immediate future, COTU is overseeing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream scheduled to be performed at the city’s amphitheater in May, and Cartee has tentatively planned to follow it up with a production of Macbeth to be staged this August. Then, he’s likely headed abroad— but only with the intention of gathering enough resources to later return to the area and pursue a plan of securing and developing his own theatre space specifically dedicated to COTU projects.

“Cause I’ve come to the conclusion that nobody else is gonna do it but me,” he describes, speaking of his established mission of finding scripts that others might not take a chance on staging and giving opportunities to fledgling or unconventional actors who might otherwise not be able to find a “way in” to local theatre.

“I just want to produce. I just want to direct. I wanna tell stories, I think all of us in this particular art, that’s all we want to do. That’s what I want out of theatre, I want somebody to have their life changed, or at least have a story to tell. And that’s actually what this show comes back to. This is Mark telling a story, and this is some of his friends that also tell stories, this is a story about stories. We’re just standing around shooting the shit, about weird times and fucked up situations,” he says.

In any case, I’ve found being a participant in said weirdness to be tremendously rewarding, and am looking forward to continuing the journey in a final weekend of shows that begins this Thursday. Since anyone who’d like to see me: 

  1. Clad in lingerie during a seduction scene or 

  2. Repeatedly being punched in the face

is likely to be satisfied by this show, I think I’ve about covered all major demographics; and also still believe that the theatrical establishment as a whole should pay more mind to earnest underdogs as opposed to established endeavors that condone sleepwalking through seasons as opposed to ever experimenting with more out-of-the-box material. In any case, if you’d like to reserve a ticket to Trainspotting, or find out more about the show, feel free to visit this website; shows will resume March 30th, and you’ve got until April 2nd to give it a go!

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