Imagine four of the most intelligent people you have ever known. Now imagine these four coming together to form a Voltron-like Mech, but instead of like laser swords, it wields the power of music and drama and, uh, friendship?! That’s Rook!
Do you like musicals? No? Great, then Rook is the musical improv troupe for you!
You DO like musicals? Oh fantastic, because Rook is the musical improv troupe for you too!
Rook is trekking all the way up from Austin, Texas, to perform at the Dallas Comedy Festival (DCF) at the end of the month, and I could not have been more excited to shoot them some amateur-level journalistic questions to pick their minds about!
DCF: What is Rook’s dramatic origin story?
Rook: Rook was started when Megan and Sarah Marie were strolling down the street in summer 2016. (After they produced and starred in a musical together!) They talked about the types of projects they enjoyed and the kind of art they wanted to make in the future. They were both looking for something new, different, and --of course -- musical. Walter and Megan had worked together previously, and he was a dream-come-true musician. Cat had collaborated with Megan and Sarah Marie and was exactly what the group needed for balance and skill. With our powers combined, Rook was born.
DCF: I saw last year’s show at DCF and was blown away at the subtlety of it all. Compared to other improvised musicals, at least in my own experience, Rook has a certain somber and more dramatic tone. There’s a lack of jazz hands and flashy numbers. Why was this style chosen, and what do you like about it?
Rook: Our style developed as we learned how to play together and what each individual member was passionate about. Megan is our singer, and she's always pushing us to improv our technical skills. Walter is a composer and creates and nurtures a wide pallet of musical influences. Cat is an improviser with a fierce passion for collaboration and honoring the spirit of the work, and Sarah Marie is an actor. She's always pushing us to go deeper. All of that smooshes together in a powerful way. We do silly shows, sad shows, weird shows. It's always a mashup of our individual strengths.
DCF: Let’s get deep, has there been something challenging as a troupe you have struggled with?
Rook: No, not yet. We're still relatively new as a group (we're less than two years old!), so we're still in the exploratory stage. We're interested in finding what works and following that energy of flow with ease. It's more of a development than a "struggle." Check back in a few years, and we'll have a VERY different answer. Like... in the future we'll probably be able to point back to that time Sarah Marie made us try a deep dive into absurdist theatre or Megan made us exclusively sing in Gregorian chant tonalities ("It'll be awesome, I swear!" -Megan). You know? #thefuturestruggleisreal
DCF: All four of you have your fortes; you’re a cast made up of top-of-the-line improvisers, an award-winning actress, an opera singer, and a pianist. Is there anything y’all can’t do?
Rook: Oh my goodness! Yes, and thank you for asking! Sarah Marie can't eat gluten. Megan can't sing out of key. Cat Drago can't be mean spirited to save her life, and Walter REFUSES to tone down his handsome looks. Like, at all. What a jerk!
In all seriousness, collaborative art is a challenge. It's why we love it. To truly be present for each other and navigate four very different communication and personality styles takes work. It's a long-term relationship, and everyone has different priorities and different investment levels. That's always a challenge and one we love working through.
DCF: Walter Nichols, your wonderful and handsome (you said it, and I agree) pianist, doesn’t use a traditional keyboard set-up. Can you detail the set-up used and the effects this lends your performances?
Rook: Walter uses either a full keyboard with piano and other classic keyboard sounds or a micro Korg that has some keyboard as well as synth sounds. He also uses an OP-1 synthesizer/sequencer/sampler/tape machine. These instruments give him the right combination of freedoms and constraints so that the technology "gets out of the way," letting him focus on the drama onstage and how he can add to it. And YES, gosh darn it, he is THE MOST HANDSOME MEMBER OF OUR TROUPE (it's okay, we say it all the time).
DCF: You describe yourself as “off-off-off Broadway.” What are the perks of this level of limelight?
Rook: Are there perks? Wait...are you giving us perks?! We have a seriously long list if that's the case! In all seriousness, it's a joy to play together. We respect one another so much as artists, and more importantly, we're friends -- and that's the best perk!
DCF: I did some snoopin’, apologies, and noticed y’all are possible fans of The BK (Burger King). What’s your go-to BK order?
Rook: We actually frequent Whataburger! Your snooping is futile! Megan usually gets chicken strips, Walter gets a classic burger with bacon and grilled jalapeños, Cat gets french fries (she's vegan!), and Sarah Marie eats peanut butter from a jar while photographing us (she's a gluten-intolerant, peanut-butter loving monster).
DCF: Which movie stars would play you in a bio-flick of your act, and what would the movie be called?
Rook: What a tough question! We had our first troupe fight about it. Sarah Marie insists that Megan is a singing cartoon bird, and Megan thinks that's silly. Then that led us to a spirited debate about what Walter's spirit animal was (maybe a stoat*), and Cat wanted us to hug it out. Tentative title: Four Little Birds. Tentative casting... Walter - Jack Black, Sarah Marie - Joanna Newsom or Bjork or Amanda Palmer or Tilda Swinton (she can't decide), Megan - Natalie Portman, Cat - Liv Tyler.
*picture of a stoat below
Rook performs Saturday, March 31, 2018, at 6 p.m.
Raye Maddox likes Captain America: The Winter Soldier, award-winning composer Michael Giacchino, and couches. See him perform during the festival in The Revenge Society (Thursday @ 6:30) and Midnight Passion (Friday @ 7:30)!