“One of These Things,” an original senior production by Henry Gottfried, opens this weekend at the Calhoun Cabaret. Gottfried, a former member of the Duke’s Men and the Whiffenpoofs, crafted the production as a solo cabaret — with four musicians as his only company, Gottfried stars as himself. The production clocks in at just over an hour and features an active dialogue with the audience. The piece heavily features the musical repertoire of Cole Porter, a timely decision given that 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of Porter’s graduation from Yale. After four years of active participation in drama, Gottfried reflects on the University’s performing arts community.
Q: Could you give me a summary of “One of These Things”? What should audience members expect?
A: So it’s a solo performance, which means that it’s a cabaret of musical theater songs, mostly Cole Porter songs. It’s just me and a four-piece band and I talk about myself, with some personal stories. It’s basically a chance for me to share Cole Porter music with the campus. I don’t think a lot of students know Cole Porter music very well. The University is doing some Cole Porter events to celebrate the anniversary of his graduation from Yale, but I don’t think students are that engaged.
Q: How is “One of These Things” different from past productions with which you’ve been involved?
A: I’ve never created something new. I’ve helped friends who have produced original plays, I’ve acted in new plays, I’ve assisted — but I’ve never created something brand new, and something new that is tailored to myself. Which means that it’s exciting and, for that same reason, very scary.
Q: Why did you choose Cole Porter as the musical centerpiece of your production?
A: Well, the first piece to this whole process was the University celebrating [the] 100th anniversary [of his Yale graduation]. Over the spring semester and this semester, there have been several events to acknowledge that anniversary. I’m an actor, and I’m a musical theater nerd, and some of his stuff — well, he wrote some of the coolest stuff, just great songs. The timing was right … And I wanted an excuse to sing some of his songs.
Q: What made you choose a solo cabaret over other production formats — say, a play or musical?
A: I wanted to do something to challenge myself. Doing something that’s solo is scary for me. Part of the idea of a senior project is to have a space to do something that is scary, that’s both a culmination of your work as a theater person but still unknown to you. During my time here, I’ve gotten to do a lot of really fun parts in plays and musicals, so I wasn’t looking for just another part that I enjoyed. And also … When is the next time that someone will give me money to make a show about me? Not soon. That might never happen again. It’s a great excuse to do something so self-indulgent.
Q: What would an “ideal” senior project look like for a theater studies major?
A: People do really different things — you can write a play, direct a play, act an existing role, do a research project. You can also design for theater. It’s really cool that there’s flexibility.
Q: Is it odd to perform by yourself for an entire production?
A: It is odd, although I have company on stage, as there are the four musicians. I talk to the audience directly, so I’m not totally isolated; hopefully I’m having an active conversation. On the one hand, it’s really daunting. On the other, it’s really liberating. I can’t mess up — I’ve got some flexibility. On the other hand, if it’s boring or if it’s not interesting or if it’s not funny, not enjoyable, I can’t blame it on anyone else.
Q: Do you see yourself pursuing a career in the performing arts upon graduation?
A: Definitely. I mean, if they’ll let me. I would like to do that. I’m not prepared to do anything else at this point. I would really be screwed if I had to come up with a new plan.