Backstage with Bob: A Life in Five Acts

Actors rehearsing Bob

Iowa City – Dreamwell Theatre’s production of Bob: A Life in Five Acts by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb will open this Friday, March 13 and run through March 21. In the past, this blog has looked ‘backstage’ of shows, giving our readers an idea of what we can expect from a particular production. We’re bringing that feature back and we asked the director of Bob, Nate Sullivan, to give us that backstage peek for his show. Check out the interview below and then check out Bob. Tickets are available here.

The show follows Bob on his journey to become a “great, great man”. Tell us more about who Bob is.

Nate Sullivan: Bob is a lot of things in this show. We get to see his entire life unfold. He’s born and abandoned in a White Castle bathroom and then taken in by a loving woman named Jeanine, who teaches him everything she can to make him special. He spends his entire life trying to live up to those expectations. He keeps a long list of things he wants to accomplish, and he sets out to do them. In a lot of ways, Bob is the American Spirit personified, and we see the journey that this takes him on.

In addition to Bob, who are some of the other interesting characters in the show?

Nate: Jeanine is the lovely White Castle employee who raises Bob and gives him the tools to face the world alone. Connor is the police officer who broker her heart and tries his damnedest to win her back. Along the way Bob meets Amelia at a rest stop and falls in love for the only time in his life; he finds Gunther, a down-and-out animal trainer looking for redemption on a freight train; and he gets a chance to confront Helen, his birth mother, and find out why she abandoned him. In addition to these wonderful people, there are a couple dozen more that Bob meets in his travels all with a story to tell.

Why did you decide to direct this show?

Nate: I am deeply in love with the American storytelling tradition, and this play is a fantastic modern example of that. The characters are broadly drawn yet lovingly real, and the ways in which they connect with each other are sometimes hilarious and sometimes moving (and sometimes both). As soon as I read it, I was convinced that I needed to help put this story on its feet, and I’m very excited about sharing that experience with people.

Can you talk a little bit about the challenges you’ve faced through the rehearsal process?

Actors rehearsing Bob

Nate: One of the strengths of this play is that it has a little bit of everything. It spans a huge tonal range, and the flip side of that is that we’ve had to be very diligent to make sure that all of these voices are heard, that the humor doesn’t overpower the poignancy and the sweeping energy doesn’t make the more nuanced moments seem unimportant. I think we’ve found a good balance.

Tell us about your cast. Anyone surprising you?

Nate: The cast of this show has a good mix of people that I’ve worked with before and people who are new to me, but they all share a common drive to create, tell stories and make people laugh. I think that’s been enormously important to maintaining the sense of democratic collaboration I wanted in rehearsal, and that energy is apparent in the finished product. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with every one of them, but I want to make special mention of Serena Collins. She’s a freshman in high school and at least 10 years younger than everyone else in the cast, but her focus and skill are really exciting.

What can you tell us about your specific production of the show?

Nate: This is the sort of script that can really lend itself to a tech-heavy production, but early on I made a decision to get that energy from the actors rather than from complex lighting or heavy use of sound cues. The result, I think, is a show that is minimalistic and robust at the same time. The cast has done a wonderful job of creating the tapestry of places and voices that this show needs, and they’ve done it without the aid of traditional production technology.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Nate: The process of making this show has been exciting, but I’m doubly excited to share our work with an audience. The drive and warmth in this script are really inspiring, and my hope is that everyone who experiences it will carry a bit of that home with them.

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