The average rehearsal span for homegrown Chicago theatre productions measures between three weeks and three months. Which only goes to show that Blair Thomas has never been average. When the lights rise on his one-man show, Hard Headed Heart, on July 8th,it will mark the fruition of a 12-year gestation period.
“I’m just hoping an audience shows up,” says Thomas, 48. That seems likely. A cofounder of Chicago’s Redmoon Theater, he is known for making magic at a wildly signal-free intersection of puppetry, music, storytelling, sculpture, and whatever artistic farrago strikes his fancy.
“To be a puppeteer with serious intent is definitely a challenge, but it also allows me to work in all the ways I want to work—at once,” says Thomas, who then holds his hands apart as if he were measuring a two-by-four: “I can create entire vivid spectacles right here,” he says.
Those spectacles routinely sell out—as did a one-night stand of Hard Headed Heart at the Victory Gardens Biograph last fall. Through the tri-part fugue on love, loss, sex, and death, Thomas is a controlled maelstrom, at once scene-shifter, shape-shifter, storyteller, and one-man band. “A night’s performance is strenuous,” he says. “A month? I’ve never done a month. Of course, there will be someone in the booth making sure the electricity doesn’t get turned off, but other than that, it’s just me. ”
And his gorgeous source material: Wallace Stevens’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” Federico García Lorca’s bawdy comedy The Puppet Play of Don Cristóbal, and the blues-steeped dirge “St. James Infirmary.”
Each part of Hard Headed Heart mines the interior of a broken relationship. The piece could continue to evolve, Thomas says. Certainly his artistry has done just that since he arrived in Chicago more than 20 years ago, with a degree from Oberlin College. “I sometimes make a resolution after a while just to let pieces be,” he adds. “At this point, I’ve done that with Hard Headed Heart. But I would never say I was completely, forever finished. There are very few things I wouldn’t return to, maybe. Eventually.”
GO: HARD HEADED HEART runs July 8th to August 8th at the Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-871-3000, victorygardens.org.
Photograph: Saverio Truglia
Make-Up and Hair: Suzanne Ciba Assistants: Mark Doddato and Jabura Zubari