He’s on stage for his second appearance this season.  A familiar face that’s been traveling the country the last few years has returned home for the third time in the last twelve months to bring us humor and joy.  We sat down with the hometown kid, Christopher Joel Onken, to talk about his experience with our latest romp…the sci-fi farce, Important Hats of the Twentieth Century.

WHT:  Good to have you back home for another turn, young man!
Onken:  Good to be back on a stage I dearly love.

WHT:  For a script that is so fast-paced and covers so much “time,” where does your approach start for a show like Important Hats?
Onken:  Despite its many twists and antics, this show still gives us conflict: two rival designers and a doctor with a missing machine.  Making sense of who I am in relation to the conflict and what I hope to accomplish over the course of the play is my next task.  Of course, memorizing the words is also a good place to start.

WHT:  Tell us a bit about the discoveries you’ve made from your initial read of the show to now being in performance.
Onken: We are one of (if not the first) to produce this script in its most recent published form.  It premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2015, and since then has evolved into the production we are performing at The Warehouse. Fresh material is always an exciting process.

WHT:  What struck you as most important in the first read (or additional reads) of the script with your role?
Onken: Hats, of course!  Paul and Sam’s relationship is key for me.  They are old classmates turned competitive fashion designers with contrasting methodologies on style and beauty.

WHT:  What’s been the most significant change you’ve made in your portrayal of your character(s) since rehearsals started?
Onken:  Of the eight person cast, only three of us play one character, the rest have an aggressive amount of costume changes.  Making sure my Paul had a consistent arc required rehearsal tweaking.

WHT:  What’s been your greatest challenge in bringing this show to life?
Onken:  There’s time travel.  In the round.  Need I say more?

WHT:   What strikes you as the most fun element about the show itself?
Onken:  There’s time travel.  In the round.  Need I say more?

WHT:  There are like a million characters in this show.  So if you were given the opportunity to swipe a character in this show from one of your fellow actors…which one would it be and why?
Onken:  Dr. Cromwell.  Who doesn’t love a mad scientist?

WHT:  You are performing in the round for this show? When is the last time you performed a play in the round? Talk about what this experience is like preparing for the audience to be so close to you no matter where you run on set.
Onken: The last time was more immersive or environmental, so this has been a lovely challenge.  My personal goal was to share a little bit of every scene with each side.  See it more than once and sit somewhere else!

WHT: Often actors find that certain scenes in shows are just flat out fun to play every night.  Is there a scene in this show that bubbles to the top for you?  That you simply look forward to playing every single night?
Onken:  My confrontation with the doctor is a favorite, but shh, no spoilers.

WHT:  What’s it like working with a brand new draft of a script?
Onken:  New work is essential to continuing theatre’s life and relevance.  It’s an honor to be one of the first to take a stab at someone’s script.  Also, a lot of responsibility.

WHT:  What’s the process been like working with Jay Briggs as a director?
Onken:  Jay is an ingenious director, attentive to style, comedic timing, continuity, and character relationships.  I enjoy watching the gears turn.  His rehearsal space invites collaboration and encourages imagination.

WHT:   Was there anything in the scenic, lighting, or costume design that affected your choices on stage?
Onken:  Music is a powerful ally for me as an actor.  Now in my third show with Marc, and I just eat up everything he spits out.

WHT:  Piece of advice for an audience member coming to see Important Hats?
Onken:  Enjoy it for its sci-fi riffs, film noir vibe, and ludricous antics.

WHT:   What’s next for you this season?  You have another gig coming up in the near future?
Onken:  My next contract finds me in Omaha, on a new production entitled Silent Sky, about the women scientists who first mapped the stars outside our galaxy.  This summer finds me back out for another season with Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

Catch Christopher Joel Onken in all his villainous revelry in Important Hats of the Twentieth Century now through February 18th!