Monday, August 20, 2018

IndyFringe '18 Character Study: Tristan Ross / Footworm the Musical

Character Study: Tristan Ross

If you’ve ever sat in the audience of an IndyFringe show, you probably know him. You probably heard him before you saw him. You would know that laugh anywhere. You probably thought he was putting you on. You might have even got angry at him for laughing at seemingly inappropriate places. Phil Van Hest said it best during one of his sets, when a slow maniacal chuckle erupted from the back of the room: “Did someone just turn evil?”

Tristan Ross is a character, and Indy is fortunate to have him in its cast of talented and passionate artists. He is the artistic director of the theater company No Holds Bard, which he founded in 2009, and has been praised for his adaptations, direction, designing, and acting in a handful of Shakespeare plays over the last several years. In addition to Shakespeare, he also recently directed a hilarious rendition of Rhinoceros by Eugène Ionesco.* He also writes original plays that have been making audiences say, “HUH?” for several years. In 2014, he unleashed the hugely popular Classiest F^#%ing Show Ever, except he didn’t bleep the word. (All of these groups this year at IndyFringe using that word in their titles? They copied Tristan.)

This year at IndyFringe, he offers up Footworm,The Musical:

When a hard-nosed newspaper editor injures her foot in a river, her active lifestyle is put on hold while she recuperates. She is able to take this time to reconnect with her love of Shakespeare and, through that, find a love living inside of her that she never thought possible.

I talked to Tristan earlier this week about his latest creation. Here’s his complete explanation of the premise, his process for development, and his inspiration for creating it.

“Well Noelle got a parasite, and she had some YouTube videos of it being removed, and I thought, ‘Hmm. That would make a great musical.’’

Tristan is a man of hearty room-erupting laughs but few words. Getting him to talk about his own work is like trying to surgically remove a stubborn parasite from its host with an ice cream scoop that kinda stinks on the account of the remnants of the hemorrhoidectomy for which it was just used.

With much cajoling, I finally got him to do something he hates doing: talk about his own work. “Noelle (a close friend of his who has a reputation of being Conan the Grammarian and unnecessarily active in the outdoors) was playing in a river. She cut her foot on a rock, and later her foot swelled up. Turns out she took on a parasite, a round worm to be precise, which caused a nasty infection. There were some YouTube videos of the parasite being removed, and I saw them, and thought, 'Huh. That would make a great musical.'” 

He began crafting a plot and put in a call to local actor and musician Davey Pelsue: “Hello, Davey. How are you? This is Tristan. Say, would you be interested in writing a musical with me about woman who gets a worm in her foot?” to which Davey replied, “Yeah!” Tristan reiterated his joy to me: “Davey was down with writing a musical about a parasite! I’m a huge fan of Davey.”

We caught the show on its opening night (sort of-- a Mariachi band mix-up preempted all Fringe shows slotted for that venue on the actual opening night) in a 10:30 pm time slot, by which time we were pretty bleary eyed. While the premise is completely weird, the plot is well crafted, the characters developed and quirky, the pacing swift, and the songs  a total blast. You really did sing a long. It’s one of those shows where you purposely hold back your laughs because the jokes come at you so fast you don’t want to miss one. There were many times when I wish I’d had a PAUSE and REWIND button for this show. In addition to the fantastic writing, the chemistry of the actors was outstanding, and the timing impeccable. I got the feeling that the cast had a lot of input as they worked their way through rehearsals, and the results of their collaborative effort should be applauded.

Tristan takes theater criticism very seriously. To make him happy, I will offer the following criticism: turn the music down because it’s hard to hear the lyrics. The music, “by the by,” as Tristan is fond of saying, is quite lovely. 

Tristan said it best: “By the climax, there are some people who just might cry. My mom might cry.” “Why would they cry? Is it sad?” I ventured. “No it’s just that if my stupid show weren’t so stupid, they might just cry because Davey’s music is so beautiful. I don’t want them to miss that.”

By now it must go without saying that Tristan is no stranger to us. Maybe you want to discount everything we say because of that. Well, then take it from this undisclosed source:

“He has the confidence to know how to get things done, the humility not to brag about his successes, and is always very generous in his praise of others.” As for a review of the show, the same anonymous source offered: “Like anything by Shakespeare, Footworm aims for a wide audience. High-brow jokes come just as frequently as ones about pee.”

Okay, okay, that was also someone who knows him, but you kinda get the picture: when it comes to Tristan, to know him is to love him.

So what else is there to know about him? He spent his early childhood years in Mooresville, a place he called “a wonderful place for a child to grow up. We had this nifty fallen tree in our back yard that looked like a rocket, and I used to love to straddle the tree, pretending I was an astronaut.” He shared this memory in fond wistfulness. Later he moved to Greenwood and then went to college at Franklin, where he studied French and History, “which is why I am so darn rich,” he adds.

You can catch him at his day job at The Indiana Historical Society where he is a character actor, a profession he enjoys very much. His favorite thing in Indy used to be hanging out in Fountain Square “before the hipsters took over,” and I can’t repeat the rest of what he had to say about that here, polite company and all. He would love to see more local theater, expressing a love and respect for his talented community theater. “One of the best pieces I’ve seen recently is J. Eyre by Paige Scott. If Indy is missing anything, he laments, it’s community awareness of all the arts happening here.

What’s next for Tristan after IndyFringe? His company is producing The Laramie Project at IndyConvergence in October on the twentieth anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder. “It’s tragic that this kind of thing is still happening, and happening right here.” If you’ve never seen this beautiful piece, do yourself and favor and get tickets.

Footworm the Muscial
Book and direction by Tristan Ross
Music by Davey Pelsue

Starring Tristan Ross, Abbie Wright, and Dane Rogers


Tuesday Aug 21st, 9:00PM
Thursday Aug 23rd, 7:30PM
Saturday Aug 25th, 9:00PM
Sunday Aug 26th, 3:00PM

Firefighters Union Hall, first floor. 748 Massachusetts Ave

Adult: $15, Senior Citizen/Student: $12, Under 12: $10
Genre: Comedy, Musical Theatre, Puppetry
Audience Warnings: Parental Guidance *no f-bombs unless Dane accidentally ad libs one again

*thanks Mary Jane Moriarty for reminding me who the actual playwright of Rhinocerous is!


Abbie, Gus, and Dane getting ready for rehearsal

Gus, quoting some Don Quixote

Uncovered! Tristan's senior yearbook photo!

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