Sasha Travis has had to bury her clown phobia. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to direct Crazyface, the latest offering of the Savannah Actor’s Theatre. “In terms of clowns, it’s something I had to work through for this show,” Travis says.
The title character Tyl “Crazyface” Eulenspiegel is, yes, a clown. A sometimes scary clown who often gets himself into some very scary situations.
It’s bad enough to suffer from this very real condition, but to direct a play about clowns when you have it seems a little, well, crazy. Fortunately, Travis has been able to keep her coulrophobia in remission while she and co-director Danica Leigh are busy with their directing duties.
The play, which was written by horror maven Clive Barker, itself is somewhat crazy. “It’s very wild,” Travis says.
“This play reveals a lot of inner demons in people you don’t expect to have inner demons,” she says. “Tyl can’t rely on anyone.”
Travis is a Barker fan. “I think he’s a creative genius,” she says. “This is a very funny play about clowns and fools. It’s also a beautiful play, a very touching play.”
Barker based his character on a mythic German folk hero named Tyl (often spelled Till) Eulenspiegel. Some scholars believe that the legends are based on a real person who traveled about Europe during the time of the Black Death, while others think that Tyl was purely a literary creation.
Real or not, Tyl was known as a jester, joker and prankster. The play follows his journeys across medieval Europe as he is chased by his murderous brother, a pair of sisters and the leaders of the world.
During his travels, Tyl comes across a dangerous secret, which is not revealed until the play’s end. He also encounters ever stranger eccentrics along the way, and although Crazyface is a comedy, it can scare the hell out of you, too.
“This is the kind of show in which people do some things that might be considered stupid,” Travis says. “One character jumps off a church roof.
“It is very frightening,” she says. “Some of the music is scary.”
Because of the play’s content, no one under 16 will be admitted to see it. “Parts of it are very scary,” Travis says. “Pieces of skin are coming off people. It’s not a children’s Halloween show. We wanted to do something completely different.”
The play also is quite challenging to stage. “We seem to have a gift for picking shows that are way too big for this space,” Travis says with a laugh.
“Clive Barker has written many, many plays,” she says. “He’s always written for smaller theaters with small budgets. For one play, he was told to write to as many people as he wanted. Naturally, that’s the one we chose.”
Special effects are realized through sounds, lighting, makeup and costumes. There are 19 people in the cast.
“The play has 48 characters,” Travis says. “Nearly everyone in the cast plays more than one person. This is quite an acting challenge.”
One of the actors is Chris Heady, who plays Crazyface. “Actually, the name was given to him by a colleague,” Heady says.
“He is constantly getting kicked out of towns because he sees angels,” Heady says. “If someone sees angels and they’re not the pope, it means they’re crazy.”
At the heart of the play is the secret Tyl learns. “He stumbles on the greatest secret in Europe,” Heady says. “It has everyone and their mother trying to kill him for it.”
Despite the eccentric characters and their wild adventures, the play is very much a coming-of-age story, Heady says. “Tyl is figuring out where he belongs,” he says. “Even though everyone thinks he’s crazy, he’s probably is one of the most sane people in the play.”
Comedy is quite a departure for Barker, Heady says. “The story in general is a very different route from the traditional Clive Barker story,” he says.
“It’s very much rooted in comedy with drama to follow it up,” Heady says. “The fact that this play deals with both is wonderful from an actor’s perspective.”
However, Heady has had to make some sacrifices. “I’ve been asked to do all sorts of crazy things, such as shave my head,” he says.
Yes, Heady did shave his head -- and all his facial hair, as well. His girlfriend didn’t much like it much at first, but Heady felt he had to do it. “This is my first lead ever,” he says. “And my girlfriend has been very supportive.
“I am so dedicated to this role,” Heady says. “It is so wonderful to get a role that has so many changes. I’ve also learned to juggle for this play.”
By the end, Heady’s character has been transformed. “Crazyface becomes more and more a real person and less and less insane,” Heady says.
Rehearsals started in September. “I found out about Crazyface over the summer,” Heady says. “They did Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere in the summer and I couldn’t be here. I said, ‘I have to be in this play.’”
Heady was in Maryland when he heard about the production. “They had auditions the day I got back,” he says. “I was driving down I-95 and calling to make sure I still had time.”
Not only did Heady have time, he got the role. The entire cast has been busy putting the play together ever since.
“We are blessed with an incredibly gifted cast,” Travis says. “It’s been very nice to have such a dedicated group of people. I have the best friends in the whole world to give their time and talent.
“We have had so much fun with this play,” she says. “At one point, there are two people in a horse costume. That makes us all start laughing.”
With fiance Ryan McCurdy, Travis co-founded Savannah Actor’s Theatre. “Ryan and I love Clive Barker,” she says. “We even had a Clive Barker sleepover and showed the movies Hellraiser and Candyman.”
Barker is internationally renowned for his horror stories and novels. He also is a filmmaker and a visual artist, and has created comic books and video games, in addition to writing several plays.
To produce the play, Travis had to get Barker’s permission to use it. He in turn was required to charge a fee, but only charged SAT $1 for the rights.
“We actually talked with Clive Barker,” Travis says. “He’s a very, very nice man and he’s very excited about this production. He’s asked for photos of the rehearsals and posters, so we’re keeping him up to date.”
The Savannah Actor’s Theatre will present Crazyface on Oct. 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28 and 31 and Nov. 2, 3 and 4. All performances are at 8 p.m. at The Ark Theatre, 703D Louisville Rd., in the old Seaboard Freight station. Tickets are $10 for general seating. Prizes will be given for clever costumes. Seating is very limited. To reserve tickets, call 232-6080.