Interview: WALT ZIPPRIAN of CLEANSED at CATASTROPHIC THEATRE A chat with the man, the myth, the legend… who plays TINKER, but not BELL.

Brett Cullum: What role are you playing in CLEANSED? Are you the star?

Walt Zipprian: It’s actually an ensemble piece. So there’s not really a star. I wouldn’t say. I play a character named Tinker.

Brett Cullum: You’re a star every time I see you. You ooze this star quality in every role you do. Own it! You are a FREAKING STAR! I need you to say that to yourself every time you look in the mirror. I AM A STAR!

Walt Zipprian: Oh, that’s sweet, thank you.

Brett Cullum: Tell us a little about CLEANSED, because I know Sarah Kane is somebody, a writer, you have some history with. I think that you were in PHAEDRA’S LOVE.

Walt Zipprian: (shouts something that sounds like…) WAITRESS!

Brett Cullum: (confused)Like the musical? You were in that? (Brett Cullum starts to think of Walt Zipprian singing Sara Bareilles songs)

Walt Zipprian: Yes, I was in PHAEDRA’S LOVE. In fact, that was my first play with Jason Nodler and Tamarie Cooper! It was Infernal Bridegroom at the Axiom in 20002 or 2003… I think 2002, yeah. And now I’m in CLEANSED.

Brett Cullum: So how did CLEANSED happen?

Walt Zipprian: Jason. I ran into Jason Nodler [one of the founders and main producers at CATASTROPHIC who is directing this show] at a party, and he asked me if I wanted to audition for it. I have only done the Tamarie Cooper musical shows in the Summer for years. I didn’t think that I would get a part in CLEANSED. I just figured, I just assumed, that part would go to someone else.

I agreed to audition with Jason. And after I read the script, I really wanted to do the show. And you know, we had a few callbacks. I really wanted it, really bad. What drew me to the show was what drew me to the work that Catastrophic Theatre does in general. They do work that nobody else does. Work that’s largely unexplored in our region, or in our country, or whatever. I’m drawn to that kind of stuff, and Sarah Kane has a unique view of love and human relationships. And I share some of those ideas. I really do like her writing. And you know, yeah. That!

Brett Cullum: In my mind, because I wasn’t there at your start. I didn’t see PHAEDRA’S LOVE.

Walt Zipprian: Yeah. You didn’t!

Brett Cullum: But in my mind, you’re a comic actor; I’m used to you doing drag parts in the Tamarie Cooper shows. I’ve seen you as German choreographer Pina Bausch. I’ve seen you as Goop, Mogul/Actress Gwyneth Paltrow. I’ve seen you as Republican Barbie Ann Coulter. You’re usually just a funny guy.

Walt Zipprian: I mean, I was in the first Catastrophic show, which was a pretty serious role where I played a traumatized war veteran who abuses his family. I did a lot of that.

Brett Cullum: I’ve never seen that!

Walt Zipprian: I know! I’m funny, you know that. I like funny, and I’ve done a lot of comic roles, but I’ve also done. You know, I’ve done a few serious roles, but I quit acting for a few years, and then when I came back, I’ve just been doing the fun stuff. I don’t like to audition, you know.

Brett Cullum: I know.

Walt Zipprian: It just makes me nervous. I don’t like it. And so the only person that was offering me any parts was Tamarie Cooper.

Brett Cullum: This isn’t your first go-round with CLEANSED either. The cast actually was in rehearsals for this production about a year ago. And then an actor passed away. Zachariah, Mustafa.

Walt Zipprian: Correct. Yeah.

Brett Cullum: You guys made the hard decision of the show’s not gonna go on. We’re going actually to pause and maybe bring it back.

Walt Zipprian: To be honest with you, we didn’t know at first. There were some close relationships there. There was a lot of pain there, and we didn’t know if we were going to be able to do that.

But after a while, we came to realize that NO, we DO need to present this to the city. We do need to present this for ourselves. We were all heavily invested in it. It’s a very emotional play. It’s very hard to do. You reach into yourself, find things you maybe didn’t know existed, and pull them out.

We needed to express that. I was at first of the idea that whatever happens happens, because whether we put this on in front of an audience or not, this is a work that we have created, and that’s really what it’s about for me, just creating the work. Whether anybody sees it or not. We did it right. It would have been nice to have presented in front of an audience. And you know, when the opportunity came up, and they decided, “Yeah, we are gonna put this back out. Next year.” I was, of course, 100% invested in it and wanted to do it. Either way, we would have been fine because what we did last year was what we did last year, and it was something. So, we did create a work of art. Nobody saw it except you know us and a few other people. But we did create something. So, for me personally, that’s that’s enough. But I’m I am glad to have another chance to do it.

You know it’s a different play now. We’ve all suffered this experience together and had a year for it to ferment within us. And we’re different people now and see things from a different perspective. We feel things from a different perspective. And we see this work from a different perspective. So it was interesting to go back and see scenes and go. Wait a minute. I don’t think that I was right last year. I think this is right this year because this is a new year. And this year, this is right! And so.Yeah, yeah.

You know, some theater is meant specifically and only to entertain. And some theater is meant to really make you think. This is the thinking theater. It’s not there to entertain you. It’s there to make you think about something. I don’t know what. I honestly don’t know what.

Brett Cullum: Okay, I’m gonna ask you a personal question. And my most personal searing question is… How tall ARE you???

Walt Zipprian: I am six foot seven.

Brett Cullum: So what is CLEANSED about, actually? I can’t find anyone who can describe it.

Walt Zipprian: It’s about a group of people in a place that has a very strange way of finding love. It involves extreme measures. It’s not for the weak, and there’s really no way to describe it, and I don’t wanna set up scenes and talk about what we’re doing. I don’t wanna give anything away. If you’re familiar with Sarah Kane, you’ll really like this play. If you’re a fan of Bjork, she uses Sarah Kane’s lines from plays in some of her lyrics.

So it’s it’s vio- (Walt stops himself). I don’t even want to say it’s violent. There are violent acts in it. But in the end, I think that everybody gets what they want.

I wear a black trench coat. And a white shirt with suspenders.

Brett Cullum: Alright! There you are! That explains all I need to know.

Walt Zipprian: There are non-binary people in it. There’s a thought that Sarah Kane was nodding to gender nonconformity in this show. There’s stuff about that, so we used many non-binary cast members to fill some of those roles. It’s a very inclusive cast. It’s really very reflective of the queer community.

Brett Cullum: Well, that’s important. I think that’s where we are. These non-binary actors are the future, and non-binary actors and performers taking center stage is something I look forward to seeing. Thank you for your time, Walt. I can’t wait to see you in black suspenders in CLEANSED. I want a Tinker action figure when it comes out!

CLEANSED from the CATASTROPHIC THEATRE runs through April 27th at the MATCH complex in Midtown Houston. Street construction is currently in front of the facility, so plan to be there early to navigate parking. The garage across the street charges ten bucks these days, and there is street parking behind and around the complex. There are tons of eateries within walking distance.