PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Doug Wright, Fleshing Out Real People in Hands On a Hardbody

By Kenneth Jones
20 Mar 2013

Director Neil Pepe and co-composer Trey Anastasio in rehearsal.
photo by Terri Rippee

Some people who have not seen the film or the musical, but know the premise — people keeping their hands on a truck for days, in order to win the vehicle — have asked, "If they are stuck to that truck, isn't the experience physically passive? Do they dance?" The film makes clear that contestants get a five-minute break every hour, with some other breaks, too, which allows their hands to be off of that hardbody. What kind of discussion did you and your collaborators have about making the show move?
DW: On a rudimentary level, theatre should be about magic. It should make the intransigent move, and the earthbound soar. It should make the mundane compelling, and it should reinvent our notion of space and time. Ideally, it should accomplish all of that with deceptive simplicity. Amanda and I met with several potential collaborators who said, "The concept is too static." We knew they weren't the right people for us. We needed folks like Neil [Pepe] and Sergio [Trujillo]; when we warned them, "It's a show about people who stand around at truck," their eyes lit up with the absurdity of the challenge. They passed the test, and passed it beautifully. I don't want to say much more; I want to preserve a few surprises!

If you entered an endurance contest like the one in the film, how long would you last?
DW: Writing a Broadway musical is (surely) an endurance contest. So far, I've weathered this one for about the last five years.

What's next for you as a dramatist? Can you share any upcoming projects?
DW: I have commissions for the producer David Stone, and for the Atlantic Theater Company. As soon as our truck hits the open road, I'll be buckling down to write again.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)

Here's video produced by La Jolla Playhouse, where Hands on a Hardbody had a 2012 tryout: