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An Interview with Brandon Ogborn About His Play, The TomKat Project

Brandon_OgbornBefore Brandon Ogborn’s play The TomKat Project blows up even bigger than it already has, we thought we better get to know him a little — before he becomes so famous he won’t return our phone calls.

Fortunately for us, Synthia Fagen caught the Chicago production and first clued us in that it was a riot. So we asked her if she would interview Ogborn for the Underground Bunker.

The idea behind The TomKat Project is deceptively simple: Ogborn took all the insane media coverage of Katie Holmes’s split with Tom Cruise last summer and constructed from it a parody of our obsessions with celebrity (with Scientology getting a skewering along the way). With a small cast that has actors playing numerous roles each, the play weaves together actual language from media coverage with lines invented by Ogborn. The result is a smash, say critics, and the small production is sold out in Chicago through April, with hopes for bigger things soon.

Synthia: Welcome Brandon, and thanks for being here.

Brandon: Thanks, Sindy, and thanks for checking out The Tomkat Project. I’m really excited to say hello to Tony and his zillions of beautiful readers and fans, be they SPs or OTs. Before we move forward they should know we are conducting this interview inside a brown paper lunch bag and that I now begin every sentence with “allegedly,” even if I’m booking a rental car from Avis.

Synthia: Your show is getting a huge response. Even Bert Fields, Tom Cruise’s attorney, has chimed in about the play.

Brandon: If anyone in the world could sue us into meteor ash, it would be Bert Fields and Tom Cruise. I think they would enjoy the show very much and I’m happy to hold them complimentary tickets.

Synthia: Tell us a little about your background.

Brandon: I was Media Student of the Year at Fruitport High School in Muskegon, Michigan. I was so drunk on that power that I moved to Santa Barbara to study film in college. I wanted to be Steven Soderbergh. After making a few short films, I needed to learn how to better direct actors so I took an acting 101 class. Incidentally, the only production I performed in was The Laramie Project, which, ten years later became the model for Tomkat. I started doing improv at The Second City Training Center in LA. Around that time, Dein and I got married and decided to make the move to Chicago because we didn’t want to raise my stepdaughter in LA. Then, four years later, I wrote this play. I’ve done sketch comedy shows before but I wanted to do something more substantial.

Synthia: I was struck by the amount of detail in your play. You must have done a considerable amount of research.

Brandon: I relied on the Internet. Every corner of it from the New York Times to ex-Scientologist videos that I would transcribe. The seed, really, was when I read about the divorce. I just pictured Katie Holmes in front of a phone, for days, hesitating. The next two weeks was a shit show of gossip magazines — it was fascinating to me. I was thinking, “Why do I give a shit about this stuff?” It was like something bad was happening to a distant family member. Also, there was Scientology, slave camps, the innocent — Suri — who’s in the middle of it, and Katie trying to save her from a “cult.” The story had stakes, which is why we read about it. I sat down in a Starbucks and wrote an outline before knowing any of the facts or dates. I wrote a draft in two weeks. I watched Jason Beghe’s interview, thinking, man, this is a language I do not understand. And I went to the official Scientology website to read the liturgy that David Miscavige reads at the wedding in the play. I watched videos of Martin Bashir grilling Tommy Davis and the BBC show where Davis gets John Sweeney to snap. I was overwhelmed with how rich the Scientology material was dramatically.

Synthia: You’ve been getting good press. The Chicago Tribune gave you four stars and called the play “genius.”

Brandon: Yeah, pretty generous.

Synthia: Were you expecting this amount of interest?

Brandon: Not at all, not even a modicum of the interest that it’s gotten. I thought it was going to be just a fun, weird little comedy show and maybe we’d get 50 of our friends to see it. We never imagined that the show would run long enough to be reviewed. We’ve had such good response, especially having you and other ex-Scientologists take interest, along with people from Australia and LA, asking us to bring the show there.

Synthia: In the beginning you had characters in the play that are not in the story now.

Brandon: Yes, in the first draft of the script we had a number of additional characters. Marty Rathbun, Marc Headley, Mike Rinder, Greg Wilhere — we re-enacted the whole Maureen Orth Vanity Fair article about Nazanin Boniadi.

Synthia: The story moves along at a rapid pace. There’s so much to watch.

Brandon: It’s a fun show. I feel lucky to be in it and have these actors. It’s a difficult show to do for comedy people like us. It’s two hours! Micah Sterenberg, who plays David Miscavige, among many others, is a comedy machine. He’s probably got pages of jokes that didn’t get into the show because we needed to keep him realistic. David Miscavige may be running a business enterprise cloaked as a religion, but he’s a human being, so we have to portray him as a man with wants and fears. There is a scene in the show when Katie calls Nicole Kidman and Nicole says, “I hope you get out before your child calls you an SP.” I cried when I wrote that, and hold back tears every time I see it performed. It’s the point in the show when the audience goes, “Holy shit, these are real human beings.”

Synthia: After ex-Scientologists saw the show and talked about it on the Ex-Scientologist Message Board, you said it gave you a different perspective. What did you mean by that?

Brandon: Nobody in the show anticipated that ex-Scientologists would take any interest in it. We were taken aback when you said, “You have no idea how accurate this is.” It was humbling and terrifying at the same time. To have you guys laugh at those insider things was so rewarding.

Synthia: Did you know that the Scientology Center in Chicago is pretty much right down the street from the theater?

Brandon: The one on Lincoln? I used to work three doors from there at a furniture store. I used to peek in. That was a few years ago when I didn’t even know the difference between Scientology and Christian Science. I’ve considered inviting them because I would be interested to know if they would like the show or not.

Synthia: I think it would be very cathartic and therapeutic for them if they could.

Brandon: Who knows, maybe COB will reward some RPFers with free tickets. It’s sad they don’t laugh at themselves because most of my laughter, during the day, is at myself. LRH even seemed to have a good sense of humor about himself. With The Book of Mormon, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints embraced the show. They even put in ads for the church in the Playbill that say, “The Book is always better.” I doubt Scientology will do the same but it might be a lesson for them in public relations, especially at this rough time in their history. Most of what I read in Dianetics I can get behind. I believe that we’re spiritual beings having a physical experience. I believe exploring the vast potential of the human mind and our spirits is what our experience is about on Earth. Any religious organization, when it’s new, there’s difficulties, mistakes. Christianity has been around for thousands of years. They learned that we don’t need to go do the Crusades every three hundred years to share the teachings of Jesus. Whether you believe that Scientology is a religion or not, I don’t think you need all those bells and whistles to do good here. What do I know? I can only hope that whatever I end up doing with my career, I make people laugh and they come away wanting to do good to other people. That’s my soapbox.

Synthia: Are you reading Lawrence Wright’s book?

Brandon: I’m about halfway through, and it’s so good I get angry at whatever force requires me to put it down.

Synthia: Wright has said that Scientology’s celebrities have a moral responsibility to address the allegations of abuse in the organization. Do you agree?

Brandon: If someone like Tom Cruise is that high up in the organization, you would imagine that he’s aware of some of these heartbreaking stories of disconnection, intimidation, and violence. Or, he could very well be insulated from it. He may not even know Wright’s book exists because of that isolation. Or, he may know all of these things and simply doesn’t care because he is in such a place of power. There are a dozen possibilities.

Synthia: There are many people who would love to see your show who don’t live in Chicago. What’s the next step?

Brandon: We submitted the play to the NY Fringe Festival where we hope to perform next. Then LA would be next. The actors have been very generous in terms of keeping our earnings in a pickle jar for the future of the show. My dream would be to have it running in New York and LA simultaneously with different casts. Maybe even Clearwater — why not?

The TomKat Project is playing through May 29 at The Playground Theater on 3209 N Halsted St, in Chicago.

 

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Parker and Stone Writing a Scientology Musical?

ContactMusic posted an unbylined and oddly written story last night that relies on unnamed sources to claim that Matt Stone and Trey Parker are working on a Scientology musical, and that Tom Cruise isn’t happy about it.

Stone and Parker are the creative duo behind South Park, which savagely parodied Scientology in a 2005 episode. That episode, “Trapped in the Closet,” accurately portrayed Scientology’s space opera beliefs and suggested that Cruise was a closet case. (We’re convinced he’s not one, but that’s another matter.)

The two went on to write the Broadway smash The Book of Mormon, which has fun at Mormonism’s expense and has prompted many to ask when they might do something similar for L. Ron Hubbard’s odd cabal.

But we’re somewhat dubious of this story. Not only does it attribute to an unnamed source that Stone and Parker are actively writing a new musical, but the source somehow also knows that Cruise “wasn’t happy” about it.

Another odd thing about the story: it spends as much time talking about Cruise’s friendship to Australian billionaire James Packer, which appears to have little to do with a musical by Parker and Stone.

Well, we’re skeptical, but we’d love to hear that Parker and Stone are actually working on a Scientology extravaganza.

 

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What Does the Church Have on You?

Karen de la Carriere describes how the Church of Scientology compiles data about its members…

 

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Posted by Tony Ortega on March 8, 2013 at 07:00

 

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