Josh Mertz on Batz

Tomorrow will mark the final performance of Batz at 11:30pm in Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette Street, Manhattan). As noted by the release announcing the performances (Batz’s first 2012 performance was last Friday, June 13, at Joe’s Pub): “Batz takes the premise of Elevator Repair Service’s theatrical event Gatz and substitutes classic Batman stories for The Great Gatsby, resulting in a fast-paced, hilarious take on Batman, Robin, and their Rogues Gallery that celebrates the imaginative, social and transformative power of comics…Created, written and directed by downtown comedy and theater veterans Josh Mertz and Erik Bowie, Batz features an all-star cast of indie theater stalwarts and up-and-comers, including Lynn Berg, Melissa Delancey, Kathleen Foster, Matthew Foster, Matt Gray, Bob Laine, Dan Maccarone, Josh Mertz, and Harrison Unger.” To find out more about the project, Josh Mertz was kind enough to do an email interview. Interested in seeing the show? As noted in the release: “Tickets ($15) can be purchased online at joespub.com, where customers are able to select their seat from an interactive seat map when purchasing, by phone at 212-967-7555, or in person at The Public Theater Box Office (1 PM to 6 PM) located at 425 Lafayette Street, NYC.” my thanks to Mertz for his time. [Please note the above video clip is from the Summer 2011 Comic Book Theater Festival]

Tim O’Shea: For the uninformed like myself, what is Gatz (which served as the inspiration for Batz)?

Josh Mertz: Gatz is a show by NY Theater Company Elevator Repair Service, in which an office worker finds a copy of the The Great Gatsby and begins reading it aloud. His co-workers join him in acting out the characters from the novel, and every word of it is read over the course of a 6-hour theatrical experience. It’s one of the most inventive and engrossing things I’ve ever seen onstage, and has played two sold-out runs at the Public. It’s both an intense exploration of a great American novel and a metaphor for the experience getting lost in a book.

How was it decided who all would be involved in Batz?

Erik and I are VERY lucky to have talented, funny friends who were willing to come on this journey with us and contribute their ideas and energy. Given that most of the cast hadn’t seen Gatz when we first started rehearsals last year (for the run at the Brick’s Comic Book Theater Festival), it was quite a leap of faith for them to put themselves in our hands. We’ve also been lucky to have an organized and energetic Stage Manager in Patricia Roche, keeping track of the cast and our slew of props. And our Sound Design received considerable help from downtown theater jack-of-all-trades Justin Plowman.

When trying to find a venue for the performance what do you consider?

We’ve been very lucky here, too. The show was conceived for the Comic Book Theater Festival at the Brick last summer, and, since it’s a mash-up between one of the most popular New York theatrical events of the year and arguably the most popular superhero, Batz was perfectly suited. This year, when the Public announced that it was reviving Gatz for the spring, we thought that Batz would be ideal for a late-night comedic counterpoint at Joe’s Pub. So we passed it along through a contact at the Public, and got in!

What are some of the biggest challenges to staging something like Batz?

The real challenge was mostly for me as a first-time director when we were planning the production – we’ve got six classic Batman stories with dozens of characters, and eight of our funniest friends – choosing and coordinating who played what when and keeping them coming and going took some trial and error on our part. Again, we’re lucky to have patient friends, who came through like gangbusters.

What appeals to you about putting together something like Batz?

I love paying tribute to Batman and these classic stories. The other side of the coin is that I also love gently sending them up with our silly brand of comedy. It’s like Gatz meets Batman meets Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged).

How important is the audience dynamics in a project like this?

The importance of the audience, as with most comedy, can’t be overstated. We had our first performance on Friday night, and there were several bits that I thought might work, but really had no way of knowing until we got in front of an audience. Did I mention I’m also a performer? One of the biggest challenges for me was also juggling all the responsibility!

Did you tweak Batz much from the way it was staged at the Brick last year?

Not a whole lot! We did lose a cast member (my wife, Sarah, who is busy gestating our first child!), so we took the opportunity to take some of last year’s reviews to heart and cut one story from the original production, cutting about 15 minutes off the running time. The spacing of Joe’s Pub is smaller and set up differently from the Brick, so, while the stories were basically unchanged, there was a lot of reblocking to do. But the smaller area at Joe’s actually helps a lot of our stories, as it makes us use the space more efficiently, and makes many of our fast changes and entrances and exits lightning fast! Revisiting the show was a great opportunity, too, to play around and put in lots of new bits and jokes.

Anything we should discuss that I neglected to ask you about?

Just that you don’t need to have a working knowledge of Gatz or Batman to enjoy Batz! At it’s heart, it’s just a comedy about people in an office playing dress-up!