An Interview with Del Shores & Emerson Collins

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As a writer/director/producer/actor/ stand-up comedian Del Shores has delighting audiences with his unforgettable characters since his 1987 play Daddy’s Dyin’ (Who’s Got the Will)? The film version released in 1990 featured Beau Bridges, Tess Harper, Judge Reinhold, Keith Carradine and Beverly D’Angelo. With his fourth play Sordid Lives Shores delivered sold out shows for 13 months. The film version which featured Beau Bridges, Delta Burke, Olivia Newton-John, Bonnie Bedelia, Leslie Jordan and Beth Grant along with most of the cast from the play went on to become the longest running film in the history of Palm Springs before later being turned into a television series. Following the success of those projects Del went on to bring the world the plays Yellow, Southern Baptist Sissies, and The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife (which was later adapted into the film Blues For Willadean with the entire original stage cast: Beth Grant ,Octavia Spencer, Dale Dickey, David Steen, and top 10 Billboard dance artist Debby Holiday). Most recently his film version of Southern Baptist Sissies (now on Amazon Prime) featuring Emerson Collins, Willam Belli, Matthew Scott Montgomery, Luke Stratte-McClure, Newell Alexander, Rosemary Alexander, Bobbie Eakes, Ann Walker, Dale Dickey and Leslie Jordan went on to win ten major awards on the festival circuit. With the final installment of the Sordid Lives tales, A Very Sordid Wedding (now available on Hulu), Sordid veterans including Bonnie Bedelia, Leslie Jordan, Caroline Rhea, Dale Dickey, and Ann Walker with cameos by Whoopi Goldberg, Alec Mapa and Carole Cook the story advances seventeen years into the future to show how the lives of some of Shores’ most iconically loveable characters have evolved. In his latest project directed by Emerson Collins Shores offers up the one man play Six Characters in Search of a Play as only he can.

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Texas native Emerson Collins is an actor/producer/director known best for his work on Del Shores: My Sordid Life, Southern Baptist Sissies, The People’s Couch, and A Very Sordid Wedding. He is currently directing Shores in Six Characters in Search of a Play.

Coming to a city near you…

Feb 8 Austin, TX

Feb 10 San Antonio, TX

Feb 11 Ft Worth, TX

Feb 17 Tulsa ,OK

Feb 18 Oklahoma City, OK

Feb 25 -March 27 Los Angeles, CA

March 31 Cathedral City

June 5 -June 10 San Francisco, CA

For more information or to purchase tickets please see https://www.delshores.com/

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What is the most challenging thing you face when bringing to life Six Characters in Search of a Play? How does it feel to portray six widely different characters in one evening?

Del Shores: Memorizing the script that I wrote! Twenty pages of non-stop dialogue — and I do not write easy-to-memorize dialogue. I feel like I was living my own karma because I’m so demanding of actors to memorize my lines as written. Emerson Collins, who directed me, reminded me of that often, since I had directed him a few times.

Once I got them down, with the specific voices, physical characteristics, the details (down to what hand they smoke with), it feels amazing. Again, I must thank Emerson who was very, very specific with me in how to achieve the separation of each.  Emerson was brilliant on stage in Buyer and Cellar so he had that experience which he brought into his direction!

What was it that first led you to pursue the career of an actor? How has your work as such helped shape you into who you are today? What do you enjoy most about the art of acting?

Emerson Collins: I started doing Christmas pageants at church as a kid and then theater through middle school and high school. When I first started college I decided to pursue something more “practical” but the summer before my sophomore year I decided I needed to give it a go and see what happened. The reason for acting at all is getting to be a part of telling entertaining, compelling or challenging stories! At its best, art both entertains and edifies – it can be escapism or pushing the audience to consider a point of view they have never encountered before – and both are important!

What was it about Emerson that led you to decide to let him direct you on the newest project?

Del: First and foremost, I trust him. He is truly one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. His experience on stage, having won awards for Buyer and Cellar also played into the decision. But honestly, he was my only choice. We get along, work together daily, so there was an immediate short-cut in our communication. I’m a control freak and he is the only person alive I trust so implicitly that I could give up that control. We didn’t have one disagreement in this process.

What is it like to direct Del on his latest project? What do you find most challenging about that?

Emerson: It has been a truly fantastic adventure!  We have been working side by side for over a decade now, so I know his writing, his directing and his perspective on acting inside and out.  The opportunity to use all of that in guiding him to create this new show that is an excellent amalgamation of the greatest of his writing and the spontaneity of his stand up has been wonderful.  Honestly, the only challenge early on was getting Del “the actor” to trust Del “the writer” – and it was amusing for both of us as we worked through it.

What would you say is the most important thing you have learned from working with each other so far?

Del: Again trust.  Me being able to hand over my script to someone else to direct and allowing myself to just be an actor.  I’m not sure Emerson and I ever have even discussed this, but this is the first project since Sordid Lives (play) in 1996 of my own material that I have not directed the premiere.

Emerson: For me that is such a deep question because Del has been my director, collaborator, mentor, partner and friend as we’ve grown together through his work since he first asked me to move to Los Angeles to share a role in his play Southern Baptist Sissies years ago. I think my greatest lesson from all of it is that holding on to your own voice and creative power is so vital and then being willing to make certain compromises to ensure the work can actually be created.

What do you hope your audiences take away from your work?

Del: I always say — If I can make you laugh, think a little and maybe shed a tear or two, my job has been done.  We need some laughter in this world right now — and we need to be reminded that we are all connected as humans with hearts and souls.  I hope that my new play is that reminder for my audiences as it is to me nightly.

Emerson: I think the sweet joy of this particular show from Del is finding the humor and uniqueness in the people you encounter in the world.  He shares these six stories as examples of how he takes what he finds as he moves through life and spins it into larger stories and entertainment.  It’s a lovely idea to truly notice people as you meet them in life.  We may not all turn them into comedy gold, but taking the time to see people shapes how we continue our journey.  And ultimately, it’s an evening of humor with a few surprising insights – so the audience should have a great time!

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What was it like to have the chance to portray a serial killer with an interest in necrophilia in A Very Sordid Wedding? Did you enjoy having the chance to give such a character a more human persona than one would expect? What was it like working with Leslie Jordan on those scenes?

Emerson: I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to take on a character that is immediately distasteful and yet pushing to express his complicated humanity. I think its interesting to pull away the layers of what made him who is, and while it certainly doesn’t redeem his actions in any way, it provides a more complex picture. The most interesting characters to tackle are those that cannot be immediately categorized, and in a selfish way, he’s extremely different from the other characters I’ve played more recently and stretching as an actor is always a goal.

Of course it was as deliriously delightful as you could image to share scenes with Leslie Jordan. He has an incredible ability to be hysterically funny and then turn to the tragic on a dime. It also meant I had to be so fully realized in my own character to ensure I could meet him in the scenes. In the many times we’ve worked together now, I have the greatest admiration for Leslie in his work, but also in his defiant openness and success as an entertainer and actor who has been openly gay for so long.

Do you have a dream project you’d most like to bring into existence?

Del: Well, Emerson and I have a series in development right now that’s looking real good.  We can’t talk too much about it, but it celebrates small town life. We are really excited to bring the characters to life!.  I also have a new play that I should finish soon called This Side of Crazy that I’m excited about.

Emerson: What he said – we have a great new series we’re working to get out there.  And personally, I’m excited to figure out what my next acting opportunity will be.  I love creating my own work through our projects, but I’d also be thrilled to show up and craft a great character in someone else’s work as well!

What do you think is key to a life well lived?

Del: Okay, maybe this will sound trite, but to bring happiness to not only yourself, but to those around you.  Be kind, just be nice to those around us.  To look around and see someone in need, and to make a difference. And for me, always, to make people laugh.

Emerson: I think that’s different for everyone, and it should be.  The idea that there is one way to do to life is what leads so many to find frustration in where they are in their journey.  On the simplest level, is the world left better because you were in it?  Work through each day and experience to ensure that the answer is yes.

Anything you’d like to say in closing?

Del: Thanks for the interview. Loved your questions.  And a big thanks to my fans and friends who are supporting this new play!

 

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