Chicago jazz and cabaret legend Spider Saloff brings her one woman show, "The Roar of The Butterfly" to Chicago this May. The setting for "The Roar of the Butterfly" is the memorial service for Butterfly, an Asian drag queen who has been a colorful and inspirational character in the lives of the attendees – an unlikely and diverse group all portrayed by Saloff – including a sharp-tongued Scottish waitress, a faded stage star, a hair dresser from South Philly and a bearded poet. I spoke with Spider about how she came up with the concept of the show and how Butterfly impacted other people's life.MJR:
(Michael J. Roberts) Hi Spider! Your new project sounds amazing. How did you come up with the concept for "The Roar of the Butterfly"?SS:
(Spider Saloff) I wanted to write a show that would be a tour de force for me. Most people in Chicago don't know it, but my main training is in acting. I was a theatre actress in New York for quite a number of years.
That was my formal background. My career took a turn when I was working in New York and I began working in night clubs and cabarets and I got quite a bit of notoriety and received some awards. That then brought me to Chicago, which is the love of my life. I am so happy to live there and love being there. Back in 2001, I had an actor friend who encouraged me to work on an original piece to show off my talents as an actress, as well as my character work. I started writing a show called "Entertaining Guests", which had segments that still exists in the current show but it did not have original music. I did three performances of it and then I put it to bed because I decided it was going to take too much work and too many years out of my life. So forward to 2008. I was songwriting by then and thought to myself, "What if I went back to the show and started working on it again, but this time with original music. I did that show in workshop in 2009. Then in 2010 I did a completely new re-write and it started to be an auto-biographical piece. MJR:
What was the turning point that made the story come together for you?SS:
Well, a couple things. In the midst of the workshop, my husband past away suddenly. Then, my friend and actor Greg Fellows, who was the one who initially came up with the idea of a one woman show and directed the original version of it, also passed away. I was dealing with all this loss, then the final straw came when my mother died. Three in a row and it was devastating. By this point, I was deciding to write myself right out of the show and made the main focus of the show take place at the funeral of a drag queen named Butterfly. This is a true story that actually happened. But I modeled and rolled the characters from my life into his life. So he is the focal point and I play eight characters that are now at Butterfly's memorial service. It is the story on how one person's life affects another's and what a person can gain from knowing a person even though they don't seem like likely people that would know him. It is really about how he affected so many people in so many different ways without realizing it. It addresses some very serious issues as well as also being a very wacky comedy. It is a very transformational piece.MJR:
In the eight different characters that you play, what was the most difficult for you to get an understanding of?SS:
Oh, boy. That is hard to say. They are all so different. The master of ceremonies is the closest thing to me. I can't say any of them were hard to get around because they were all based on real people.MJR:
Musically then, what character was the most challenging to write for?SS:
The music is really interesting. ‘Deep Inside The Rain' was a real epiphany for me. It was in the big re-write that I made the decision that I wanted to talk about loss and was pondering how to present that. I was literally on a train going to South Bend to visit some friends and the feeling of that train came over me. My husband loved trains and I began to feel him around me. I started crying my eyes out on the train and the song just came to me. When I write I start with the lyric and the melody came and by the time I got to South Bend, the song was just about finished. It is one the pieces I'm proudest of.MJR:
Since you are doing a one person show that you created, how much control do you give over to the director?SS:
Now that is an excellent question! After my first director passed away I had another director from New York who was going to work with me, but he had scheduling problems. When I tried the show out in Melbourne, Australia and Los Angeles…I only try my shows out in foreign countries (laughing), I directed myself. When the decision was made to mount a major production of the show in Chicago, I knew I needed a director and could not do it myself. I met Natalija Nogulich, who is a well known film actor and director when I was in L.A. Natalija and I bonded over the later part of last year. I sent her the script to see what she thought about it and she called me within 24 hours saying she wanted to be a part of it. From the moment we started working together, it has been like mental telepathy. She totally gets it and is totally on my wave length. It has been a magical experience and I think we are going to have something special. MJR:
How were the audiences in Melbourne?SS:
They were fantastic. I was I wreck all day long. Not only was a trying out a new piece, but I was trying it out in a foreign country. I had no idea what it would be like but I was blown away. They got every joke and people cried. It was amazing. People came back two or three times during the run. MJR:
You speak of the metaphor of the butterfly being transforming. How has coping with death transformed you?SS:
When you have tragedy you have to sit there and deal with it. But then you realize you are not just left with tragedy. You are left with something else. You have something that comes out of the tragedy. The way the people projected in your life are with you forever. The spiritual energy and the soulful energy is with you forever.MJR:
Who was Butterfly, the drag queen?SS:
Well, he was a drag queen in New York. He was an outrageous character but who also cared so deeply about people. This memorial that is depicted in my show is what actually happened and which I was there for. There was such a cross section of people at the memorial, people you would never imagine being there, and how this one person touched so many people, in so many different ways was life altering.KMP Artists presents Spider Saloff's "The Roar of the Butterfly," May 3 – 20 at Victory Gardens' Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue. There will be a preview performance on Wednesday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m. Press opening is Thursday, May 3 at 7:30 p.m. Post-opening schedule is Thursday – Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. Seating is general admission. The show runs 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. The show is not suggested for children under age 13 unaccompanied by an adult.
Ticket prices are $25 for the Wednesday, May 2 preview; $32 for performances May 3 – 20. For tickets call the box office at 773-871-3000 or visit VictoryGardens.orgfor more information.