A GoPride Interview

John Michael Colgin

John Michael Colgin turns back time at Steppenwolf

Wed. June 12, 2024  by Jerry Nunn

I want people to take away that it is harm reduction, not fun reduction.
John Michael Colgin

john michael colgin

photo credit // jerry nunn

Steppenwolf Theatre travels back in time

John Michael Colgin would turn back time if he could and he attempts to do that at the Steppenwolf Theatre this June. Just in time for Pride month, Spank Bank Time Machine travels to an iconic venue helmed by an openly queer performer wearing a mankini onstage.

Part of the iconic theater troupe’s LookOut programming, Colgin has three days to shine a light on Naloxone, a treatment used for emergency overdoses. Narcan and Evzio are brand-name nasal sprays that save lives.

Spank Bank Time Machine is directed by Elizabeth Lovelady and co-written by Colgin and Sammy Zeisel. This original play is one of 10 from John Michael, who began writing in college at Oklahoma State University.

This self-described “Trauma Clown” sat down to discuss his life’s work and Spank Bank over coffee.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Why did you create Spank Bank Time Machine in the first place?

JMC: (John Michael Colgin) I wanted to create a show that battles stigma. Part of it is proving that someone is more than drugs when they pass away. In constructing the show Narcan and the drugs are about 10 minutes of it. People learn how to do Narcan from a character in the show.

JN: I am just learning how to administer Narcan at work and I was told that some people react badly when it’s used because it ends their high.

JMC: Some experts about that came to see my show at The Neo-Futurists and reminded me of that fact. I tweaked my show a bit after that.

I wear a lot of hats and one of them is dramaturgy. Being an independent artist I have to change things depending on the venue. I toured the show around the world before I brought it to Chicago. While workshopping it I came up with more facts about Narcan and then added to the text.

JN: Talk about some of your goals with Spank Bank.

JMC: One of them is to get the audience to applaud an overdose. I wrote a fictional overdose that is performed on a stage. As a clown when I do it I make it so ridiculous, so there are pounds of fake cocaine all around me, which the audience knows is baby powder.

This is to change the conversation because when you laugh at something it doesn’t have power over you.

JN: Describe Spank Bank Time Machine.

JMC: It is Angels in America meets Snakes on a Plane. It’s a time-traveling adventure with a trauma clown. My type of clowning is not a red nose and makeup. It is bouffon based which is a type of clown that teases the audience. The most famous bouffon of them all is Borat. I wear a mankini as Borat does!

JN: This sounds hilarious.

JMC: It’s a visual reminder that my intention is for people to laugh at something that is ridiculous. It is an extension of my Trauma Clown persona. Sometimes my costume is underwear with an apron. It’s all provided by Andrew Christian and I haven’t had to pay for underwear since 2019. My bulge is my clown nose, honk honk!

When creating the show I needed a sexy outfit because my friends who have died were sex workers. I put issues into the show such as society doesn’t talk about sex enough and should love each other physically. The show is not just a public service announcement for teaching Narcan. It tackles suicide and loneliness that many people experience.

JN: Narcan is the main focus?

JMC: Yes. When I focus on Narcan I feel more put together as I help other people. It is in honor of my friends who died. I give out Narcan on the CTA because I am always carrying it. I worry sometimes that I won’t be able to help someone because I will run out of it.

JN: Isn’t Narcan expensive to purchase?

JMC: It’s $45 in the United States and more expensive in Canada. Their organizations can’t give it out for free because there is a shortage of Narcan. I am going to Canada this summer and will change the show to have the Naloxone version with the shot.

JN: How did you arrange to have Narcan donated for your shows?

JMC: The Community Outreach Intervention Project out of the University of Illinois was focused on helping people with needle exchange programs and trying to stop people from overdosing. People from COIP saw the show and they gave me information. I had The Neo-Futurist space set up as a distribution site. They have always uplifted my work.

JN: When did you first hear about Narcan?

JMC: My friend group including myself discovered what Narcan was when my friend died. When they found my friend’s body he was googling what Narcan was.

When I heard about what Narcan was it seemed too good to be true. EMTs call it the Lazarus drug. I think Narcan should be celebrated like it has magic powers.

JN: What would you like audiences to take away from your show?

JMC: That anyone can be a superhero and carry Narcan with them. I am sometimes conflicted with my show because it is sad, but also I want them to feel like they went to a rock n’ roll concert. I want people to take away that it is harm reduction, not fun reduction.

JN: Where are you going with the show next?

JMC: I would like to take it to The Edinburgh Festival Fringe and travel around the country. It has already been to Cincinnati, Orlando and Baltimore. I have plans for International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, so stay tuned for that!

Visit steppenwolf.org to take a ride on the Spank Bank Time Machine on June 28 and 29 at 8 p.m. or June 30 at 3 p.m. Free Narcan for all at 1700 North Halsted Street!


Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.