A Play About Discovering Who You Always Were And Living Your Truth
By Shannon Cudd
Craig Tyrl, the artistic director of The Wayward Artist and director of "Rotterdam," came to the theatre world later in life. He was working as a restaurant manager in his 30s but was unfulfilled and unsatisfied. He took an acting class at Saddleback Community College and was hooked. He would go on to get his Master of Fine Arts in his 40s, begin acting professionally, and never looked back. He is so thankful for the many people who helped him along the way.
Much like the characters in "Rotterdam," Tyrl was unafraid to discover and live his truth. He teamed up with Kristin Campbell in 2017 to create The Wayward Artist, a newer force in the Orange County theatre scene. Their first production in 2018 was the musical "Godspell."
Three things set Wayward apart from other theatres in the area. They pride themselves on being a “stepping stone.” They help artists at the beginning of their careers gain professional experience working alongside other more experienced creatives. “It’s not community theatre; you're not working for free, but you're not ready to be hired by South Coast Repertory yet,” Tyrl explained. Many members of their ensemble are also theatre educators, including Tyrl, who teaches at Cal State Fullerton, the very place he got his graduate degree from. They are happy to help their students move beyond the classroom.
Wayward is also committed to “inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.” This is reflected in the stories they tell and in who and how they hire. They firmly believe that representation matters and are anti-racist in their approach. Lastly, the theatre produces work that makes the audience think. “All of our work has an edge, a strong point of view, and has something to say about the world that we live in,” Tyrl stated. “We're most interested in telling stories that have an impact.”
"Rotterdam'' by Jon Brittain certainly checks all of those boxes. As a gay man, Tyrl was drawn to the LGBTQ+ themes of the story. The plot centers on Alice, a cisgender woman, and her girlfriend Fiona, who transitions during the play, changing his name to Adrian. Alice and Adrian live in Rotterdam but are English. Alice is not out to her friends and family at home but writes an email to inform them. It is her honesty and courage that inspires Adrian to speak his truth.
This play has the potential to teach the audience about the trans experience. “The trans experience, particularly now in today's political environment, is misunderstood. I think trans human beings are becoming scapegoats in a lot of ways. The story's more important than ever,” Tyrl stated.
Alice struggles with her own identity in relation to Adrian. She loves and supports him but strongly identifies as a lesbian. This play will have audiences questioning: What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? Is sexuality fixed or in relation to one's partner? Tyrl believes this play challenges us to “move beyond labels.”
The character of Josh is a beautiful example of acceptance. Josh, a cisgender man, is Adrian’s brother who goes out of his way to be there for him during his transition. He is not perfect and has his own baggage, but he tries so hard and, as Adrian says, that is better than most. Tyrl believes Josh learned this from his family, who he infers were open and affirming and passed down those values to him.
The final character in the play is Leilani, one of Alice’s co-workers. She becomes much more as Alice navigates Adrian’s transition. Tyrl stated she is “a friend, confidant, embodiment of what Alice thinks that she wants, and a comfort and release.”
Stories have the power to change the world for the better. “I don't think society hears and truly listens enough to the trans experience. By doing so, we are better educated. This hopefully leads us to a deeper understanding, more compassion, and more acceptance,” Tyrl stated.
Tyrl hopes audiences leave with “a sense of beauty and appreciation. Sometimes human beings have to deal with one decision and how it kind of changes everything in everybody's lives. The playwright really captures three dimensionally these profound human experiences.”
Tyrl promises it will be “the best play in Orange County in 2023” and “that it is just gonna blow audiences away.” He is beyond proud of the work the actors are doing and cannot wait for audiences to experience it.
Shannon Cudd is a writer, actor, and theatre lover in Orange County, California.
“Rotterdam” The Wayward Artist 125 N Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701
November 10-19, 2023
(657) 205-6273, www.thewaywardartist.org