Accidental Playwright On Purpose
Robert Macke considers himself an accidental playwright. Originally attracted to performance, Macke loved the spotlight and acted in many high school and college productions. But a dismal audition led him to question whether he was truly meant to be an actor.
Then one of his professors at Northern Kentucky University, where he received his undergraduate degree, encouraged him to try his hand at playwriting, and Macke quickly learned that he had a way with words.
“I feel like I’ve found my calling. It’s something I’m very comfortable with,” said Macke, who is now working toward his master’s degree in dramatic writing through a distance program in the Department of Theatre Arts, a part of the University of Idaho’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences.
The Cincinnati, Ohio resident’s newest play, “The Last Mother in the House of Chavis,” was performed in U of I’s Forge Theater Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, 2018, and is a semi-finalist for the 2018 Region 7 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, held in Spokane in February.
“The Last Mother in the House of Chavis” is a family drama, inspired by RuPaul’s “Drag Race,” a popular reality TV show in which drag queens compete to be crowned the next superstar.
Macke’s script is much broader than its title suggests and is more serious than sassy. “Last Mother” examines a father coming to terms with his estranged drag queen son.
“I was interested in the journey of this man. I wanted to explore his story,” Macke said. “The play is more about family and how we can construct family. It’s about forming and mending fractured relationships. It’s a contemporary look at the relationship between queerness and the traditional family unit. It explores gray areas and challenges the audience to explore their own capacity to empathize.”
In 2016, Macke’s plays “The Road Through Damascus” and “Golconda” had staged readings at U of I. His work has expanded beyond the Palouse, and Macke has seen success in the Cincinnati theater community, as well.
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival included “Golconda” in its 2016 line-up, and he was invited to develop a new play, “If A Tree Falls” for the festival’s 2017 season. Macke has written and produced several plays for The Know Theatre of Cincinnati, including “Tralfamadore,” “Redscare” and “A Rolling Stone Gathers No Loss.”
Because of his strong connections to the Cincinnati theater scene, Macke said the U of I distance program works well for him. “I’m glad I could continue to cultivate my connections in town and pursue higher education without having to choose between the two,” he said. The quality of discussions is similar to anything in any other classroom, Macke said. “Class is like being part of a podcast. I’m not restrained to a room and I’m listening and waiting to contribute,” he said.
Macke came to Idaho for the first time on Jan. 28. He met the director of “The Last Mother in the House of Chavis,” Lindsay Mammone, a fellow Master of Fine Arts candidate, and the cast and crew.
He’ll also got the chance to connect with Professor Rob Caisley, head of dramatic writing, and meet classmates he’d only talked to remotely. Between classes and rehearsals, Macke got out to explore the town of Moscow and stopped by the University bookstore to purchase a Vandals hat.
I'm not really one for team spirit, hometown pride, or whatnot,” Macke said. “But after deciding to come to campus, I told myself, ‘I'm getting a Vandals hat.’ I'm leaving with a hat ... and maybe a sweatshirt.”
Macke returns to the Inland Northwest on Feb. 19, when he flies into Spokane to attend the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, with hopes that “Last Mother” will get a positive reception and receive an invitation to the national festival in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a brave new world for me,” Macke said. “I’m looking forward to a time where I stop feeling like an accidental artist. It does feel that way when you're getting started,” he said. “I'm hoping that this opens the door to other opportunities and that I can be a playwright on purpose.”