Creating a Freak

The way it started out was that John [Leguizamo] and I were writing Freak together; that's how the process began. John had actually wanted to do more of a stand-up show, as opposed to his previous one-man shows. He wanted to do like a Richard Pryor in concert kind of thing. So at the beginning, we were writing almost stand-up type material. The rehearsal process and the writing process were like one and the same. Actually, even after we opened, we never stopped writing it, tweaking things.

Previously, on his other shows, John would come out in costume and do a character for about fifteen minutes. But in this show we weren't relying on costumes. In one five-minute scene of our show, John could be

doing five or six characters, in the same costume, switching from character to character. What we worked on in rehearsals was the way the transitions would occur. They needed to be seamless.

The way we actually worked on a day-to-day basis was we'd go over the script, discuss what the scene was about, the problems and the issues, and j< then would just start reading through it. John liked to put it on its feet as soon as possible. So much of his work was just getting comfortable with the physicality. We'd break down the scene into bits. We'd work on the comedy bits first, and then on the dramatic bits. I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. There was a scene where he's wrestling with his <-> father, obviously playing both characters. We'd have to figure out the positioning of his body, just where his body is and how he can, in an instant, split to become his father's character. Stuff like that took a lot of work. Every now and then, just to get the right physical truth, I'd be a stand-in for his father in that scene.

We worked on Freak for a year and a half. We'd do readings all over the place, just to get audience reactions. My primary concern for the whole beginning part of the process was just the text, and working on the script. I knew that in relation to the staging of it, that would come later. What we were trying to do was something very difficult, a marriage of intense drama and broad comedy. We needed to find a balance there.

I was the publicist on John's show, Mambo Mouth. We became good friends. We eventually cocreated the TV show House of Buggin'. We've been best friends, so working together was great, truly like a marriage, a good one. John and I think in similar ways, and we have a great trust.

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