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  WINDY CITY TIMES

John Loos heats things up in 'Steamwerkz'
by Tony Peregrin
2012-07-03

This article shared 4032 times since Tue Jul 3, 2012
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"I'll just say a few random words that have something to do with Steamwerkz: The Musical—and we'll let your readers come see how they fit into the show," said actor John Loos when asked to describe his favorite LOL moments of the new musical set in a Chicago bathhouse. "Fuck bench, Gun Oil, home healthcare worker, ducks, Nancy Reagan, showers, Tina Turner and Kmart."

Loos plays Al, a character loosely based on Alice in Lewis Carroll's exquisitely peculiar novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland). Al is an innocent, wide-eyed gay boy who moves to the Windy City from Nebraska and makes friends with a ragtag group of characters at the city's most beloved bathhouse. Talk about falling down the rabbit hole!

"The show is very irreverent and silly and weird and twisted, but most of all, I think it's truthful," said Loos, a GayCo Productions ensemble member. "Each character, while exaggerated, is based off types of people you might encounter in a bathhouse: the giddy twinks, the crusty old guard, the endearing older man with a mustache, the leader of the pack type, the trophy boy who everyone chases. When the show makes you laugh, it's either because it's so weird or so true, or so both."

With song titles such as "Wet With Your Love," "The Ropes" and "How Exciting! A Fuck Off!" Steamwerkz: The Musical is poised to offer tongue-in-(butt) cheek entertainment, though Loos, 29, promised the show is actually an old-fashioned love story.

Windy City Times: How similar is this character's experience to your first experience at a bathhouse?

John Loos: We all went to Steamworks as research for the show, which was a great experience in terms of understanding the environment, the patrons and the overall feel of the place. I know I had a lot of negative misconceptions about bathhouse culture before I went—I think a lot of gay guys who've never been do—and Steamworks really put those to rest. It was a very relaxed, clean and safe place to visit—a bit of a wonderland in its own right, you might say, with its dark and winding halls and constant sense of mystery, fantasy and discovery. This, in my opinion, makes the Alice in Wonderland theme that much more fitting.

WCT: How much nudity is in the production compared to an average night at the real Steamworks or, say, Naked Boys Singing?

John Loos: Nudity-wise, we definitely have some rear nudity. We can't go fully nude, but we are in tiny towels for a large majority of the time. The story is actually a really old-fashioned love story at its core, with crazy sex and fun swirling around it, so the nudity is placed strategically throughout. We wanted to be titillating without distracting too much from the characters and the music.

WCT: Is Steamwerkz: The Musical based on someone's real-life experiences?

John Loos: We all wrote it together and created it through improvisation. I think anyone who's been into Steamworks or a bathhouse will relate to the story, especially in terms of first experiences. Because the first time really is an eye-opening and inhibition-bending experience for anyone, and the show captures that in a fun, creative way. We have lights, set pieces, fog machines, a rolling platform, glory holes. Clay [Goodpasture, the director] did a great job re-creating the atmosphere. All that's missing is Roberto, the guy who cleans the rooms.

WCT: I'm guessing you guys had a ball, so to speak, pulling this show together especially during rehearsals.

John Loos: I laughed my ass off during this process, in every rehearsal. The guys in the show are all fantastic improvisers, so there were many moments that we all just ended up laughing like crazy.

The first time we all brought in song lyrics we'd been assigned to work on separately and shared them with the group was so much fun. Every song had us in tears, we were laughing so frickin' hard. That's when I knew it was going to be a great show. Even when given separate homework, we all ended up being on the same page.

WCT: Talk a little about performing on stage with an all-gay cast.

John Loos: I love musicals, I love performing at the Annoyance, and to get to do a show with an all-gay cast that was created through improvisation and collaboration was an opportunity too good to pass up. As a gay comedy performer, it's not often that you get to work with all gay casts outside of groups like GayCo, and when you're in such a process, it allows you to be creative and funny in new ways. Not that I don't love working with straight performers—I absolutely do—it's just that there's something special about creating comedy from a place where you don't have to justify your sexuality or identity beforehand. It's already the given, and you can go anywhere from there. The sky's the limit.

WCT: How did you get involved with Steamwerkz: The Musical?

John Loos: Clay is a really good friend and we frequently work together with GayCo Productions. During GayCo's Christmas show last year, he mentioned his plans to do a Steamworks musical and I was immediately on board. I mean, how could I pass that up? Singing, dancing, shirtless men, tiny towels—it's all anyone could ever ask for.

WCT: How relatable is this musical, especially for audience members who've never stepped out of their clothes and into a towel inside a bathhouse?

John Loos: I think the show's comedy and story are extremely universal. The whole idea of fantasy versus reality, chasing that alluring idea and catching it and seeing that it's not quite what you envisioned, is very much a component to the bathhouse world. Hell, I'd say that's the lesson we're always learning and re-learning in most aspects of our everyday lives.

WCT: Do Grindr and other social media play a role in the musical? Do apps like Grindr make bathhouses seem a little dated in your mind—at least for a certain generation?

John Loos: We touch briefly on the exclusivity of the bar scene, but not so much Grindr itself. It's funny that my character is sort of the old-fashioned romantic in the show, because bathhouse culture itself is old-fashioned in a certain way. But that's not to say it's antiquated.

I think it will always have a place in gay communities, because there's something very visceral and real about meeting someone face to face in an environment completely stripped of the status and peacocking and rabid self-consciousness you see on display in gay bars and on Grindr. It's just you and a towel and a key around your arm. It doesn't matter how much money you make, or what kind of $50 designer underwear you wear or who you know in the city. The armor is stripped away. It puts you very much in the moment that way, and that's something apps like Grindr can't replicate, because everything gets distanced.

WCT: For the uninitiated, what does "werkz" mean? What does it mean to werk it, at least in your mind?

John Loos: "Werkz" is a fun play on the title. I guess it might mean just being yourself, being bold and not letting others tell you who you can be and what you can and cannot do.

Steamwerkz: The Musical is running Fridays at 10 p.m. through Aug. 31 (except Aug. 17) at The Annoyance, 4830 N. Broadway.


This article shared 4032 times since Tue Jul 3, 2012
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