Music stars Iggy Pop and Tom Waits both have their surnames in the title of Pop Waits, a world-premiere performance piece for The Neo-Futurists. But the show's creators and principal performersMalic White and Molly Brennanstress that Pop Waits isn't an impersonation concert.
"The piece is not biographical. We're not telling the story of [Iggy Pop or Tom Waits]," said Brennan a former artistic director of the creative writing performance group Barrel of Monkeys and a comic actor who appeared with 500 Clown and in The Second City's Guide to the Opera.
"We're talking about how we move through the world and how we are informed by the people who are our heroes," Brennan said. "And how we survive with clinical depression by the use of music and by trying to emulate the behavior of our heroes."
Pop Waits traces its origins to a segment from director Jim Jarmusch's 2003 film Coffee and Cigarettes, which features a comic scene starring Waits and Pop having a conversation. It's what White and Brennan call a classic "clown-status" routine.
"Their dynamic is fascinating because Tom Waits has this incredibly put-together persona. He's extremely performative whether he's onstage or giving an interview," said White, a trans performer who has been a Neo-Futurists ensemble member since 2012. White also recently starred as St. Jimmy in The Hypocrites' acclaimed production of American Idiot.
"And Iggy Pop is just a messalwaysbut in a totally lovable way," White said. "The dynamic of the two of them together, we found funny and some ways, a heightened dynamic of our own relationship on stage."
Brennan and White are also in a romantic relationship in addition to being artistic collaborators. The fact that they separately sought out music by Pop and Waits to deal with their own down times prompted them to collaborate on a show exploring that notion.
"I've been really connected to Iggy Pop from the time I was very small and I was very interested in his ability to really let go onstage," White said. "Pop seems to get into an altered state and I've always been drawn to that and shock value and I love that in his performance."
"The way that Tom Waits see the worldor at least the way that he paints itin the way he speaks and his music, he embraces the ugliness and the sharp edges and the kind of sadness and pain of life and makes it beautiful," Brennan said. "And that is something that I aspire to do. There's a line in the play where Malic names me as one of the saddest people they know and that is something that some folks may be surprised to hear about me."
White and Brennan have built in improvisation and physicality into Pop Waits. They also promise lots of singing in collaboration with music director Spencer Meeks, who is part of a three-piece band that includes David Smith and Elisa Carlson.
"We've written some original music that is in the show and then one of the things we do is we write a song with the audience at the top of the show," said Brennan, who adds that there are plans to also have songs and mashups of music by Waits and Pop.
To direct Pop Waits, White and Brennan sought out Halena Kays, a former Hypocrites artistic director and also a co-creator of Barrel of Monkeys.
"The primary theme is a little more about identity and icon and how icons present to the world and what the reality may or may not be," Kays said. "And how the idea of identity and music and poetry and performance and taking on that struggle over depression by making art out of it as a way of moving forward and moving through it."
Although Pop Waits touches on depression, Brennan and White also stressed that they've built in lots of humor into the show. And when asked about the potential strains of artistic collaboration on a personal relationship, Brennan said that she and White have largely found a good balance.
"Trying to keep healthy boundaries about when we are speaking about work and when we are just at home being people at homeI think we're navigating it pretty well," Brennan said. "The most challenging thing is to not talk about the show all the time. We both can fall into that and of course you have to step away from that not only for your own sanity but for the sake of the work."
The world premiere of Pop Waits for The Neo-Futurists plays from Thursday, Feb. 4, through Saturday, March 12, at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland Ave. Tickets are $20, $10 for students and seniors and pay-what-you-can on Thursdays. Call 773-275-5255 or visit www.neofuturists.org for more information.