It’s been 100 years since the Titanic sank in the cold, dark Atlantic. And it’s been 15 years since the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet captivated audiences. Starting Jan. 26, Thomas Choinacky recreates the film on stage playing all the roles – including Jack and Rose – in Thomas is Titanic.
As he gets ready to embark on his own maiden voyage, we talked to the actor – who’s also the show’s creator – about what it’s like gender bending and if he plans on doing that famous nude scene.
What drew you to the Titanic as subject for the show?
As a child, I was extremely interested in the facts of the disaster. I read book after book about the sinking. Then the James Cameron film came out and it grew into obsession and I loved Kate Winslet. I watched the movie over and over.
The subject for Thomas is Titanic actually came up nearly three years ago. I was re-watching old episodes of the MTV show The State and there is a sketch where an actor does a one-man show of Jurassic Park. I thought it was hilarious and I wanted to do it myself with another film. I quickly realized that my one-man show would be Titanic.
You play both Jack and Rose from the film version. What challenges do you face in juggling both characters?
Well, there is a lot of entertainment value as a performer to try to play two people at once. With my collaborator and director Justin Jain we laugh a lot in rehearsals about what I’m trying to do in those scenes. Together, we found a variety of ways to pull this off: sometimes my own hand or another object is enough to hold the place of the other character in the scene. The most exciting challenge for me is trying to convey two people’s emotions in a moment. This may be impossible, but it is funny to try to do it.
Does the show make any statements about gender?
Thomas is Titanic explores my personal love of Kate Winslet. As a kid, I collected news clippings and made a very fan website on Kate. Looking back, celebrity was a challenge for me. As a boy, I hid my collection from my family, because I should have been out playing sports or something.
In the show, I play Kate’s character Rose, more than I do Jack. I think what is interesting is the blurring of lines between gender. As a kid gender is less clear to us, and when you play pretend you can be who ever you want to be; there’s no judgment. Then, as we grow up, the differences become more apparent and separate us. This show takes us back to the previous time, reliving that freedom and abandon. As adults we should be able to go to that place more often.
Anyone who’s seen the movie remembers the nude scene. Will that also play a role in your show?
Sure does! You can’t do Titanic without it. I don’t want to give too much away, but what is so entertaining about the film’s nude drawing scene is the awkwardness of the moment, Jack and Rose are still teenagers and getting naked is a huge deal for the time period. In the film, Rose is also reaching the peak of being trapped by her family and her engagement, and she is continually fighting for freedom. This is where Rose’s character open’s herself completely and literally. The scene is a huge step in the life of my character in the show, too. It is the decision to take the road less traveled.
If you could go back in time, how would you have spent your last night aboard the famous boat?
Well, looking at myself financially, I assume I would be in third class. And I am not a good swimmer. So, I would be fucked (can I say fuck?). One out of every 10 third-class man survived Titanic. Otherwise, the third class accommodations were actually the best in the world, at the time it was comparable to most second classes on any other ship.
On the ship, I am sure I would have been dancing and drinking the night away. If they threw on some Robyn in third class you won‘t pull me off the dance floor [laughs].
If I knew I was going to die, I most likely would have started smoking, too. Got nothing to lose. In one of the earlier Titanic films there is a beautiful moment where a man gives a letter to a woman who is getting in a lifeboat, and he asks her to mail it once she reaches America. That is an amazing way to have your last thoughts memorialized. But I wouldn’t have thought of that. In a panic like death – I doubt I would be that clever.
Thomas is Titanic, Jan. 26-30, The Maas Building, 1325 N. Randolph St., 267-207-4488.