Interview with Stalking the Bogeyman Producer and Man vs Food's Adam Richman
The name Adam Richman is one that you may not necessarily associate directly with theatre. Thanks to the internationally successful TV franchise Man vs Food, he is perhaps most widely known for being a competitive eater and television personality. His roots however are firmly in the arts and as a graduate of the prestigious Yale Drama School, his passion and love of theatre is foremost in his current working schedule. Whilst no stranger to the UK, having recently hosted ITV's BBQ Champ, he has returned to London as a creative producer on the UK première of a powerful new play that opens this week at the Southwark Playhouse.
Based on an extraordinary true story, Stalking the Bogeyman follows renowned journalist David Holthouse’s secret plot to murder the man who raped him when he was seven years old. The play is directly based on an article published in 2004 which was later adapted into a story for the radio show 'This American Life', and writer Markus Potter highlights the complexities of childhood sexual assault.
Having already been a hit in New York where it was described as “breathtaking” in the New York Times, the production comes to the intimate Southwark Playhouse for a limited summer season. Speaking to Richman directly following a red-eye flight from the US I can sense not only his excitement but also his deep passion for the project and his expectation for it to be seen by a London audience. “There's such a reverential respect for theatre in the United Kingdom, people are opinionated about theatre”, he comments, as he talks about his relationship with London and West End theatre. “There's perhaps a greater degree of connection with live performance here. The success in New York was mind blowing and unexpected because we weren't tackling sexy subject matter, this isn't something you come out tapping your feet and singing the songs, but Markus and I know the respect that theatre has here.”
I'm interested to hear how this particular play caught Adam's attention, as like he suggests, the subject matter doesn't necessarily scream an easy to produce piece of theatre. “Markus (the writer and director) and I were roommates by happenstance” he explains. “We were put together at a program ran by the Guthrie Theatre. He had already begun to direct and I realised he had a lot of acumen as a director, the real sense of macro awareness that a director needs for a play. Flashing forward, we both kept in touch and Marcus directed me personally in a production at the New York Fringe Festival. That was really the first time that I got to experience Markus as a director, and the upshot is I had faith in him and told him I'd collaborate with him on anything.”
For Adam, Stalking the Bogeyman proved to be a perfect synthesis between two very different areas of his life. “Marcus knew that I have had a relationship with RAINN which is the Rape Abuse Incest National Network in the US. It's a cause I'm extremely passionate about and one that gives a voice to the voiceless. Whilst I was filming Man vs Food Nation I realised that I was just another angry voice with a Twitter account, and I decided that I could either be a voice of anger or I could be a voice of change”. This social epiphany led Adam to realise that RAINN was something he wanted to dedicate his “notoriety” to and something he specifically wanted to get behind. At the same time, Markus had heard David Holthouse's remarkable story on 'This American Life' and told Adam he had bought the rights. “It was a synergy between my passion and my passion of profession” he explains. “It was a cause I believed in and an art form that I am passionate about and have dedicated years of my life studying. Markus has never half-assed anything in his life, so I knew he was going to approach a heavy topic with real source material and a gentleman whose story it is in lock step with him, that he was going to do it justice, be respectful and he's going to see it through.”
Being a producer that's so closely involved with the creative aspects can sometimes be a problem, and I'm keen to find out from Adam how this dual relationship worked. “I don't want to be a TV 'schmuck' who writes cheques so I can tell girls at parties that I produce theatre. I wanted to make sure that I'd have some dramaturgical input, input on the staging, attend rehearsals, and because the script is so fluid to actually work with him on the writing, and Markus has been great. I have to respect the fact that Marcus is there on the day to day and I'm not. I don't want to just come in fly-by-night having not been in the mix and commenting on the progress that I haven't seen.” Is that difficult to do, I wonder. “Part of being a producer is that you hire a director, so you trust them to work on it. I have to put all the hubris to one side. He can take the temperature of the room, because of the subject matter of the play and the place it requires actors to go, and the degree of vulnerability, David Holthouse has been available to the cast, so they know the real person at play – these are not clever character names that Marcus came up with, these are the names of David's parents.”
Whilst the play certainly strikes a chord with Adam I wonder from a practical sense if he thinks that producers have a responsibility to invest in and programme work that really challenges audiences and also has the ability to change people's outlook especially in these dark times. “I think people are becoming less afraid of tackling serious subject matter, but people are becoming increasingly afraid of putting their name and money behind those things,” he replies. “I'm not taking a patch off of Harry Potter, but you know that it's a franchise that is minted, proven, established and self perpetuating, so you know that it's going to sell. As an investment it's a wise decision”.
Despite these huge commercial successes, he asserts that theatre can still be socially responsible and powerful for audiences. “Could there be more? I think we're seeing a swell of it but it would just be cool to see it get the same response. I don't know what that hook is. We are in a very very dark place. I'd like to find a way that we could not just hold up a mirror, but somehow find a solution. If there is way to not only say this is bad, but maybe, just maybe with that sense of remove that sitting in a darkened room behind a proscenium. We can't hear it from a politician or a priest, but if we see it on a stage, maybe that's enough to spark us to change or to come forward to help, or ask for help and tell us to do better.”
Stalking the Bogeyman is certainly playing its part in challenging audiences and is firmly unique in its approach and subject matter. “The story needed to be told” he asserts. This is the day and age where 'Spotlight' won the Oscar for Best Picture. The time is now for these things. If we don't stand up and point a spotlight at it, put it on stage and name names, then who's gonna?”
Find out more about RAINN.