An actor without attitude

“There is so much fear and propaganda shoved in our faces,” Wade McCollum told me during a recent conversation. “But it is a different thing to say, ‘Yeah, that is fucked up, but we can make beauty out of it.’ We can make beauty out of it.”


Making beauty out of that which seems less than beautiful is one of the central tenets of “One,” McCollum’s current musical production for which he wrote the lyrics, music and book. It is also an idea that he agrees is confrontational. When an audience is confronted with such ideas, inspired by what McCollum describes as a “love for humanity,” reactions are bound to be mixed. For some who thrive on cynicism and revel in the difficulties of the modern world, the reaction is likely to be eye-rolling and sneering at what is perceived to be a certain Pollyanna-ish outlook of the world. For those hopeful individuals who see the world as a place brimming with possibility, the reaction is likely to be a kind of gushing joy at having been presented with an affirmation of their ideals.


But McCollum is a strong proponent of inclusiveness, thus the title of his work, and cites Buddhist philosophy that stresses the personal point of view towards enlightenment.


“All of it is valid,” McCollum said, speaking of the mixed reactions the show has received. It’s difficult to imagine that this validity extends to those who were less than enthusiastic about the show, including one reviewer who described it as “the most pandering, new-age cheese available.”


But McCollum, with his constant, lovely smile and his eyes bright with sincerity, continued, “Not only is it a perfectly valid and beautiful point of view, but it is also giving me and all the other artists involved in this project [a chance] to be confronted with everything we said we could make beauty out of.” His smile widened. “Our fears are being pointed at. All of the knives are being shoved in. What more could we ask for?”


What is most interesting about Wade McCollum is that he appears to be operating somewhere outside of the familiar country traveled by most artists. He speaks with the kind of joyful certainty of an individual who knows exactly what’s happening. His philosophy is that art can help transform and lift the world, offer hope and perspective for people constantly barraged with disaster.


He believes that in a country waiting for Armageddon, art can help reveal another possibility, that of a future, not of ultimate destruction but ultimate enlightenment. Is it possible for an artist to put his or her ego aside and create a truly altruistic work meant to lift society? McCollum agrees that in a capitalistic environment it becomes more difficult, considering “the job of art in our culture is to make money and in order to make money you need a commodity.”


After several years of being adored by theatre-going audiences in his performances as Hedwig, Batboy, Dr. Frank N. Furter and a slew of others, a commodity is what McCollum’s name has become. He would not have chosen for his name to be as attached to “One” as it has become. When the lead role was offered to him, he initially refused but gave in as the director insisted. Nevertheless, playing the role of Sid Arthur, the spiritual singer/songwriter who is seduced by a capitalistic music industry, has certainly not been easy when considering that, as a writer, he was developing the show when the curtain went up.


“Through a series of events [the show] changed drastically a week before we opened,” he said, “There are things on stage that are literally first draft scenes.”


The outcome is that McCollum feels incredibly raw. He still looks at his performance as an opportunity to learn more about the process of his creativity and better understand his intentions even amongst the pull of time and money.


As “One” finishes its current run and it’s current incarnation, McCollum’s positivity and enthusiasm are not diminished. “The show has a beautiful future ahead of it,” he said.


McCollum wants to change the world and with “One” he has tried to “create a tool for evolution,” self-exploration and ultimately transcendence. Leaning toward me, his face illuminated with certainty, he said, “If we are courageous enough to look at that creative impulse, whatever direction it might be pointing to, it will lead us to the top of the mountain. We all get there.”


After spending any amount of time talking with him, I think most would be inclined to believe him.