Brian Clowdus, the out artistic director of Serenbe Playhouse, has pulled off some major theatrical events in his career, including a version of “Hair” taking place literally in a field, and a take of “Miss Saigon” which included landing a helicopter as part of the musical. Now he’s taking aim at his most ambitious project — the musical “Titanic,” in which the director will sink a ship nightly.
As someone who likes challenges, Clowdus says this is his biggest one to date. “This has always been on my bucket list,” he says. “This was the perfect year to do it. I’ve been in love with the story for ages. It’s rarely done. It has such a huge cast and sometimes it’s done as an ensemble version with a smaller cast, but we are doing the original version. I didn’t want to do it pared down. I wanted to do the epic, full version.”
The stage production, charting the ocean liner RMS Titanic and how it sank on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912, won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 1997, but Clowdus finds that most people are more familiar with the Oscar-winning movie, which was at one time the highest-grossing film ever released.
Clowdus looked at the original blueprint of the Titanic to get ideas of what he wanted the set to look like. He knew he had bitten off a lot, though. “We have never done a show of this scale, or of this budget,” he says. “We have never done a show in water to this degree. You have 40 people going in and out of water and it’s a dangerous show. You have to work hand in hand with Actor’s Equity because we’ve never done this before. We want to be overly cautious with everything. We want the audience to feel comfortable watching the show. All the mechanics will be rehearsed over and over again.”
Out actor Brian Jordan, known for his work in last year’s “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” at Out Front Theatre Company, is one the major characters in the large ensemble. Jordan has done several shows with the company including “Carousel” and last summer’s “Cabaret,” and feels the company has always offered a welcoming environment for LGBTQ cast and crew.
He plays a 14-year-old character — Clifford, a bellboy on the ship — which has been a challenge in itself since the actor is 27. That’s mild compared to the physical challenge, though. The show takes place on a lake and contains scenes where characters are literally jumping into the water. “Safety is our biggest priority since we are in the middle of a lake for two hours. We are working with an amazing stunt coordinator to take precautions, though. It’s been very exciting.”
Jordan is a huge fan of Clowdus’ derring-do attitude. “He will have an idea and not take no for an answer,” says Jordan. “He’ll make it happen — for instance, building a fair [for “Carousel”], a club [for “Cabaret”], landing a helicopter, and now we’re sinking a ship. I think it’s going to be one of the greatest shows Atlanta has ever seen.”