Behind the Scenes at “Normal” Part 2: Brian McDermott: ‘Bow Ties and Other Knotty Problems’

 Brian McDermott.
Brian McDermott.

OK.  Confession time. I’ve never tied a bow tie.

Bow tie tying is a strange little thing that I had managed to avoid until appearing in Normal, from Molotov Theatre Group, which runs through March 30th.

I’ve otherwise done a lot of things in life. A lot of things. I did 8 years of military service, including a couple overseas “vacations.” I spent a year wearing a badge in northwest DC. I’ve jumped out of planes, managed retails stores, been married and divorced, buried parents, friends, family. So on and so forth. But I’ve never, until now, tied a bow tie.

Sure, I’ve seen many bow ties tied. You see them all over the modern media. These days they’re even considered trendy, like skinny jeans and mocha lattes. But I’ve always managed to stay disconnected from the thing; I’ve never really been forced to confront it or understand it.

When I was cast as Justus Wehner (pronounced YOOS-tis VEN-er – Deutsch ist meine zweite Sprache) in Molotov’s production of Normal, I realized I had a daunting task ahead of me- facing something that, up until now, I had successfully managed to avoid.

Alex Zavistovich, Brian McDermott, and Elizabeth Darby. Photo courtesy of Molotov Theatre Group. Alex Zavistovich, Brian McDermott, and Elizabeth Darby. Photo courtesy of Kristin Jackman.
Alex Zavistovich, Brian McDermott, and Elizabeth Darby. Photo courtesy of Molotov Theatre Group.

Of course, we often only see these sorts of things from the outside with a disconnected perspective on it. With that point of view, tying a bow tie seems straightforward enough, not unlike tying a shoe with really odd shaped laces. But once I got my hands on it for the first time, it become terribly apparent that the task was really far more complex than I had really prepared for. There are deep intricacies involved, subtleties in the twists and turns, in the knots and bows and loose ends and if you fail to pay heed to these things, your finished product will be little more than laughable and you’ll be shunned from high society for the rest of your days.

It is a truly intimidating task, tying a bow tie. It took me weeks to really find the right holds, where to put my fingers to make sure that the knot didn’t get twisted up, where to start lacing so that the ends would be the proper length. And to be honest about it, I can’t tell you that I’ve gotten it just right yet. I’m still working on it.

Thankfully, working with such wonderful talents and personalities made for a very comfortable and non-threatening environment for me to really explore my bow tying. In the rehearsal room, we were safe. We could laugh about it over a drink and commend ourselves for our cleverness, to steal a line from the show. I cannot stress to you just how important it was for me to do this show and face this challenge with these people specifically. No matter how difficult the work would be, we always managed to keep it light and fun in the rehearsal space. It made facing such a challenge a lot more bearable, and I cannot thank this cast and crew enough for it. One of the most important things about confronting a bow tie is the people who confront it with you.

OK, confession time. This isn’t really about bow ties.

Normal_728x90_1 (2)Normal plays through March 30, 2013, at the DC Arts Center – 2438 18th Street, NW, in Adams Morgan, in Washington, DC. Every Thursday is Pay-What-You-Can. Tickets can be purchased online.


Review of Normal by John Stoltenberg.

A Molotov Show without Blood? Behind the Grand Guignol Scenes of ‘Normal’ by Alex Zavistovich


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