Weird by the Numbers

Wrangling the massive beast that Keepin' It Weird became proved a monumental challenge for Steakley and Zach, involving dozens of people over the life of the project, which lasted more than a year longer than originally planned. Steakley's request for names of people to interview yielded a stream that then grew into a torrent. The master list peaked somewhere around 500 names, of which 200 people ultimately were interviewed (generally the ones who were most responsive when they were contacted by someone from Zach about the project).

Steakley didn't have the time to interview everyone he thought was a worthwhile lead, so he enlisted the aid of 10 friends and colleagues – including this reporter's wife, Barbara Chisholm, who is also in the cast of Keepin' It Weird – to talk to subjects and get their stories on video. The show, which was originally slated to close the 2003-2004 season, was postponed a year to give Steakley more time to pursue additional interviews. When Steakley finally called a halt to the interviews this spring, some 40 people were needed to transcribe the 200 hours of videotaped material.

But when the time came to winnow the material down to a playable theatrical script, it all came back to one person: Steakley. He watched all 200 hours of interviews, cut that down to 30 hours, then to five, then three. And it nearly did him in. "I didn't know how deep and how all-consuming this would be," he says. "I had no idea how emotionally and intellectually challenging this would be. [Playwriting] is very solitary, and I'm such a social person. The discipline to force yourself into that room and be alone with your laptop, I found that to be the hardest thing. I found the solitary part of this almost unbearable at times.

"At the same time, I wouldn't trade anything for all those one-on-ones with the people I got to talk to. And boy, you sure feel a responsibility to all those people and their stories and all those people who aren't represented as they're laying on the [cutting-room] floor. It's amazing in terms of how connected to Austin and how much deeper my appreciation and love for it has grown."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Robert Faires
Valoneecia Tolbert Geeks Out in <i>Tales of a Blerd Ballerina</i>
Valoneecia Tolbert Geeks Out in Tales of a Blerd Ballerina
The actress looks back at what it was to be young, geeky, and Black

April 9, 2021

Vote for New Music in Golden Hornet's String Quartet Smackdown VII
Vote for New Music in Golden Hornet's String Quartet Smackdown VII
For the seventh year, Golden Hornet referees this composition competition while you decide the winner

March 26, 2021

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle