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."

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