Slice of Life

What does the raunchy version of ‘Silence of the Lambs’ look like?

Colin Davy | Assistant Photo Editor

Director Daniel Tursi doesn't always hold auditions for his productions. Most of his actors are invited personally to take on a role because they have qualities he’s looking for.

Red lights gleam over a small stage as Christopher James, an actor in “Silence of the Clams,” fiddles with his brown wig. In the corner lies a painted divider, and across the room are a few strategically placed boxes.

“You gotta stop playing with your hair,” Director Daniel Tursi said, while James adjusted his pearls and paces. They’re in the middle of rehearsal.

It’s not an unusual scene for Rarely Done Productions, a theater company founded by Tursi, Jordan Glaski and Ty Marshal 13 years ago. The company focuses on bringing experimental productions to Syracuse that lack the campiness of traditional musicals.

The company’s latest, “Silence of the Clams,” is a raunchy parody of the 1991 “Silence of the Lambs,” featuring villain “Dr. Hannibal Licked-Her” instead of Hannibal Lecter and more than a few men in dresses.

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“This has to be the dirtiest show I have done in 13 years,” Tursi said.

The show, for mature audiences only, opens Friday, and they’ll close out the season with “The Last 5 Years” — a musical by Tony Award-winning playwright Jason Robert Brown — and “The Tom-Kat Project,” a show about Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and scientology.

“We bring other subjects up, which are usually taboo, that people come to think about,” Tursi said.

Tursi hadn’t always wanted to be involved in theater, but after answering a casting call for actors while he was studying at University of Buffalo, Tursi decided to give acting a shot. It turned out he was pretty good at it.

“I put my way through college by being an actor,” Tursi said. “It’s just something I fell into.”

Sometimes, that’s how he finds actors for his shows. Most actors are personally invited to take on a role by Tursi because they have the qualities he’s looking for. But occasionally, Tursi just people-watches, asking strangers on the street if they’d consider being in one of his productions.

“It’s because they already possess the character, and that’s so hard to get out of an actor because they already possess what you want,” Tursi said. “It’s real. It’s natural.”

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Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor

He has open auditions too, if the show calls for it. It all depends on finding the right actors for the role.

But it’s also a lot of hard work. Unlike traditional productions, actors who take on a role have 14 practices before the show begins instead of the usual 6 to 12 weeks. Most of the time they memorize their lines before even stepping foot on the stage.

“They know when they come in here, they have to know their stuff,” Tursi said. “And they know they’re going to work but they’re going to have a good product and the audiences that come, they come and they enjoy themselves.”

Even getting rights to perform the plays themselves can be a process. Usually, Tursi receives scripts from playwrights across the country to look over. The shows are independent and often times owned by their writers, which means Tursi must get permission from them directly before putting one on. The content does vary in raciness and subject matter, but “The Silence of the Clams,” is particularly out there.

“They’re a little shocked. They’re taken aback, sometimes,” David Minikhiem, an actor in “The Silence of the Clams” said about Rarely Done’s wild subject matter. “After they see about five of them, they come in ready to expect anything.”

Minikhiem is no stranger to the weird and fantastical shows Tursi puts on. He’s been working for Rarely Done Productions since its second season. He said he really enjoys working with Tursi and the interesting shows the company brings to life.

“I’m just very comfortable with him and I’m just very used to him being very Avant Garde,” Minikhiem said.

But while most people in the audience like the subject matter of the shows, not everyone who comes has an open mind. Over the years, they’ve had to escort a few audience members out of the theater because they were yelling at actors.

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Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor

“They had no idea what they were going to see,” Tursi said.

While they do want audience members to enjoy themselves, Tursi and the rest of the cast and crew ultimately put on these smaller productions because they love theater. Larry Matthew, who assists on set, was an actor in high school and never thought he’d get the opportunity to work in theater again. After being offered a job on set, it brought back great memories.

“I was like, in tears, because I thought I’d never ever get back into the business of doing plays again,” Matthew said. “And when I saw Dan, I went up and I shook his hand, I was in tears. I said, ‘Thank you very much, Dan, for letting me be a part of this.’”

Tursi too, credits the cast, crew and audience for all that Rarely Done Productions has turned into.

“I’m very happy with the people that come, the performers that come to support me, the backstage people that come and help me out,” Tursi said. “I’m grateful for them, because without them, this wouldn’t exist.”

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