There is a lot going on in CB Goodman's new play *some humans were harmed in the making of this show. It takes inspiration from Tony Robbins, PT Barnum, and the true story of the 1903 public execution of an elephant named Topsy; there's drag, there are puppets, and there's self-help testimony.
"There's a lot," says writer/director CB Goodman. "That's why we had to call it a drag-puppetry-self-help-testimony show about Topsy. We're using so many different forms. And I'm really interested in sort of bringing together... how can you do drag and how can you do puppetry and how can you have someone's life story play out in [something] like a big tent revival?"
The play began to take shape in Goodman's mind five years ago, when she read the book Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison by Michael Daly. "And ever since then, that book of Topsy's life and all of the elements that came together to allow her public execution just fascinated me," Goodman says. "And so I decided to take her life and map it onto humans and stage a play."
From there, incorporating Tony Robbins as a character was a surprisingly natural step. "So I started to think about spectacle and I started to think about circus," Goodman says. "And if you know anything Tony Robbins, I find that his presentations and the big spectacles that he's currently putting on remind me of a circus. And so I decided to use him as kind of our main circus component in the show."
"I have a love-hate relationship with Tony Robbins, and so we lovingly mock him in this production," Goodman says. "He says some really beautiful things and he also says some kind of wacky things. So some of the stuff is straight up Tony Robbins and some of the stuff is totally me kind of lovingly making fun of him."
Katy Taylor plays Robbins in *some humans were harmed in the making of this show, and she says she's trying to portray him with humanity while embracing the spectacle. "I know a lot of people who I respect very much that subscribe to a lot of his methodology," she says. "And in my portrayal of Tony and his interaction and care of the people he's engaging with, I try to be pretty sensitive even though it's a very big presentation."
Goodman and company are well aware that a show as odd and wide-ranging as *some humans were harmed in the making of this show is a bit of a swing at the fences. But that's kind of the point, Goodman says. "How do we, as theater makers in this town, push the form and try new things?" she says. "And that's what we're trying to do is we're trying to sort of tear it all down but still keep it very much a cohesive story that makes the audience excited and alive. And we could fail miserably. It's not safe."