As a youngster growing up in Madison, Andrew Hinderaker fell in love with football. "I went to my first game when I was four years old. I say it was the first theatrical experience I ever had."
That love has twisted and turned in recent years, as the sport's underbelly -- including billion-dollar stadiums, the concussion crisis, and the behavior of a number of high-profile stars -- has tarnished it. Still, people flock to games and watch in the millions. "It's the best game there is," Hinderaker says.
The playwright's exploration of American football, Colossal, opens at Mixed Blood this weekend. The piece looks at this American game through the eyes of Mike, a star player who is crippled after an on-field injury. The play also deals with sexuality and family expectations. Oh, and there's a halftime show, a drum line, and many of the actors perform in full pads.
"I was in grad school in Texas, and my advisor wanted me to write an un-producible play," Hinderaker says.
Instead, Colossal will see a rolling world premiere through the year, as five different companies tackle the piece. The Mixed Blood version is the second one to open.
Toby Forrest, a wheelchair-using actor from Los Angeles with Minnesota roots, plays the post-injury Mike.
Forrest can connect with his character. He suffered his own injury in the late 1990s in a diving accident in the Grand Canyon. Before the accident, he had been an athlete, a jeweler, and a singer. "After the accident, I told myself this was the most difficult game I was ever going to play," Forrest says.
Along with the physical therapy, Forrest needed to change his career path. He studied psychology in graduate school, but it took an in-class performance as an Alzheimer's patient to push him toward acting. That led to a Christopher Reeve Acting Scholarship, which allowed Forrest to get additional training.
Part of what drew Forrest to Hinderaker's script was its musicality, and its willingness to take on issues of disability and sexuality. "It exposes this open wound and that's a beautiful thing to see," he says. "I knew I would have to confront my own personal feelings in the process of playing Mike. It's always good to explore a new journey."
Trying to capture the singular energy of a live football game comes down to the cast of 22 performers and director Will Davis, who also helmed the just-closed production of Colossal at the Olney Theatre Center in Maryland.
"There are multiple verbal and physical languages. There is the language of football, of the body, and of modern dance," Davis says. "We can start with words and finish with a gesture. I'm really keeping the bar high for precision from frame to frame so it works. There is a velocity to this play. It's like an endurance sport."
Aiding that has been a number of experts, including multiple choreographers and someone to teach the actors how to block and tackle.
"It needs ferocity to live," adds Hinderaker. "It only lives if you take the muzzle off the beast."
"There are so many spinning plates. You don't want it to be easy. You want it to be difficult. You want the challenge to be there," Forrest says.
IF YOU GO
Colossal Friday through November 9 Mixed Blood Theatre 1501 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis Free, first-come, first served; $20 to reserve a spot For ticket reservations and more information, call 612.338.6131 or visit online.