It’s a big deal to have your new work premiere at the Steppenwolf Theater. Then again, Walkabout Theater Company’s Thom Pasculli has ambition and talent that set the stage for big things. As director of “The Wild,” he’s fashioned an experimental production you must see to appreciate.
Inspired by the work of playwright Charles Mee and Walkabout’s physical training practices, “The Wild” is the world premiere of a devised laboratory theater performance that confronts distant realities and their infringement on our daily lives. But it moves, too, incorporates erotic dance and the dealings of seductive demi-gods as they encroach on an isolated tropical paradise.
“Making a show for Steppenwolf has been a major aspiration of mine since I worked as an assistant director on a show there in 2011,” says Pasculli, 30, who lives in the city’s Edgewater neighborhood. “That show brought me to Chicago in the first place, so I’m thrilled to be back directing a show of my own.”
Italian on his father’s side (his mother’s side is Irish and English), Pasculli traces his roots to Molfetta, on Bari’s Adriatic coast. His great grandfather Pasquale Pasculli settled the family in Hoboken, N.J., and had to get permission from Mussolini’s minions to leave the country. He was so determined to make it in his new homeland that he took a job setting pins in a local bowling alley.
“In terms of theater, my Italian family gave me a deep and undying love of all things Frank Sinatra, extensive training with theatrical personalities — and their overwhelming love and support,” Pasculli says. “They’re high octane, and all the gatherings of my immediate and extended family have always been demanding, rich, and incredibly nourishing to me. My family, like theater, makes me feel the most alive, the most activated and the most hungry for all the joys and pleasures of life.”
The famiglia also encouraged Pasculli right from the start. He caught the bug for theater working on a 5th grade play. “I’ve never done anything else professionally,” he says. “I’ve been working as an artist and a teaching artist since I graduated Dartmouth College in 2005.”
So what can audiences expect when they come to see “The Wild,” which plays as part of Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep 2014 program? “Our performances include live music, dynamic physical actions and theatrical imagery in a collage stemming from a story, which we sometimes call our ‘point of departure’ and sometimes our “source material,'” Pasculli says. “‘The Wild’ is inspired by our exploration of the ancient Greek play ‘The Bacchae’ and ecstatic rituals of worship.”
There’s another form of ecstasy attached to it, one that comes from keeping his life’s passion in the family. “My wife Stephanie designed and built the sets for the show, which has been an incredible gift for both of us,” Pasculli says. “It’s the first time since my 3-year-old son was born that we’ve been able to work together on a project like this.”
“The Wild,” directed by Thom Pasculli, is part of Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Garage Rep 2014, which runs through April 20 at the Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted St. Performances take place Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 1, 4 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $20; call 312-335-1650 or visit www.steppenwolf.org/ for more information.