Ahead of the January 22nd release of Derek DelGaudio’s In & of Itself on Hulu, the star of the hit Off-Broadway show joined Director Frank Oz and Producer Stephen Colbert for a virtual 92nd Street Y event. Moderated by Larry Wilmore, the trio discussed the show’s origins, the biggest challenges in bringing to life, and the decision to film it for posterity.
CAUTION: If you haven’t seen the film, spoilers are ahead. I recommend seeing Derek DelGaudio’s In & of Itself before reading any further.
The idea for In & of Itself came from Derek DelGaudio’s desire to explore the idea of identity and how we want to be seen. The show is pretty difficult to describe and when asked to do so, Derek’s own description of it was a “Theatrical existential crisis.”
One of the identities Derek takes on in the show is that of “The Roulatista,” a story he recounts being told to him in a bar as part of a monologue. This event really did happen, but what he leaves out of the show is that it was told to him in Spanish by a friend-of-a-friend. Knowing enough Spanish to get by but not enough to be fluent, Derek repeated the story back to his bilingual friend in English and found that he had gotten some of the story wrong. However, he liked the version he interpreted better than the real story and that’s what’s in the show. “The listener holds the power in terms of storytelling,” Derek shared, which leads to a big moment in the show.
At a certain point, Derek designates an audience member to be mister or misses “Tomorrow,” giving them a book that’s partially completed and asking them to recount their interpretation of the show thus far and predict the ending without seeing it. They are given tickets to return the next night with the instructions to bring the book back. It’s a big gamble and one that was important to the show’s creator, a metaphorical bullet in the gun of his own roulatista.
In the film, viewers get to see a few highlights from the book in a montage of several audience members reading from it. During the virtual event, Derek DelGaudio showed off some of his favorite moments inside. The film show’s a colorful drawing of an elephant, which was the only page that “Post-It Note Guy” left a positive message on. The full story behind it is that a mother came to the show with her husband having bought rush tickets that day. When asking for a “Tomorrow” person to come back, she immediately volunteered and came back the next night with the book and the beautiful elephant drawing. When asked to read from it, she pulled Derek aside and privately confided that she and her husband had been living at a nearby hospital where there son was being treated for Leukemia. He hadn’t spoken in weeks, but when she got back that night and started telling him about the show, something sparked inside of him and he started talking again. She almost couldn’t bring herself to leave him, but he insisted that he go so she could tell him how the show ended.
As the director of both the show and the filmed version, Frank Oz said “We leap joyfully into the darkness not knowing what we’re doing,” referring to working with Derek. He didn’t approach the show as a piece of theater, but as crucible. There isn’t a barrier between the front row of the audience and the stage and Derek routinely enters the audience, addressing people individually, which they weren’t sure if people would even sit through. He described a nonverbal communication that the audience is aware of but can’t piece together until the end.
In terms of direction for Derek’s performance, Frank Oz was adamant that he not act. Every moment needed to feel sincere and personal and the only way that could be achieved was for him to be himself. The show is full of closely guarded illusions that help tell stories, but the center of the show has to be as authentic as possible for it to work.
Stephen Colbert became involved when someone recommended that he see the show. He saw it twice in person and chose the same “I Am” card both times, which was “Idiot.” On his second time choosing the adjective, he changed his Twitter bio to just say “Idiot” and his security team thought his account had been compromised.
A friendship formed when Stephen Colbert and his family went searching for the golden brick after the show and couldn’t find it. Since Derek followed Stephen, he was able to send him a direct message on Twitter and the creator told him that happens sometimes. They ended up going out to drinks together and soon bonded. When Derek shared his thoughts about creating a filmed version, Stephen jumped on board along with his wife Evelyn McGee-Colbert.
One of the show’s biggest moments, the promissory elephant, really hinges on an audience member and Frank Oz shared that it was one of the trickiest elements to bring to the screen. “As usual, the film tells you what it wants to be,” the legendary filmmaker shared. Being on film allowed for camera close-ups, creating a different experience than anyone had in the audience. “We were able to reveal truths that were not visible in the show,” Derek added.
Sadly, the team has yet to see the filmed version on a big screen with an audience. Scheduled to premiere at SXSW 2020, the screening was cancelled a week before the event. Stephen Colbert made arrangements for In & of Itself and other films from New York City filmmakers to be screened at the Ed Sullivan Theater on March 14th. As soon as the entire event was set up with a screen and projector, they got the word that stay-at-home-orders were going to cancel the screening. But there is still hope. Even though the film is now streaming on Hulu, it’s still possible to hold a big screen event in the future when it’s safe to do so.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.