THEATRE: Chris Craddock mines for laughs, tears in Moving Along

Chris Craddock knows he’s breaking a sacred “blood oath” in revealing the secret initiation he went through to become a life-long member of Delta Kappa Epsilon, the U of A fraternity that took all that bad press for its cruel hazing practices.

“I’m not afraid,” declares the award-winning comic actor, who will detail his experience in the latest production of his one-man show Moving Along, opening Thursday at the Roxy Theatre. He adds with a laugh, “I don’t think the fraternity organization is in any condition to affect reprisals. Maybe I’ll get my house egged like I did when I had my NDP sign out.”

This is first time (as far as we know) that this sort of material has been seen on an Edmonton theatre stage, at least in a first-hand account. To get into Delta house, Craddock went through three days of forced exercise, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, copious alcohol consumption and emotional manipulation only to be told at the end – as all pledges are – that he failed. He says, “And you cry, and then they say nope – psyche! You’re in.”

You see, having already been tested and found worthy of the ordeal, the initiation is a formality.

Despite the public disgust over hazing stories that regularly surface in the media, there is an interesting point to be made, and Craddock makes it: “This in many cases is the only initiation ritual offered young men in our society. And is there a problem? As Robert Bly writes, are we missing something?”

Name almost any bastion of male culture – fraternities, the military, Junior A hockey – and you’ll find initiation rituals, Craddock goes on. All involve cruelty.

“I don’t claim to be overly victimized,” he says. “We did it to ourselves. That’s what’s hilarious about it. And then the next year I participated on the other side and I really started to get it: What are we doing here?!”

There maybe should be some kind of entering-manhood rite in modern society, he adds, “but I think your father should be there, your uncles, people in your community – not college kids that are only three years older than you, these man-boy alumni who show up to scream at you. It’s ridiculous.”

Fraternity hazing is just some of the new material to be found in the latest – the seventh – incarnation of Moving Along, an ever-evolving “living memoir” that reflects that truth as the playwright sees it in the given moment. “It’s semi-autobiographical,” he says. He’ll talk about being married, because he got married. He’ll talk about his experiences mounting BASH’d: A Gay Rap Opera for three months Off Broadway in New York City. Setting aside the fact that Craddock does this whole show effectively strapped to control chair he designed himself – switches and dimmers in the armrests triggering his own light and sound effects – this show could easily be imagined as a form of stand-up comedy. The line between a one-man show in a theatre and a one-man show in a comedy club is already blurry enough. They are kindred spirits. And while there are important differences – less hecklers, less travel, less loneliness – they’re both looking for truth, they’re both going for laughs. Most of the time, anyway.

“It is a fuzzy line,” Craddock says. “I would say that what I do would be considered comedy art, a bit like stand up comedy, but I’m still well in the theatre range, and I think that’s proved by how often I bum people out.”

In short, while comics are expected to “mine the horror of the human experience for the laugh response, sometimes I mine it for the tear response.”

Like the Delta house initiation. He can laugh about it now.

Moving Along plays to Feb. 26.