In Salvation Road, Chris Daileader plays a teenage agnostic who is forced to reconsider his relationship with the Divine when his sister becomes involved in a religious cult. In this interview with the playwright, he reflects on the challenges of the role and what he does—and doesn’t—have in common with the character he portrays.
According to your bio on the website, you are a man of many talents—photographer, actor, writer, director, and I know for a fact you do a fair Sean Connery imitation. Do you have any talents you are afraid to mention?
Afraid to mention? No, not really. There are some other things I didn't mention in the bio though... I've always liked the term "Renaissance Man" and I've always striven to be one.
I remember this "Eureka" moment in a Philosophy of Art class back in college -- my teacher read aloud some of his own poetry and referred to himself as a poet. And I realized the extent to which I'd always placed artists on a pedestal. I had this flawed understanding that it was like Sainthood or something; you couldn't be an artist until you were dead and somebody else called you one.
There was this moment of realization that these artists were all just people who put in the work. They put in work to improve and improve until they created their magnum opus. Now that's what I strive for. I refuse to be intimidated by a new creative medium. And I work hard, always trying to get good at everything I do.
Rumor has it you have a sketch comedy series coming to the web. Tell me about that—how did it come to be?
Yes! Highbro Comedy. It still has a lot of work to be done, but I am very proud of the project. I've always relied on humor as, well, my only social tool because I'm such a naturally shy and anxious person when I meet new people. I'd been compiling and compiling these standup comedy ideas in my journal, and time and time again I would look back and wonder "how the hell do you deliver that without visualizing the joke?"
So one day I decided I needed a new project: something collaborative and funny and smart. I wanted jokes that appealed to a mass audience but also went deep into some of today's social and philosophical and economic quandries. So I contacted this network of artists I've accumulated in my friend group -- designers, writers, actors, directors, comedians, editors... And I pitched it to them. People ate it up. We all began compiling every funny idea that came to our mind into a group chat. I refused to put up any fences. Anything is game...though it may not get produced.
Highbro Comedy (a play off of highbrow; this isn't stoner comedy) isn't just sketch comedy. We compile skits around a unifying criterion and build out full episodes -- we emulate TV structure so that we can pitch it to executives when we're ready. For example, my favorite episode script so far is called "Idioms, Idiot!" and every skit gives the origin story for different English Idioms -- Open and Shut Case, Cool as a Cucumber, etc. Without sounding too cocky, what we've got right now is brilliant. We want to write our whole first season before we actually shoot anything, but holy hell do we have some good scripts. I can't wait to enter production. I really think this thing is going to be big. Social Commentary+Comedy=Satire and there just isn't enough quality stuff out there these days.
About that gig at Carnegie Hall? What was it? And who did you bribe to get there?
Well, that's just a nice thing to have on my resume but it's not like I did a one man show of Carmen or anything! I was just a section leader for my school's chorus, which qualified to be a part of the National Youth Chorus. Still, it was pretty surreal to be out on that stage. I remember I walked out early just to blast out a few baritone notes before everything got assembled...Those acoustics! And such a beautiful place.
I minimize the importance of that experience, sometimes, but I really shouldn't. It cemented in me that I wanted to be a performer. Getting up there and hearing the things I could do with the proper acoustics -- I knew I had to go back. I was born to be onstage and those were some of the grandest boards I've ever gotten to walk. It's hard to describe looking out at an audience that big and feeling far less out of place than you do anywhere else in life -- but that's me. That's what I live for.
In Salvation Road you play an agnostic teenager who is forced to confront the question of why anyone needs religion. Have you ever wrestled with that question yourself—and if so, what did you come up with?
Ohhhh yes. Haha in many ways Cliff is my high school self. I was raised Catholic, but I...well, I never believed in God. Even as a little kid I remember looking around in church like "...Really?" I went through the Catholic school system, I'm very interested in religion and very well educated on numerous religions. But it isn't for me. I think a lot about how if a universe is constantly expanding, if it is truly infinite, then where is the room for omnipotence? Omnipresence? Is free will even possible -- do brains actually choose between different outcomes or do they chemically (and subconsciously) calculate based on the given stimulii and prior conditioning?
I understand that some truly believe and truly love their relationship with their deity, but I just see so much in this universe that is so mysterious -- how can anyone find the time to spend that inquisitive energy on something metaphysical? Unproveable? And from a purely physics standpoint -- impossible? So yeah, I have the same questions Cliff has. How can you even consider spending time on religion when there is so much to do and learn and know and become in this life?
Do you see anything of yourself in Cliff?
So much. So, so much. It's eerie, really. At times I feel like D.W. observed my middle school and high school self because this character reminds me so much of my younger self in certain ways. His awkwardness, his stubbornness, his snarkiness, his prioritization of reason and systems over emotion and faith... Even the tactics he uses attempting to hide his neuroses and fears! We have some major differences, but I feel like I really know Cliff after just a few short weeks with this script. I've never done this before with any character, but my first two weeks of textwork were focused on finding what about Cliff was not like me.
It's kind of refreshing to play something close to yourself...especially as an actor who, before this role, has played ONLY villains, murderers, and rapists for the last 6 years. And that isn't an exaggeration. And I'm a nice guy, too! You can't imagine the shock I had learning that I wasn't cast as the cult leader...
If you had any advice to offer the kid—what might it be?
Cliff needs to learn the single most important lesson that every young actor learns very early...or flames out in a burst of self-loathing:
Do NOT fret about what you cannot control. Worry can be such a draining exercise; anxiety can be a crushing force. Hell, I know a lot of NON-actors who need to learn this lesson. Some things are out of your control -- learn to embrace that! Enjoy riding the wave of life instead of trying to manipulate the ocean. If things don't work out...well, your fretting couldn't have prevented it anyway. Learn to expend energy only on the things which you can influence or your anxiety will eat you alive from the inside out. Maximizing how you expend your energy and efforts is the best way to reach your potential. Think about the opportunity cost when you spend your energy on feckless neuroses -- look to what you CAN change and live with the fallout of what you can't.