Thomas Choinacky brings “Titanic” to the stage

Thomas Choinacky in "Thomas is Titanic." photo credits Suzanne Delaney.
Thomas Choinacky in "Thomas is Titanic." photo credits Suzanne Delaney.
This theatre luminary brings Titanic to the stage in the most unique way — Kate Winslet are you watching?

One of the best things about theater is that from shows like Rent to Hamilton, unique stories by fresh and innovative voices are sometimes the best kinds of shows. There is nothing more innovative than a show that serves as a love letter to Oscar winner Kate Winslet and her iconic movie Titanic. And that is exactly what Thomas Choinacky has done with his show Thomas Is Titanic, which is part of Simpatico’s 4Solo project.

The show unfolds with Choinacky demonstrating a Kate Winslet obsession with him playing all of the parts. Yes, all, including the iceberg, of the blockbuster movie. The only thing bigger than Choinacky’s imagination, is his sheer adoration for Winslet. It’s on full display with this innovative production.

I sat down to chat with Choinacky about his love for Winslet, what it’s like retelling such a massive production on stage, and whether or not we may see Winslet herself coming in for a surprise viewing of the show.

Michael Cook: This is definitely one of the most interesting theater experiences that one could have. Gay men have always loved Kate Winslet and her role in Titanic specifically, but you definitely take it to a whole different level. 

Thomas Choinacky: It’s crazy to look back and really think, “how did I get here”?! (laughs). It starts as one thing you are really passionate about, and it really just snowballs after that.

Thomas Choinacky in "Thomas is Titanic." photo credits Suzanne Delaney.
Thomas Choinacky in “Thomas is Titanic.” photo credits Suzanne Delaney.

What is it about Kate Winslet specifically that makes you such a rabid fan of hers?  

TC: I feel that is it hard to explain at this point. I think that she is just an amazing performer, and can play so many different and amazing roles. As an actor myself, I actually idolize that fact about her. I would say that earlier on, I thought that about her. She was almost a muse of sorts for me. At the time when Titanic first came out, it was the same time as the early internet, and I do talk a little about that. I was trying to find other people that are like “me” in the world. I was just this person who was really into a celebrity. But I definitely kept it a secret from my family for a long period of time. That is a part of the play, the talking about it. I did share it with a couple friends, and that was the connection that they were having with NSYNC or Backstreet Boys. For me, it was like going on the internet and finding other people who had a similar interest, and finding connection in this interest that seemed really unusual. We also had a less of a connection then, as we were using Instant Messenger or a hotmail email. Everything felt so foreign still back then.

When people see Thomas Is Titanic, what do you want them to take from the entire experience as a whole? 

TC: I think what it is really getting at is the various things that we are getting in our life. I think it really does get embodied in the heart of the ocean. What is this whole spectacular and exciting thing that everyone is searching for, and trying to find? The things we both search for and hold onto are what it really comes down to. For me personally, it’s this obsession. And for other people, it’s other things. As I am going through it, and rewriting and editing, I am trying to really get at the heart of the “Never Let Go” part of Titanic.

Why Kate Winslet? She just happens to be that for me, and for other people it can be someone or something else. It does not always have to be a person. We embody ourselves into them in so many ways because we believe in them. They become our muses.

Having Kate Winslet be such a strong influence to you is along the lines of the shows by Ryan Raftery that used Martha Stewart and Anna WIntour as his own muses as well. 

Thomas Choinacky in "Thomas is Titanic." photo credits Suzanne Delaney.
Thomas Choinacky in “Thomas is Titanic.” photo credits Suzanne Delaney.

TC: Yes I do know of them. The original idea for the project was when I was a child; my siblings would watch the stand up show The State on MTV. They had some people that ended up with big careers. On the show, there was a clip of someone doing a one man show about Jurassic Park. I watched The State again about eight years ago and was wondering what my own Jurassic Park would be. It’s obviously Titanic and Kate Winslet!

The biggest question of all, is whether or not Kate Winslet knows about this production at all? 

TC: Just this summer I actually wrote her a fan letter, for possibly the first or the second time. I never heard back after (the first time). Last week, I just got a response. It was (“from”) her agent. I let her know that I was making this show about her, how rare, and if I was famous, that I would want someone to tell these stories that are connected to her career. The letter back was brief, and a “thanks so much” type.

Who knows right? There are different versions of the play, so part of me thinks I could always leave a seat open for Kate Winslet, a la Waiting For Guffman (laughs).

What is your greatest connection to the actual Titanic

TC: I went to Los Angeles this year, and the Queen Mary is in Long Beach. It’s also made by the same people that made the actual Titanic. It looks very much like the actual Titanic, and was made around the same time. I have not figured out if photos of me on the ship waving would fit into the show somehow, it almost looks like I am waiving at the Titanic; we will see!

What has always inspired you about theater? 

TC: One thing I am so interested in is the research that goes behind everything. I can get lost in a sea of research in all of the work that I make. To get at the heart of what goes on actually on stage. That brings me lots of meaning. For Thomas Is Titanic I am me most of it. It is me talking, and telling the stories. I also am embodying Kate Winslet at times, or other people from Titanic. For me, it is the embodiment of human-ness. Titanic really happened. People really died and it was awful. It really showcases a level of both class and equity; it was a tiny city on that ship. It’s a telling of so many stories. Me telling my own story too in this. That is why I got to the theater; to see the truth that lies in various people’s human condition.

Thomas is Titanic written and performed by Thomas Choinacky. The show is running through September 29, 2018 in Philadelphia. It is Directed by Justin Jain and is at Proscenium Theater At The Drake , 302 South Hicks Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102.

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