Forward Theater Co. achieves ‘airness’ in upcoming production

In celebration of Forward Theater Co.’s play about an air guitar competition, the show’s stars — and an actual air guitar champ — discuss what it takes to shred convincingly.
A man plays the air guitar while another version of him in blue leans back into the air guitar action.
Photo courtesy of Marcus Truschinski

We’ve all done it. The right song pops on the playlist and our fingers fly into frenzied action, approximating a guitar god shredding an epic solo. It’s the stuff of “Wayne’s World,” and of Forward Theater Co.’s production of “Airness,” Chelsea Marcantel’s play about a young woman who discovers friendship and community in the unlikeliest of places — an air guitar competition.

The play’s cast features two familiar faces from American Players Theatre: Marcus Truschinski and Josh Krause. Truschinski, who spent many of his teenage years performing both in theater and in indie-rock bands before choosing a career onstage, prefers to play tiny air bass when he embarrasses his family by going all Robert Page on them.

“It isn’t about the solo,” says Truschinski. “It’s about the performance. Can you move somebody?”

In the play, Truschinski plays Facebender, an air guitarist who “speaks like he’s in a Renaissance fair” but hides his humanity underneath a guitar-god exterior. It’s something to which Truschinski can relate.

“I’m always looking at what makes a character vulnerable,” he says. “My entire life has revolved around music. I’m a shy person in real life, and playing characters like these gives me an outlet to explore the other side.”

Krause, whose characters have included being part of onstage musical ensembles in APT productions in recent seasons, plays Shreddy Eddie, a rocker who helps Nina, the play’s main protagonist, hone her skills. Krause admits that even though he shares some things in common with his character, prepping for the role has been anxiety-inducing. Eddie is one of the play’s most confident characters, embodying one of the key elements of “airness.”

“I’ve had to turn off all doubt in my brain and just do it for me,” says Krause. “Just do it for the art of it.”

Wisconsin actually has its very own air guitar god — Gordon Hintz, a Wisconsin Assembly representative from Oshkosh. Hintz, performing under the stage name Krye Tuff, scored second place in the U.S. Air Guitar Championships in 2003 and filmed the 2006 movie “Air Guitar Nation” that same year. Hintz has less time to spontaneously shred these days, but that doesn’t mean his earned wisdom doesn’t still ring true.

“In the air guitar world, originality, technicality and ‘airness’ are key,” says Hintz. “With airness, you know it when you see it. If you don’t have a little metal or rock in you, it’ll be harder.”

Like Truschinski, Hintz has the benefit of a musical background — he played violin for many years as a kid — but if the show’s actors find themselves struggling with stage fright as opening night approaches, they can always do what Hintz did before the 2003 championships: Stand in public on a street corner and shred your heart out.

“I played in front of people until I was invincible,” Hintz laughs.

“Airness” runs Jan. 26 to Feb. 12 in Overture Center’s Playhouse.

Four vinyl records are displayed near each other.

Air Jams
Who knew that Marcus Truschinski was a huge Radiohead fan? While Thom Yorke’s band doesn’t necessarily serve up a ton of juicy guitar solos, Truschinski always finds a way to make it work. He also breaks out his tiny air bass for Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” and anything by Led Zeppelin or The Strokes.

Josh Krause loves to air-shred to classic bangers like Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll,” but his most memorable air session came in college, when, at 9 a.m. on a weekday morning, he and a roommate went ballistic on Brand New’s “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows.” Better than a latte, clearly.

Gordon Hintz’s best air jams are from the ’80s: Think “Live Wire” by Mötley Crüe, David Lee Roth’s “Yankee Rose” and “Talk Dirty to Me” by Poison. Truly, the choices of an air guitar champion.

Aaron R. Conklin is a contributing writer at Madison Magazine.

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