For Tito Beveridge, things couldn’t be better these days. His business — Tito’s Handmade Vodka — is booming, and he is looking at life as a “great adventure,” one that he wants to celebrate every day. His healthy outlook is evident in his latest venture, a new play titled This Side of the Dirt, which runs Thursdays through Saturdays from June 2 through 18 at the Dougherty Arts Center.
Filled with larger-than-life characters, the play centers on one South Texas ranching family coming to terms with the loss of the family patriarch. While the ensemble cast includes the likely suspects (bereaved and dutiful daughter thrust into the role of family matriarch, oversexed and plain spoken best friend, overindulged frat boy husband, sorority daughter, amusing stepson, and loyal gardener), everything is not as it seems. The result is a raucous romp into the seemingly cliche but knowingly universal family dynamics of a clan whose members everyone will recognize.
CultureMap sat down with our favorite spirits guru to learn more about his dramatic comedy and what life is like on this side of the dirt in Austin.
CultureMap: You are one of Austin’s iconic success stories. What prompted you to write a play?
Tito Beveridge: A friend challenged me to write a play so she could have her actors read it. It has been rewritten with the help of friends’ observations and with the encouragement of Don Toner. A while back, I started going to the theater and got the bug. I wanted to write something that would connect with the audience on a personal and emotional level and this play just keeps morphing. It started as just a couple of scenes that I thought would be funny, and then the characters began to develop in my mind and I had a play. I love working with this cast, these actors are just amazing. I have enjoyed seeing the play come to life.
CM: You have said that the play is based on your personal experience infused with a healthy dose of imagination. How did you come to know these characters?
TB: Ranching women are tougher than nails. My mother is a force to be reckoned with and I was always respectful of strong South Texas women. My grandmother would hold court with her friends and I would listen to them talk. I started thinking about what the most emotional and stressful things that happen to people are and how they affect families — death, divorce, cheating, lies, secrets — and I came up with the idea of the passing of a family patriarch and how the characters would deal with that loss. Everyone has family members they will recognize in the play. You don’t have to be from Texas for those family dynamics to resonate.
CM: There is a lot of philosophizing in the play. While most of it seems tongue-in-cheek, there is definitely something deeper going on. What is your personal life philosophy?
TB: I intended for the play to be a deep philosophical play, but I didn’t want to bore the audience. I like to see them laugh and cry while I give them something to make them think and take them on an emotional journey. My personal philosophy of life is that we are all stardust. We are all made out of the same stuff. I am a geologist and geophysicist by education so I believe that we are all third or fourth generation stars just circling our star while the world is spinning around. Charlie Rose is my hero — he interviews successful people who love what they do and are good at it so I guess that is as good of a philosophy as any: Find people who love what they do and learn from them.
CM: When character Jimmy remembers the family patriarch’s insightful comment, “Where you are in life depends on your perspective,” he realizes that things are okay as long as he is on the “right side of dirt.” Assuming you are still enjoying being on the right side of dirt, where are you in life?
TB: I am at the point in life where I look at everything as a great adventure. Even if something is really negative I just wad it up and throw it out. I am in a really great place now. As long as I am on this side of the dirt I may as well celebrate life. I have a lot of creative outlets. I paint and I write songs and when they are done there is a finished product. But the thing I like about writing a play is that it is really never finished. It changes and morphs according to how it resonates with me and the audience.
Who can resist a play that comes from the mind of a true Renaissance man — painter, artist, songwriter, geophysicist, master distiller and spirits maker, cultural ambassador, and Zen philosopher? Certainly not us. We’ll be there on opening night, happy to be on the right side of the dirt.
This Side of the Dirt runs Thursday through Saturday on June 2-4, 9-11, and 16-18 at The Dougherty Arts Center. Tickets are $35.