Fort Worth theatergoers have likely seen Chuck Hüber on a stage somewhere. The 44-year-old actor has worked in multiple productions at Stage West (including The Sports Page, Macbeth, and Dancing at Lughnasa) over the years, as well as with other theater troupes across North Texas. For his first filmmaking effort, Hüber has made Arbor Day — The Musical, which he bills as “a musical comedy about Sept. 11.” He described the film as more like a dramedy but admitted that the billing “does get people’s attention.”
He was born to a large family in Chicago but spent some of his adolescence in North Texas, attending Euless’ Trinity High School. Immediately after graduating from DePaul University in 1994, he found himself working at the city’s legendary Steppenwolf and Goodman Theatres alongside actors like Cherry Jones. After a few years, however, he and his wife Kirsten Fischer wanted to get out of the big city, so he moved to Fort Worth to be near his family.
“I found that there wasn’t that much difference between the way those big Chicago theaters were run and the way a good Fort Worth theater is run,” he said. “Dallas-Fort Worth is such an easy place to live.”
In 2001, he found what is his most famous role to date, when fellow actor Brad Jackson tipped him off to the Grapevine-based anime distributor Funimation, which needed voice actors to dub Japanese animated films into English. He has voiced many anime characters, but none as resonant as Hiei, the popular fire demon character from YuYu Hakusho. He didn’t realize how popular Hiei was until the first time Funimation sent him to Comic-Con in San Diego to sign autographs. “I figured these guys [at Funimation] had no idea what they were doing,” he said. “Then I got there, and the line for autographs stretched around the convention hall. I was like, ‘What just happened to my life?’”
He got the idea for Arbor Day, which satirizes a group of theater people who want to put on a stage musical about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, from seeing the reactions in society to the real-life attacks. “The Iraq war, the concerns about privacy, everything we do is a reaction to the terror from that event,” he said. “I just feel that laughter is the best way to address an uncomfortable subject.”
Convincing his producers and Kickstarter backers to fund the $21,000 film wasn’t as hard as getting actors on board, as he remembered losing one principal shortly before shooting started. In addition, while in preproduction in December 2010, he suffered a massive heart attack that required quintuple bypass surgery. Shortly thereafter, his marriage to Fischer broke up, and the divorce proceedings, he said, are still going on. All of this conspired to stretch a project out for four years when it should have taken 18 months.
Despite the setbacks, the film premiered at the Lake Charles Film Festival in Louisiana last October and has screened at other festivals since. “Every time I show it, two or three people walk out in anger, and I totally respect that,” he said. “But the people who stay share that whole anxiety and release and that feeling of, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I just laughed at that.’ ”
The film is now available on demand at Vimeo, and Hüber is looking for wider online distribution. “There are no more gatekeepers,” when it comes to what can be made, he said. His advice to neophyte filmmakers is simple: “Fail quickly.”