Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Live! From the Last Night of My Life" is a special show

Ryan Higgins in the 2011 production of Live! From the Last Night of My Life (Dave Hastings)

Live! From the Last Night of My Life
Theatre22 (at 12th Avenue Arts) 
March 27-April 18, 2015

Sometimes a play is special. There is an almost undefinable essence and it’s one of those “you know it when you see it” kinds of experiences, like falling in love or seeing your baby for the first time or having a judge decide something is pornographic. In 2011, there was a play, Live! From the Last Night of My Life, presented at Theater Schmeater that qualified as special, in that way.

Part of it was the smart script by Wayne Rawley. Part of it was the unbelievably accurate set by Michael Mowery. Part of it was the actors embracing of the experience and translating their excitement to the audience. It was the quirky and dark story of a young slacker who felt so useless that he had determined to kill himself after his shift ended at the convenience store where he worked the night shift. It turned out to be very, very funny, as well.

It was a hit, and as theater goes, ephemeral. It was unlikely to ever be done exactly the same again. Except. Except that it is being done again, by the very same actors and the same meticulous (really I want to say anally retentive, but shouldn’t) set designer. It isn’t going to be in the same basement, but that’s probably for the better.  A new theater company, Theatre22, will produce it, headed by Corey McDaniel, one of the actors in the original production. 

Because it is the exact same cast, and the same director (Wayne), it ranks as only the second time I have ever seen a production reproduced almost exactly in the last nine years. Seattle Shakespeare Company had an outdoor production of The Taming of the Shrew that was so fun, they recreated it for their indoor, main stage season, with most of the same cast and the same director. It almost never ever happens.

So, how did this unusual combination come to be? I asked Corey and Wayne to talk about that and Corey asked the cast for some of their thoughts, as well.

Corey says, “I wanted to redo this production for several reasons:  Originally, my goals were much larger than a remount/restaging through Theatre22.  I attempted to take this show on tour and attempted to sell it to many theaters in Washington and Portland outside of Seattle.  This proved too risky.

“I wanted to sell a tour because one of the most painful things about our cultural community is that almost always, new works happen and that’s it. Nothing else.  My hope was and is to give this show as much leverage as possible to see it done in more cities. I think this play, and more specifically Wayne, is one of our most treasured artistic assets and I want to see him and his work thrive. 

Live! was so successful the first time around at Theater Schmeater that we sold out the run after opening weekend and folks would line up out the door and down the street to attempt to get on the wait list night after night. There are so many people who have expressed that they want to see again or want to see it for the first time.  We are thrilled and humbled that the cast and crew continued to stay attached through all the (difficulties) of the remount.”

Actor Jason Sharp says, "I vividly remember sobbing through our curtain call following our closing night performance because the show was truly over. It felt like prematurely breaking up a relationship. The entire original cast is back to finish that business, and desires are burning hotter than ever."

Actor Ashley Bagwell says, “We were all lucky enough to be a part of this once. This is a beautiful show. You don't get many like this. Speaking for myself, and probably all of us, being with this cast again is great but I think we all came back because of Wayne Rawley. We all wanted to work with him again.”

Actor Alyson Bedford says, “We get to continue working on the piece to dig deeper, find more moments and tweak what didn't work for us the first time around. The best part is that we get to work with each other again, and it's a show that was loved by many and that we loved to do. No brainer.”

Actor Katie Driscoll says, “The script just (asks) to be done and done and done and done. Also, Wayne and this crew of actors make me want to do it again and again. Why not?”

Wayne Rawley describes 2011 and also talks about a few of the changes he’s been able to make for the new production. For the 2011 show, he says, “By the time opening night came around, I had already won. The audience could like it or not like it, but what I did know was that I had already got what I came for.

“When Corey started Theatre22, he told me he hoped he would be able to see Live! done again in Seattle. I hugged him, cast him in another show I was directing because I love working with him and I love his mustache. (I'm being serious, no one grows hair between their nose and upper lip like Corey McDaniel.) And I thought that it would never happen.

“Then Corey called and said it was happening. And suddenly I was struck with this overwhelming desire to make the play better. Big surprise, right? It was to me. I was so pissed off. But, I think I did. 

“I cut some time off the first act. We are making discoveries in rehearsal that we didn't make the first time, because we ran out of time.  The actors did not forget. They are starting at a level of familiarity that you don't usually get to start with. It's going to make the play better. It already has.

“But kind of honestly,  it doesn't really matter. Because, like the first time, I've already got what I came for. After nearly four years, every single actor and 90% of the crew showed up at the first read for the second time! They all came back to do this play.” 

How would Wayne describe a change? I like to give you, dear readers, back story. Details that help you understand the processes at work. So I asked for an example.

Wayne says, “What I learned from the first production was that some jokes were in there more than once, different words, maybe, but basically the same joke. So I attempted to consolidate, find where the joke worked best, keep it there and remove the other instance of the joke. For example, Sharon has a penchant for making up phrases and then saying them to Doug like they are actual phrases . ‘I'm going to turn you around town!’ was one. Doug then quickly corrects her, ‘That's not a phrase, Sharon.’ Really it was just stuff as simple as that. 

“One section that I trimmed quite a bit was the very first scene. I think the first scene works much better now. Most of it is stuff I don't think the audience will notice. But my cast sure did. We have had many discussions about the changes, especially with Ryan Higgins who plays Doug. It's not always easy discussing cutting things with your cast.

“We have a joke in rehearsal that every time I make a cut, even if it is just one word, I give myself a little golf clap and say quickly and slightly under my breath, ‘Good cut, good cut, good cut. I am very, very brave.’”

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