About a year ago, Eric and I had a chance to go down to my old Kentucky home and meet with the men who made my life choice of being an actor seem reasonable.
In high school, I became involved in the now REfunct Alley Theater Company.
The stars of the theatre are not only incredible artists, but they also became my mentors and truthfully, are still my heroes to this day.
Scott Davis and Joey Arena were invaluable in my teenage years. Teaching me how to make plays and smoke Marlboros, the importance of coffee and Caryl Churchill.
Today, the new Alley Theater won a couple awards from Leo Magazine, a popular Liberal rag down in Louisville.
Here is our interview for your perusal and enjoyment!
*Please remember the shows they are plugging are from a year ago, but feel free to check out the Alley website here.
Louisville Theatre Forever!
Hi guys! Thanks for having us down here to Louisville for a visit to your new theater!
Scott Davis-Thanks for coming. So, what do you want?
Is there some sort of vending machine in your theater? I could use a Grape Nehi.
Joey Arena: I’ll send the Stage Manager out for one.
That would be grape! So, tell me dudes, I haven’t seen you for almost 15 years. What is this new Alley Theater about?
SD-Well, a lot has changed since you were here. We actually try to hire actors instead of teenagers who can’t get into drama club productions
JA: Ouch! We also aren’t building sets out of cardboard anymore. Well, not very often anyhow.
If you build sets out of cardboard in Chicago, they call you a genius and give you a job at the Court Theater!
JA: We were just ahead of our time, not poor, right?
SD-Actually, since we’re older now we’re hoping to be more on the curve than ahead of it.
Scott Davis on a Wednesday
Scott, when you started the Alley, how old were you, and what made you decide to set up in Louisville?
SD- Honestly, I had work back in LA, but I’d married an Australian girl who made a lot of enemies in LA and didn’t want to go back. So, I was kinda stuck here and no one was doing the kind of shows I wanted to do and another internship with ATL just didn’t appeal. I was 25.
Had you and Joey been friends for a long time before that?
JA: We had both been hearing for years (while in high school mind you) “You remind me of Scott Davis”.. “You should meet Joey Arena, you guys are so much alike”.. and then back in 1985 we finally ran into each other at the premiere of David Lynch’s ‘Dune’ at the Showcase Theater. And we’d been friends ever since. So when the Alley came along, Scott came back from LA, and we happened to run into each other again, I climbed aboard.
That’s great. You know, a lot of really wonderful partnerships came out of people bonding over
the terribleness of David Lynch’s DUNE. I think that’s how Seals and Crofts got together.
JA: Let’s not forget Shields and Yarnell.
SD-I want to do Lidsville the musical!
When I first came around, you were auditioning for 2 kids to play Siamese twins in Joey Arena’s play “Prometheus J. Dunn’s Jubilee Circus Sideshow”.
JAL Oh god. That show was terrible. I actually haven’t written another play since out of shame. Weren’t you like 15 or 16 Andy?
That play might have been terrible to you, but it opened my eyes to a new way of making theatre. When you are in high school, you think all plays are like A Christmas Carol, and that everyone is jerks and that all directors are old guys with beards and berets. But when I came to audition, I was 14 years old and you guys were smoking cigarettes in an old storefront warehouse.
SD- Nah, we just did it to get a 14 year old boy in a dress for gay pride week
JA: Well, that’s awesome! It was, I suppose, a leap from productions with money and rules.. we did what we wanted (well, at that time, mostly what Scott wanted.. he was the one with the vision of the theater) and however we could and thought was best. We still sort of do that here.. but now we try to actually make enough to pay the actors and support ourselves. Our choice of material is still “a little off center”.. in fact we revamped (pardon the pun) “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” about a year and a half ago.
SD-Did you see Point Break Live up there?
Well, with paying your actors and supporting yourselves, you guys are ahead of about 98% of Chicago storefront theatre in general. How would you describe Andy’s acting style?
SD-It’s been a while, but his style fit in with what we were doing at the time. Depending on who was heading a show Andy could take direction. Or, if he was working with someone like me, was comfortable being told to trust himself and make it up as he goes along.--And never forget to speak over the actors that suck and if another actor goes up on his lines to look them dead in the face and say “and...?” Seriously though, the base for the work was happening at the same time as a lot of the Twyla Tharp theater adapting (Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints) where the work really came from the actors. He was comfortable playing and fun to work with.
JA: As I recall, he took direction well, but needed LOTS of it! Very enthusiastic, and mildly spastic. A comedic director’s dream really. He was VERY funny.
Joey Arena after his first marriage
One time, we were doing Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 and I had what turned out to be pneumonia. I was a pretty heavy smoker when I was 15, so the coughing was miserable. One night, I was on stage (I played Joshua and Cathy) and I talked to Scott backstage and asked him what I should do. He told me to not believe that I had to cough. Well, it worked, and ever since then, whenever anything bad happens in my life...including paying bills or dealing with my employers, I have chosen to not believe it.
SD- Wow, I give terrible advice. Sucker!
JA: Scott is a bit less Kung-Fu zen these days.
SD- I have kids.
So tell me what makes Louisville Theatre different from say, Chicago Theatre?
SD- Us..And you have Second City.
JA: I think we have more clearly defined niches for the theater groups here due to there being fewer of us.. We’re the “weird” theater, Centerstage is the “Musical” theater, Wayward is the “Theater about theater” theater... although with our current production of “Evil Dead: The Musical” we’re gunning for the Centerstage 80 year old musical theatergoer crowd :)
I love it. I sometimes feel that there are too many companies in Chicago, and they all end up doing the same things...there will be multiple productions of the same plays all the time. With a smaller market, it seems you guys can really stake your claim to what you want to do, rather than following some sort of trend.
SD- The niche we seem to be covering right now is doing shows that are fun and about entertaining the audience. Most don’t even have a cleverly hidden message. About half the shows include the line “the bar is open and the more you drink, the funnier we are”.
JA: Well, it’s not that we try to stake out an area really, so much as we do what we think needs to be done, or would be fun to do, and that sets us apart because we don’t ever decide that “Noises Off” or “Brigadoon” would be fun.
I have been thinking about the way I have theatre and it always comes back to you guys. Scott was a hard working dude, always painting and building and interested in talking about technique. Joey was a stand up comic, always with a hot chick on a motorcycle and had earrings and shit and liked to party. I have tried to balance both of those things and recreate both of you in one person. Are you guys still the Ying and Yang of each other in that respect?
SD- Pretty much. Although in all fairness when putting a show together Joey is a lot more organized and focused on the way a show comes together than I am. I still pretty much walk by with a hammer and yell notes out.
JA: Yeah.. I’m the divorced partier who still rides a motorcycle and dates young girls, and Scott is a married father of 2 lovely monsters
SD- My kids think Joey is always right
JA: So in that regard not much has changed. And our directing styles are still VASTLY different, but I think that’s why we’ve always worked well together. I’m detail oriented and Scott is.. um... artistic.
I’d like to say that Joey puts together a mean case for divorce in that last answer. Also, could I find out some more about Scott blowing himself?
JA: Which time?
SD- Uhm, it was blowing myself “up”. The first time-yeah, first time-I was doing some pyro for my birthday party and someone had premixed some chemicals and put them back in their original containers. Very Hot explosion. Ended up in the hospital having someone cut flesh of my arm and spent a couple of months having it trimmed and salted (tasted better that way)...
Kept most of my hair though.--Oh, it was my left arm. I wasn’t dumb enough to light the bomb with my favored hand.
You guys sound like crazy people. So tell us what we have to look forward to at the Alley Theater this year and also, what are your favorite companies in Louisville?
SD- I am the most normal crazy person you will meet...My favorite companies in Louisville would have to be La Petomaine and Damaged Goods Improv. As for our season. It opens with Evil Dead, then it’s Hitchhiker’s Guide (radio shows) Star Wars in 60 or less, the Matrix-then after that we get serious and don’t do a movie for the next couple of months. We do have an original piece called Hughesical the Musical about a bunch of GenXers who have based theire lives off of his movies. And in March we have The InHuman: A Festival of New American Zombie Theater. Festival runs opposite Humana--My favorite theater company is out of New York-The Vampire Cowboys
JA: I’m a traditionalist.. I love Actor’s Theater and The Louisville Ballet. We are also doing “Some Things You Need To Know Before The End Of The World (A Final Evening With The Illuminati)” at the end of this season.. And I’m touring Evil Dead as well. (Know of a theater in Chicago that seats over 400 and doesn’t mind a few gallons of blood poured on their floor?)
I actually know a few theaters like that. We will talk about it. So guys, thanks for the visit. As we move forward in our explorations, we certainly hope to have you guys up to Chicago and I can host you in something that you have helped create. WHERE THE FUCK IS THE GRAPE SODA??
SD-We have Orange or Mogen David.
JA: I’ll fire the Stage Manager.
-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach