Capital Fringe 2014 Preview: ‘Rock the Warehouse’: Interviews with the Writer/Directors of CapFringe’s ‘Rock Bottom [A Rock Opus]’ and ‘The 27 Club’

The Warehouse Theater seems to be the performance space that won’t die. A main venue for the Capital Fringe Festival since its inception, it’s also been home to countless performances for a variety of theater companies. Once slated for destruction, it keeps rising from the ashes – much like some of the productions slated there for this year’s Fringe.

Perhaps due to its somewhat gritty interior, great acoustics, and overall industrial fee, Warehouse happens to be the perfect setting for a solid rock show or two. DCTMA spoke to two writer/directors who share a lot more in common than their performance space.

Andrew Lloyd Baughman, Writer/Director of ROCK BOTTOM [A ROCK OPUS]

What is the premise of Rock Bottom [A Rock Opus]?

Andre L. Baughman.

Andre L. Baughman.

It’s the story of the final days of a band named Blood Orphans – a seriously dysfunctional group that has been put out to pasture on tour in Amsterdam. At the heart of the piece is a love story between drummer Darlo and manager Joey, and Darlo’s struggle to break a generational cycle of sexual abuse and deviance.

How did you come up with the idea for the show? What was your inspiration?

The musical is based on the novel by Michael Shilling. I think all of my rock  theatre projects tend to be born out of the fumbles of the project before, which seems rather fitting for rock theatre. In this case, we were coming off our third run of DIAMOND DEAD at New York Fringe Festival. If you’re not familiar with DEAD, it’s a tongue-in-cheek comedy about a rock band that is killed in a freak accident, only to achieve superstardom as zombies when resurrected from the dead. It’s highly interactive, the gimmick is that the show casts the audience in the role of crazy, obsessed fans. Well, sometimes audiences didn’t want to play along, and that tended to “kill” a performance. As it happens, after about seven years, we did develop a little cult following (even won Best Musical at the 2008 Capital Fringe Festival). But I didn’t want our next project to take seven years to work. When I read Michael’s novel, I was tickled by the thought that the audience should actually hate Blood Orphans. There was also a surprising amount of substance beneath the Spinal Tap surface premise, and I liked the idea of taking a dramatic turn. Fortunately, Michael and his agent were game for the project!

Is this the first production of the play? Walk us through the process of taking this play from paper to the stage.

We had a first workshop production at DCAC a few years ago with Vaughn Irving (Disco Jesus) and Judith Baichich (Cherry Red Productions) in the central roles of Darlo and Joey, and directed by my wife Melissa Baughman. It was a remarkable team that really helped me see where the script needed tightening and revision. I think we have a much leaner and meaner show this summer.

Did you work with any collaborators? 

Michael and I co-wrote the book. Nearly all of the dialogue is taken directly from the novel. I also teamed up with my friend Talia Segal as lyricist and composer on some songs. There is one character who has to bring in a entirely different kind of music into the story, and I was lucky to have Talia write those songs – and perform them in the show.

Were there any challenges along the way?

There are actually days when I ask “why did I think this would make a good musical?” There’s no question that Michael’s novel “sings” and naturally lends itself to musicalization, but it is so dark. It has been a constant challenge to try and strike a balance between making the material palatable for the theatre crowd, while at the same time remaining authentic to the music scene depicted in the novel. I’ve even had hate mail from respected friends who were offended by some parts of the original script.

Describe the music the audience can expect to hear. Who are your songwriting influences?

I generally compose music with piano, but for Rock Bottom I ventured into the realm of guitar. I drew upon a lot of my grunge influences from growing up in the 90’s. The Blood Orphans sound is sort of a hybrid of Motley Crue “bro rock” and White Stripes garage rock. The Doors influence a lot of the music written to evoke flashbacks to the 70s porn scene.

Tell us a little about your cast members and the roles they play?

Other than Talia Segal and Thomas Jackson, who are returning from the original production, everyone else is new to the show, and there’s an exciting raw energy this time. Greg Bowen and Devin Gaither take on the roles of Darlo the sex addict drummer and Joey the manager, they have tremendous chemistry, and give very interesting portrayals of two complicated characters. Rob Bradley plays the Blood Orphans lead singer Shane, and he is the best power metal vocalist I have ever known. Marshall Stack plays Adam, the sheepish guitarist, and he brings some sick instrumental and vocal contributions to the show. My friend and past-collaborator Jen Tonon cracks me us as the quirky “everywoman” Sarah.  Kathleen Burnard, Matt Farkas, Jonathan R. Lovins, and Steve Custer bring musical and character diversity to a number of roles, and Steve’s fight scenes are some of my favorite parts of the show.

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Are you working on any other projects? What’s next for you after Fringe?

Well, I’m excited to be recording some vocal tracks this week for Shawn Northrip, who is one of my favorite local playwright-composers. I’m also writing a Hope Opera about witches who run a DC cupcake shop. For Landless, I’m working as one of the arrangers on our Prog Metal Version of Sweeney Todd, and will be playing Sweeney in our production also at Warehouse in August. It has been incredible corresponding with Mr. Sondheim and his representatives about the project, I’ve learned so much from the experience already. It will be surreal to sing the role in a way that has never been done before.

What do you think makes your show stand apart from the crowd at Fringe?

I don’t know, most musicals I’ve seen at DC and NY Fringe seem to be workshops for Off-Broadway or Broadway, it’s a stepping stone in the development of commercial work. I think Rock Bottom is a true fringe show in its dark content and experimental form. Fringe feels like home for Rock Bottom.

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Carolyn Agan, Writer/Director of THE 27 CLUB

What is the premise of The 27 Club?

The 27 Club is a docu-theatre style piece about the lives and legacies of a handful of the famous rockstars who died at the age of 27.

How did you come up with the idea for the show? What was your inspiration?

Carolyn Agan.

Carolyn Agan.

I have been fascinated with the idea of The 27 Club for as long as I can remember. As a life-long fan of classic rock, it’s something you come across early and often. In the summer of 2013 I first thought about creating a show about their lives and seeing the things that brought them together as well as made them stand out. I was teaching summer camp at The Shakespeare Theatre Company with one of my high school best friends, Megan Thrift, who is a prominent stage manager and acting teacher in town and she was really the one who lit the fire and said, “just go for it.” And she has been on this crazy ride with me ever since! We decided to narrow down the list (of over 50!) to the big, recognizable names, also considering we only get 75 minutes to do it in! So we chose: Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix. It was especially meaningful for me to bring this show to life this year as I am approaching my own 27th birthday and as an artist who has a life-long struggle with an emotional disorder, I find so much of myself in these stories. But I think that’s the most interesting thing about them, I think we can all find a little bit of ourselves in each of these stories.

Is this the first production of the play? Walk us through the process of taking this play from paper to the stage. Did you work with any collaborators?

As I mentioned before, Megan Thrift has been collaborating with me all along. To call her just my Stage Manager would be a gross understatement as she is also serving as Assistant Director, splitting musical staging duties with me, lighting designer, and costume designer to name a few. She has read every draft of the script and given her input along the way. We also roped in the fabulous Jake Null who is a company member at Keegan Theatre, alongside Megan, and their resident Music Director. For anyone who saw the YouTube video of the cast of Keegan’s Hair singing The National Anthem at Nats Park, you have gotten a taste of this man’s awesome arranging skills. His insight and input on all things musical has really brought this story to life. Rounding out our crew are Dan Deiter and Jon Harvey. Again, to put one title on either of them would be a disservice but both have helped create the look and sound of this show both on stage and off stage. All four have been constant guiding voices in all aspects of this process and I wouldn’t have a show to put on without them!

Were there any challenges along the way?

Oh my, a ton. This is my first time writing, producing, or directing in any sort of professional environment, as well as my first time being involved in the Fringe Festival so there were a LOT of learning curves to surpass. I would say my biggest challenges have been learning to accept I can’t do it all myself, being accountable to my own deadlines, and learning when enough is enough. When you start delving into a research project this large it’s easy to jump down the rabbit hole. A whole musical could easily be written about any one of these people’s lives (and a few have been!) so to focus down to a 75-minute musical about all six took a lot of focus and an ability to let go of some parts, even if I loved them. I have been a professional actress in the DC theatre ccene for over seven years now and this experience has given me an added respect for the jobs of everyone on the other side of the table.

Describe the music the audience can expect to hear.

The music is all from the artists being featured in the story-telling. Sometimes we stay very true to the original versions, but a lot of time’s Jake had fun with it! Some examples are an awesome mash-up of “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Rehab” with six-part harmony, and a female duet of “Paint It Black.” We tried to keep a good mix of the songs you know and love as well as some of their lesser-known material.

Tell us a little about your cast members and the roles they play?

When I first wrote the show, I wrote it for five actors. However, throughout the audition day it became clear there was no way we we’re going to agree ourselves down to five people, so I rewrote the show for six and couldn’t be happier that I did as I have six of the most creative, hard-working, talented, honest, and heartfelt people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I knew from the beginning I wanted this show to be collaborative, allowing every artist to feel they had a hand in its making and you have to find a special group of actors to go on that journey with you and I am so lucky I did! Some are old friends of mine and well-known entities in the local theatre Scene; including Kurt Boehm (Keegan’s The Full Monty, Arena Stage’s Oklahoma, and Olney Theatre’s A Chorus Line) and Tina Ghandchilar (Keegan’s Working, Theatre Lab’s Les Miserables). Some I knew from a distance but had never worked closely with such as Jade Jones (Elden Street Player’s Ain’t Misbehavin’, Keegan’s Hair), who I still remembered winning our high school “idol” competition as a Freshman my Senior year and Ian Anthony Coleman (Keegan’s Hair, Kensington Art’s Theatre’s Parade). The final two are newer to DC audiences but will surely become names you will see time and time again: Alex Piper (Shakespeare Theatre’s Henry VI pt 1 & 2) and Paige Taylor (Gaithersburg Art’s Barn’s The Producers). Between the six of them they take on over 25 roles including the artists themselves, their bandmates, family members, rock journalists, as well as their own narrative entities.

Are you working on any other projects? What’s next for you after Fringe?

I am currently starring as the title character in Pinkalicious at Adventure Theatre MTC. After that I plan to give myself a well deserved break before heading back to my home turf of Ford’s Theatre for their annual production of A Christmas Carol and spring musical Freedom’s Song.

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What do you think makes your show stand apart from the crowd at Fringe?

I don’t know if “stand apart from the crowd,” is the phrase I would use, but rather I think our show becomes a great addition to the tapestry of creative and valuable art seen during the festival. The great thing about The 27 Club is there is a taste of the familiar; tunes you know, some stories you have heard. But, they are woven together in a new and exciting way that hopefully will make you look at each artist in a new light as well as reach into yourself a little bit more and think about how much of yourself you are sacrificing for your art, your job, your family, your friends everyday and when it’s time to save a little for you. I always say the best compliment I could get from this show is someone telling me they want to know more.

LINKS
Review of Rock Bottom [A Rock Opus]. on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Purchase tickets for Rock Bottom [A Rock Opus].

Review of The 27 Club on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Purchase tickets for The 27 Club.

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