Theater in the bar
Dave Anderson is tired of the same old thing.
The former Brüka director is cooking up plans to challenge some of the boundaries of traditional theater that he finds constrictive. He’s had it up to here with politics and financial pressures dictating dramatic programming. It happens “in community theater right on up to Broadway,” he says. “Quite frankly, it bores the hell out of me.”
After a three-year hiatus from directing, Anderson has teamed up with Green Room owner Kevin McGehee, and he’s planning a season of alternative, mixed-media theater for the new, downtown bar’s back-room stage.
With notches in his thespian belt like Burning Man performances; graduate studies in Japanese Noh theater; an experimental, outdoor Shakespeare play; and 15 years as a theater instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno, Anderson has enough ideas fermenting that he’s ready to bungee jump head-first into a new performance arena.
The plans, as Anderson describes them, include cabaret-type, non-linear amalgams incorporating dance, live painting by artist and long-time collaborator Richard Sheriff, and quotations from text. Plus, “There might be three or four original, 15-minute skits that provide a through-line for the thing.”
“The thing,” the first thing, anyway, is an homage to 1960s beat figure Neil Cassady, who was the inspiration for Jack Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty in On the Road and drove the bus for Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. Anderson explains Cassady’s modus operandi: “He had a microphone, and he would just start talking in a stream-of-consciousness, William Faulkner kind of way, but about contemporary issues, social [or] political … and he would try to tailor his rap to whatever music was playing, whether it was Jefferson Airplane, or the [Grateful] Dead or whoever.”
Though Cassady waxed unscripted, Anderson says the only improvisational part of his production will be “an element of interaction,” likely in the form of the Cassady character asking the audience questions.
“Wait, what audience?” one may wonder. Anderson figures he’ll have to work to build a sizeable base of showgoers to attend collaged-together, “Laurie Anderson-like,” variety theater, but he reckons it can be done. “The first two shows at Brüka had under 10 people,” he recalls. “Now it’s a season ticket list of over 300 strong, and virtually every show is sold out. But that took several years.”
He figures he’ll amass a following a little quicker at the Green Room.
“There seems to be a really cool, eclectic crowd there,” he says. “To be in that environment where people feel like they can smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol and talk freely is great. … And I [like] anything that opens people up, gets them in a different mindset.”
Another reason to perform on this particular stage, Anderson says, is “because the Green Room has a bar to keep it financially above water.”
McGehee, an actor and arts enthusiast as well as a bar owner, is “essentially subsidizing me,” the director explains, “but at the same time, I don’t think there’s much to be subsidized. It’ll be … how much pale ale can we drink? There are ways to be highly theatrical with very little money.”
Can a mixed-media, alterna-play with few props and few actors satisfy? Anderson says yes, and he has a convincing example: "When you see someone twirl fire in front of your face for 10 minutes," he says, citing a lo-tech Burning Man performance, "you feel like you’ve been to Vegas."