Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Wesleyan Runaways 10th Anniversary Reunion Spectacular!

(Runaways Then...)

(Runaways Now!)

My senior year of college I directed a show called Runaways. How does one describe Runaways? Well my friend Sassy did a better job than I ever could. She was in the cast. Let me crib from her for a second:

"The musical was Runaways. You probably don’t know it, because after a well-received eight-month run on Broadway in 1978, it never returned. A good way to describe it would be like A Chorus Line, but with emotionally disturbed, racially diverse, drug-abusing homeless children instead of dancers (and not the cute emotionally disturbed homeless children of Annie. Runaways makes Pepper and Duffy look like the Bloomberg daughters). The orchestra for Runaways included a toy piano and a triangle. It wasn’t what you might call an easy sell."

No it wasn't. But I totally love it. I've always had an intense fascination with the show. The experience of Runaways goes a bit deeper for me than just your run-of-the-mill musical. I did a community production of Runaways the summer before I was in 8th grade. So I guess I was... twelve? Almost thirteen? A long long time ago. Doing the show at that age had a huge impact on me. I really took the stories of these runaway and throwaway children to heart. Our young cast even took a trip into NYC to visit Covenant House to get a better understanding of what these kids were going through. As crazy as the show may seem now, it's always loomed large in my imagination, and from the time I first did it, I always wanted to revisit the show again.

So for two years in college I talked to my good friend LMM about how I was gonna direct this show my senior year, and he was gonna music direct. Then somewhere in the fall of my Senior Year LMM opted to be in the cast instead of music direct and my friend SJR took over music responsibilities. All was good, and I continued to talk about what I wanted to do with the show.

But for every conversation I had with LMM about wanting to do the show, I had two conversations in my head trying to talk myself out of it entirely. The show was too weird! The cast was too big! I didn't have the talent to direct it. There wouldn't be enough time to rehearse. Where was I gonna get the money for the rights? It would just be much easier not to do it. Yet somehow after all that talk, I did direct it and the process of doing it really affected my life.

Along with the production team and my cast of 17 actors (!!) and an 7 piece orchestra, we put this show on for four performances from Feb. 15-17th in 2001 in a 3-stories high production in the '92 Theater at Wes. I don't think I ever poured myself into accomplishing something so intensely in my life. Regardless of how something turns out, there's just a great sense of accomplishment from saying you're gonna do something and finding a way to get it done. Another remarkable thing about the show? Everyone involved was an awesome person. I mean, everyone was very talented. We've had more than one person involved in the show make it to Broadway (including our Light Board Op! Shout out to KMac!). But for real, with all that talent, there wasn't one asshole in the entire cast. That's hard to accomplish in a group that large. Everyone was, and continues to be. good people. I've always felt a deep affection for everyone involved in the show. I really cherish them for giving of themselves to make my dream become a reality. I know I'm making a college play into like this really really profound experience, but for me it was! It meant a lot.

So zoom ahead roughly 10 years, Sassy and I are out grabbing a drink. The concept of reunions comes up, since 2011 is my 10 year at Wes. I tell Sassy how I always wished people from multiple classes could get together instead of just one class at a time/ That reflects more of the actual college experience ti me. I tell her I want to do a Runaways cast reunion for the 10th anniversay of the show this winter, where we'd get together and watch the video of the show that I still have from back in the day. This seems possible to pull off because so many of us happened to currently be in NYC or at least on the East Coast. She encouraged me to go ahead with the idea, and although I again had a lot of back in forth in my head wondering if people would even WANT to come, I set a date and invited folks and started planning. To my delight, people were enthusiastic about the idea and it was full steam ahead!

So 10 years and 2 days after we closed the show up at Wes, we had our reunion at my apartment in Queens. I humbly called it "The Wesleyan Runaways 10th Anniversary Reunion Spectacular!" I'm SO GLAD we did this. I recommend cast reunions to everyone. It was so great seeing everyone and watching our younger selves and laughing at certain things we did and just having a good time enjoying each other's company. As it turns out, I saved a TON of memorabilia from the show as well. I have one small file box still left over from my college days, but practically everything inside is theater related. Most of the stuff I had no idea I had saved. I knew I had a songbook and the audition sheets from the cast, but there was so much more. Being a theater nerd pack rat occasionally comes in handy.

(Original audition sign up sheets and callback list from December 2000)

(Official songbook, Official script, original audition sheets from cast members where i asked probing questions like what's your favorite flavor of Fresh Samantha and do you have access to email over Winter Break?? They were different times back then...Oh, and the original vinyl recording of the broadway cast.)

(Memorabilia Pictured: Notes to Director from Cast, original program (with wrong year printed on it), original contact sheet for cast and crew, guidelines for being a house manager at the '92 Theater.)

(The goodie bags included a DVD of our show, a soundtrack of the original cast recording with added bonus tracks from our production, and a copy of their original audition sheet.)

The thing that really struck me about the reunion was how lucky I feel to still have these people in my life 10 years later (thank you, internet!) and how the experiences we had and the friendships we shared over the show still give me so much joy and satisfaction when I reflect on what we created together. I'm a very fortunate guy.

It's also interesting to me that right now the last decade of my life is book-ended by two shows that I poured all of myself into. Runaways started it off and now 10 years out, The Timing of a Day is just about to go back into rehearsal, for what we hope will be an incredible 3-week run through the end of March to mid-April at Center Stage, NY. Runaways was the first time I really pushed myself to the limits of what I could do artistically, and it's because of that experience I know I have it within myself to do it again when necessary. Without Runaways, there could be no The Timing of a Day. Fo Sho.

Revisiting Runways was an experience made special by the amazing people I got to share it with. I'm just filled with excitement and gratitude for the amazing friends in my life, the family that art continues to create around me and for the continued opportunity to artistically express myself and tell stories in this new decade of my life. It's really a blessing.

(Fun times with old friends!)

One of the great lyrics of Runaways is "We are not strangers. In fact, I know you well." No matter how many years pass, that's how I feel about my Runaways crew. I cannot help but love them all for all the happiness they've given me and the special place they occupy in my heart.

(yeah, i know. this entry was really mushy & sentimental. Couldn't be helped!)


(And I used to dream of running off, of running far away...)

1 comment:

Sassy said...

It was epic. And really amazing that more than half of a 17-person cast could manage to gather in the same place 10 years later. I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say that we owe it all to you, O. Friendships were born in that cast, and relationships began. The only thing we're missing is a Runaways marriage, but it's not too late!