I laugh, but then her cast-mate, Michelle Jenkins, speaks up. “No, she could actually die,” she says. “It’s a real concern.”
Not to play spoiler, but in one of the plays there is violence that could get a little too real. In one of the plays there’s also sex. In one there’s the end of the world. In the other there are British spies. Between the two productions, you get a little of everything in the human spectrum of acts and emotions, all performed by the same three intrepid, hard working, and maybe a little bit crazy actors.
Jenkins, Hoyle, Collins, and Dragas outside Generic Theater | Promotional consideration for this article provided by Double Dog.
“I’m getting super uncomfortable. Why did I sign up for this?” says Gregory Dragas, who plays Jules in boom and Charles II and William Scot in OR, as they set up for a promotional photo shoot. It’s the day of their first run through of both shows in the same day, and everyone is already a little loopy.
“You were a mistake!” Jenkins jokes to a fellow cast member, in the totally cruel way you can only tease someone you care about.
There are bottles of Jim Beam on the shelves of the set of the kitchen. The sound of a never-ending crank is playing from an iPod in the corner. Well under the earth of Scope Plaza, in something of a subterranean laboratory bomb shelter that is both the set of boom and the stage of Generic Theater, a crew member is playing a Buddhist bowl. This group will need all the Zen it can get to make it through what Jenkins calls “extreme sport theater.”
“I had never heard of anything like it before,” Dragas says of the same cast doing two shows at once. He’s not talking about just locally; he means pretty much anywhere, ever. The closest reference points anyone can think of are a production of True West in which Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly alternated roles in the play; and when Ian McCellen and Patrick Stewart did the other swap-aroo in productions of No Man’s Land and Waiting for Godot.
“I have to put the shows in two different compartments of my brain,” says Collins, whose day job is with the Virginia Stage Company.
“The advantage is, for me, it provides a challenge,” says director Brendan Hoyle. “We have enough talent in the local theater scene between designers and actors. It’s an opportunity to show how great our people are. I like the idea of doing two shows in tandem anyway. I’m always faced with local vs. touring or farmed-in talent, and I don’t like how that ends up over-looking our local talent.”
Hoyle had the idea to do two shows at once at the end of the run of Double Dog’s first production, Reefer Madness, which played at the Little Theater of Norfolk. The two shows are different enough to be distinct, but have enough to link them to make sense.
“It’s like a mix tape,” he says. “The best ones have incongruous songs following each other, but they work together. It’s like going from Lionel Richie to Metallica.”
On the A side of the tape is boom, something of an apocalypse farce about a sexual causal encounter becoming a hook-up with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. On the B side is OR, which also has a one-night-stand as its setting, but this time it is 1668 Great Britain. boom runs on Fridays and is the early show on Sunday; OR, runs on Saturdays and is the late show on Sunday.
“How do you show how insanely talented our local people are?” Hoyle asks. “You do something insane.”
You don’t need to see one show to understand the other; the hope is that you’re so impressed with one production, you’ll come back the next night—or later that day—to see the other.
“It’s so fun to sit in a room with people acting in front of you, that energy that anything can happen,” Dragas says. “Well, hopefully not anything can happen.”
“My philosophy on directing is hire the right people and then have them go as fast possible,” Hoyle says. “Speed is energy. Theater is like a shark, it has to keep moving.”
Between shows the cast plans on having a snack, running lines and, maybe, laying on the ground for a little while.
“It turned out to be way more fun and way more challenging than we anticipated,” says Jenkins, who does graphic design for the City of Norfolk.
The magic of live theater—and something no screen entertainment can compete with—is the way you give yourself to the energy of the world being created in front of you. “It should physically alter your state, it’s so visceral,” is how Hoyle puts it.
If nothing else, you’ll end up a foot and a half from people making out on a couch because the world is going to end. Even on two screens at once, that’s the kind of action only live theater can provide.