In Good Company By Luke Gomez
In theatre, and any of the arts if I’m being honest, you get the ability to acquire a lot of unique experiences. It doesn’t matter how talented or rich you are, the experience of doing art is available to anyone. Some of the experiences are great, some of them mundane, some stressful or terrifying or downright miserable but they are always experiences that stay with you and are impossible to replace.
Since starting this year, I’ve done 3 shows with Brelby; one as an actor, one as a writer, and one as a director. It’s not an unusual line up for me and, in fact, I’m not alone with this experience. At Brelby there is a long list of artists that jump from one show to the next with seemingly no night untaken by a rehearsal or performance. Our enthusiasm outweighs our burnout.
This year, however, is different. As the opening night has come and gone on Space Junk, it doesn’t just signal the first long break from theater I’ve had since……maybe August last year. It also won’t just be taking time off from theater, but from Brelby. In fact, I’ll be taking an indefinite time off from theater in Arizona for what I expect will be a while. As of writing this, I’ll be preparing to leave for Los Angeles in a few months.
The details aren’t important for this blog but the simplest way to put it is it was time for me to move on to other cities. I could probably write another blog about those reasons why but today I don’t feel it’s worth bringing up.
Instead I just simply want to look back, after almost five solid years working with this company and many more spent working with it’s founders, to really examine what this whole time has added up to.
Now that is not an easy task. It’s been a strange and crazy ride since I first joined them in Phoenix, done largely out of desperation if I’m being honest. It’s had it’s ups, it’s had it’s downs, it’s had it’s huge and massive downs, but if you asked me if I could do it all over again I would have to tell you…
Actually first let’s start at the beginning.
I mean the real beginning.
I met Brian and Shelby and Northern Arizona University and in all honesty I shouldn’t have. I did not go to college to do theater, I went because it was either school or Wal-Mart after graduation. I had done theater all throughout high school including community theater and the like, and while I thought that was where I wanted to go, I was wholly unsure of what to do next. Jumping into a car and going to Hollywood terrified me and for good reason; I would eventually crash and burn after attempting to make it there once right after I graduated.
Instead, I went to college to almost talk myself out of theater. Maybe I could find something else that interested me. Turns out the main thing that interested me was drinking and failing my general classes. This would not be a short term problem unfortunately, but that’s also not important now.
Brian was one of the first people in the theatre department I ever met, as the president of a playwriting club that still exists today as The Arizona Playmakers. Fun fact, this organization was the first theatre organization at NAU long before a department or set of classes was ever established. I myself would become president, much to the shock of myself and everyone in the club. Back then he was just like most of you know him now, funny and playful but with a determined and committed energy that made him a relatable leader. He was also just as short as he is now.
Shelby, I believe I met properly, in the Theatre 101 class. This was an intro class and one of the few open to non-majors or minors, which I was at the time. She herself was a teacher’s assistant, and basically in charge of an obscene amount of club committees across the department. If you’re curious about Shelby in school, you will most likely be unshocked to learn that she was just as tenacious, diplomatic, and leadership prone back then as she is now. It was quite clear that there was no level of task she couldn’t take on and accomplish. She was similarly very short as well.
I was friends with them but not all that close, I didn’t get close to people besides a handful, all of which were outside the theater department. Even back then, though I looked up to Brian and Shelby as dedicated theater artists and truly did want to emulate their level of work ethic and passion. Despite my best efforts, college did not talk me out of theatre, it only emboldened it.
I hope today, as I leave to seek other opportunities, that I don’t forget that admiration, no more than I would forget the admiration of playwrights now long dead that I still learn new things from.
I feel like a broken record, repeating the same saying that I’m just in both shock and awe on how these two have built a theater company, and community from the ground up, from a tiny off-night dinner theater in a Flagstaff Elk Lodge to a genuine name in the Phoenix community and with only more room to go. I guess it just can’t be said enough: I feel lucky to have been so close to it from the very beginning. I won’t deny I can get cynical, and frustrated, and downright unpleasant when dealing with my own work as a theater artist and the community around me. However, I also can’t deny that ultimately I hold on to the work and memories that I’ve made at Brelby as arguments against my own negativity.
I’d like….if it’s ok, to indulge in some scattered memories, starting from the beginning, that have stuck with me since joining Brelby.
There was that first writing session for Brelby’s first show, a fun dinner theatre. My contribution was piece of writing in which two characters Perot and Whet (y’know like pirouette) that I made out to be a joke with the punchline “wet parrot”. Only I thought it was hilarious.
I remember the first show I did with them properly, as a lighting and sound designer for God’s Favorite. I met great people then, and as the first theatre project I had taken on since graduating; it was comforting to feel myself back in a place I felt in belonged.
I remember those first few writing sessions when we began Alice’s Canvas: The Wonderland Exhibition and I remember in those brainstorming sessions when the idea of the show hit us as we were aimlessly staring at all the possible ideas we could do on a markered wall. That show was very much a product of it’s writer’s mindsets, and I wonder what it would feel like if we wrote it from scratch now.
I remember, after my miserable failure of working in LA how I came back to Arizona and by then Brian and Shelby had rented their first permanent space. They asked if I’d be interested in writing and directing a dinner theater for them, and as weird and small as it was, it made me feel like I was back in my groove again.
I remember the first show we thought we could do in the space but couldn’t, Non-Fat Soy Peppermint Mocha Latte with Sprinkles, and I remember how I was about to pack up again and leave for a shady teaching job in China, once again out of desperation, but Brian offered me a position as a Company Member. Back then, I don’t even think he knew what the title meant, but I took it, and I was eager to consider myself part of a theater family.
I remember getting to play Einstein in Picasso at the Lapin Agile, and being exhilarated by an incredible role. During the last night, a single drawing of a lady with a clown nose and big tits on stage almost caused me to break.
I remember stage managing Brelby’s first studio show, a dark piece of work called Joy, written by an actor now out in Chicago also pursuing his passions. Most people who know Brelby now don’t know about it, but it’s something I will always admire.
I remember getting my chance at directing after a long time with Telemachus Darling, a show that challenged me in ways few other shows ever will.
I remember the one-two “cry your eyes out combo” of watching Godspell and Prodigy just as an audience member and yeah did I cry, a lot. Be a Good Little Widow would close that out soon enough and after a hiatus missing grace would charge back in as the new “cry your eyes out” champ.
I remember watching Through the Mist, suddenly realizing there were repeat actors and designers and thinking “Oh wow, I think we might have a community on our hands.”
I remember watching Quest for Claus and being glad that I didn’t write parts of a Christmas show that were completely terrible (I’m not a christmas guy).
I remember all the dumb hijinks we got into as a cast doing Love’s Labour’s Lost.
I remember She Kills Monster. Enough said.
I remember the roar of the crowds opening night of Princess and the Pirate and feeling like a rock star playwright. There’s no exaggerating that it is the night I will always hold on to.
I remember the beautiful headache that was Little Shop of Horrors. And I’ll remember the ways I let people down during 12 Days of Christmas.
I remember the way Little Women almost broke me, and the reason why it did. And I’ll hold on to how thankful I am for it.
I remember getting to watch Beyond Musketeers come to life, my words and others on stage, telling a classic tale that I couldn’t get enough of.
I remember The Tempest, and for all the ways it made me feel like a real actor again after so long out of it.
I remember The Age of Eibhleann, weird as it was, for making me feel like a elvish kung fu badass.
I’ll remember 2016 as the year Brelby became so much more, and I’ll remember seeing their new space like a kid that’s just graduated.
I’ll remember the soundtracks I made as a sound designer.
I’ll remember the plays for creative challenges that got groans and shocks.
I’ll remember those perfect moments in the improv team that brought down the house in laughter and those moments that fell dead but were just as funny to me as anything else.
I’ll remember two show days and late nights working on tech and sets.
I’ll remember those that just came in early because where else were they gonna go.
I’ll remember the local weirdos that wandered in, not aware that they were in a theater. It’s just a shame the leopard print wizard never spoke to us.
I’ll remember all the faces that have acted or worked backstage, those that are now staples around the theater and those that can no longer come around.
I’ll remember each stress and each smile and each laugh. Every spontaneous moment and every long rehearsal.
I’ll remember those moments where things just got so weird the whole cast and crew couldn’t help but just laugh for minutes on end.
I’ll remember the struggles to keep afloat and those beautiful moments when our patrons and friends came to help us out.
I will remember everything that is worth remembering with this theater. And I hope I never forget it.
So that being said I just want everyone reading this to know, those who have been a part of Brelby and I mean all of you, that no matter where you’re now, if I’ve met you at Brelby, I’m glad I did.
And I hope that you remember me.
Like the great modern thespian Vin Diesel once said in the American Classic Furious 7,
“No matter where you are. Whether it’s a quarter mile away or halfway across the world. You’ll always be family.”
Until I see you again.