BWW Interview: Rachel Landon and Alli Villines Talk SRO's SPEAKEASY
SPEAKEASY: A NEW MUSICAL at SRO
I got the opportunity to sit down with Rachel Landon and Alli Villines to discuss SRO's SPEAKEASY. Landon has written an immersive theatre experience featuring popular 1920's era music, roaring dance numbers and a glimpse into the end of Prohibition. SPEAKEASY is about Texas, the female owner of a Chicago speakeasy club during the Prohibition era, and the various characters that frequent the club.
Houston is bursting at the seams with talented playwrights and writers. With original works being staged at every major theatre in Houston, along with budding organizations and events like the Fade To Black Series and Cone Man Running, SRO has joined the ranks of being known for producing engaging original works. Their previous original shows or revues include productions of HEARTBREAK U.S.A. and FEELIN' ALRIGHT.
Rachel, tell us about writing SPEAKEASY.
Rachel Landon: I started writing SPEAKEASY about six months ago. I'm not a writer, and I want to be specific about that, because I believe, in the arts, anyone is capable of trying something new. I'm an actor who's sometimes a director, and sometimes a producer, and it just so happens that I wrote a show. I say I'm not a writer, because I appreciate the writing process so much more now. It's hard if it's not coming out of you- if it's not going from your brain, to your fingers, through the keyboard, and onto the page.
When and where does the story take place?
Rachel: It takes place in Chicago, 1928, in winter. Benjamin's Bookstore is a storefront during the day, but at night it turns into a speakeasy called The Reading Room. So, it takes place in a secret space, and they convert everything into a theatrical performance space. Booze flows, women are dancing, and high jinks ensue. We talked about setting it in New York, and we talked about setting it in Houston. But, we really wanted that classic 1920s vibe, so we set it in Chicago which was also crime ridden, had a booming bootlegging business, speakeasies, flappers, and the mob were everywhere.
A lot of writers go through moments of writer's block, self-doubt, and other things. What did you do to power through those moments?
Rachel: I stayed up really late. Drank a lot of caffeine. But really though, I just wrote something. At one point, I had to push to get it done. That was helpful. I think I'm one of those writers that works better under pressure.
Did you edit as you went along or did you complete a draft and then go back and edit?
Rachel: I edited a lot as I wrote it. I wrote half the show and then edited Act I over and over again. Then, wrote Act II much faster. You get attached to these fun characters, relationships, and conflicts, but then you have to bring it all together in the second act.
Tell us about the music in Speakeasy.
Rachel: They're songs that you know from the 1920s. These are songs from public domain and others we got through ASCAP. Some of the songs include "I Wanna Be Loved You" made famous by Helen Kane, and then later by Marilyn Monroe. "I Want To Be Bad", and "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)" which both Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland made pretty famous. We chose songs that spoke to us. It was interesting in choosing the songs in the context of the script. There were a couple of songs we had to cut, because they didn't move the story forward.
Tell us about the character of Helen, where is she headed in the show, what does she want?
Rachel: Helen is named after my great grandmother who was actually a flapper. There's different archetypes in the show, and Helen is the well-to-do debutante.
Alli Villines: Helen is super fun. She is a leader of the temperance movement in Chicago. She comes from money, and she's over the top. When she gets to the location, she has no idea she's in a speakeasy. She's not stupid, she's very clever, but she's a little blind sometimes. But, again, high jinks ensue [laughs]. She's engaged to Clarence who is a co-owner of the bookstore. Helen in Act I is very different from Helen in Act II. Helen in Act I doesn't know she's in a speakeasy. As far as she knows, she's engaged to a very nice clean man, and doesn't know he's involved in anything. In her own way she's in love with him, but she never says she loves him, she says she's fond of him. She's kind of like Mary from Downton Abby. She's smart, she's sharp, and she gets her way. That sticks through Act II, but she goes on a fun adventure to get to the end of the show.
With the show being so interactive, what does this show call for in terms of how accurate it needs to be for the period? Are there anachronisms?
Rachel: [laughs] There are a lot of anachronisms. I'll say that right up front. I did a lot of research on the way people talked and the flow of dialogue and things like that. But what it came down to, when I finished it, was that I realized that it's very much my voice, which is a 2016 voice. I'm influenced by our own pop culture and our own way of talking. I did my research, and did my due diligence, but in the end, it's still my voice.
Tell us about the interactive part that audiences can expect at the show?
Alli: There is a lot of music the audience will recognize. "The Charleston" is a huge number, and the actors will encourage the audience to dance along them. We encourage the audience to go to the SRO website and watch a video of the Charleston to learn it before you come.
Rachel: The first person you're going to meet when you come to The Reading Room is a character named Eugene who is played by Darry Hearon, who is basically the door man. In many speakeasies,there were secret doors, and you had to know a password to be admitted. The audience is expected to know the password in order to get in, or you'll need to convince the doorman to let you in either through money or slick talking. Champagne will be flowing at the show. Champagne will be included with the price of a ticket. We really break the fourth wall a lot in the show, like they would in the shows in speakeasies.
Book by Rachel Landon
Direction and Choreography by Liz Tinder
April 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16, 2016 at 8pm
The World Premiere of SPEAKEASY will be staged at Obsidian Theater, 3522 White Oak, Houston, Texas.
All seats are assigned.
FOR TICKETS: CLICK HERE.
Tickets are $37.50 for floor tables and $30 reserved seating. Senior and student reserved seating is $27.50 and groups of 6 or more reserved seating is $25.00.
For more information, or questions about the show, call 713-330-2358 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.