BWW Interviews: James Arrington on the Final Farewell Performance of THE FARLEY FAMILY REUNION
THE FARLEY FAMILY REUNION--James Arrington's signature gut-busting and achingly hilarious send up of a fictional family reunion--brings the crazy but loveable characters of the Farley family to the stage, including family genealogist Aunt Pearl, nearly 100 year-old Grandpa Dean, Family President Uncle Heber, and the other zany members of the Farley clan from 6 to 99.
Professional actor, playwright, producer, director, and professor at Utah Valley University's Department of Theatrical Arts, Arrington is pure acting perfection in this one-man show full of wacky family members that may just remind you of some of your own relatively odd relatives. Critics have called the show "sidesplitting" and "wildly funny," and with many honors including a regional community theatre competition, generation after generation have come to love and laugh at THE FARLEY FAMILY REUNION.
The upcoming production at the SCERA Center for the Arts will be the final farewell performance of THE FARLEY FAMILY REUNION. After years and years of fun and laughter, and thousands of shows around the country, James Arrington has decided that this will be the very last time he'll perform the show. He has answered some questions from BroadwayWorld about the show and this farewell production.
1. Tell me about the genesis of THE FARLEY FAMILY REUNION and the life the project has taken on.
When I was a young actor coming out of San Francisco's ACT conservatory I was single and went to a lot of parties. I was always asked to perform at these parties because a Utah actor was a bit of an oddity. It was like walking into a party with a guitar strapped around my neck. Everyone would expect me to play! However, rather than lay heavy Shakespeare or some memorized stuff, I always chose to create characters on the moment. I'd just start a monologue with some kind of odd or unusual character that I'd dream up on the spot. Over time, these characters, the good ones anyway, started to reappear. It occurred to me that I had something worthwhile, but searching for the vehicle to put them all together was baffling. At some point I picked up a small book entitled The Rummage Sale by Don Marshall. Each of the chapters in the book is about a separate individual in a small town; some were poignant, some hilarious, some serious, and some outrageous. Late in the book it is revealed that they are all related...and there it was! All my characters were related! It was only a short step to create a family reunion where these unique personalities could have their moment in the sun.
The second question is "where did the 'Farley' name come from?" Well, I don't remember the day I actually chose the name, but in retracing my steps and where I was living at the time, one drives past a sign that says "Farley Fruit Farm." The alliteration was strong and I must have drawn that into THE FARLEY FAMILY REUNION.
2. Why have you decided that these performances at the SCERA will be your last ones?
They are the last shows, with an asterisk. The full play requires a great deal of energy over two hours, and frankly, I'm just getting...uhm...more mature in my body and can't summon up the energy to carry the weight of a full two hour production of the play. There is, however, a cutting of the play, which I call the "concert version," which I can continue to do. Often those who wish an experience of the play have neither the time, the stage, or frankly the money to mount the whole production. They're interested in an after dinner or after luncheon show for entertainment purposes. I've done this version of the show in many outdoor and indoor venues from churches to ballfields, people's backyards to restaurants. It's a fun, engaging version of the Farleys that doesn't need a stage manager.
3. Are you planning anything special for this last time around?
Yes, two things will be different. We're going to offer a Farley "meal" before the show where a character or two will appear and get the audience in the mood. We'll also offer a "talk back" to audience members after the show. Should be fun and informative, and we'll take questions from those who wish to stay. The show and characters have been through many experiences, and I will reveal where characters came from, funny experiences from the past, and how choices were made in producing the show over the years.
4. What do you like about performing at the SCERA as opposed to other venues?
The SCERA is one of many venues the Farleys have enjoyed over the years. Their audience is basically the target audience for the Farleys since it is basically a family organization. I must admit I've loved doing the Farleys outdoors over the years, but the outdoor theatre at the SCERA is gigantic and the Farleys get lost even looking for the stage there.
5. You are also known for your one-man plays about religious leaders, such as Brigham Young. THE FARLEY FAMILY REUNION is a very different genre from them. What are the joys and difficulties of each genre?
Actually they are very much the same. A one-man show is a one-man show whether it's about the Farleys, Brigham Young, Matthew Cowley, or J. Golden Kimball. It is getting the character out there by himself with the audience. It is THE most terrifying thing an actor can go through. There's no help, no one to pick up the pieces if things don't work. Actors who've never had the opportunity do not know the terror this sort of show produces. However, because of that, when things succeed or you manage to create one of those events that changes everyone, there is NOTHING like that feeling. It is all you, one way or the other. Though that may sound a bit egotistical, it is simply the unique aspects of a one-man show that makes it different from other plays.
Aside from the creation of characters, which all actors learn to do with success, I have found that I'm kind of a freak in my ability to switch characters quickly, which is unique to the Farleys. And I've been very surprised to see that other actors have a hard time doing it. I actually don't know what it is about the way my mind and body work together to allow these rapid and seemingly distant jumps of age, personality, and character, I've just decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Between my ability to create full blown characters much different than myself, and an innate ability to play comedy AND drama, it has given my acting a range that appears to be fairly rare. I'm humbled and grateful for it.
6. Do you have any new projects in the works?
I will be directing FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at Sundance Summer Theatre this year, and have a brand new play I've written entitled IDENTITY CRISIS, which I'm hoping to produce this Fall, along with several other directing possibilities coming up at UVU. Though I'm laying down the full-fledged THE FARLEY FAMILY REUNION, we will still play the FARLEY FAMILY XMAS at UVU coming up in December and end that run of about 15 years. I'm turning into Heber Farley....
THE FARLEY FAMILY REUNION plays at the SCERA Center for the Arts from March 31 to April 5, 2014. For tickets, call the box office at 801-225-ARTS (2787) or visit www.scera.org.