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BWW Interview: SALVAGE Director Damian D. Lewis on the Importance of Pursuing Your Dreams

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at the Hudson Theatre

BWW Interview: SALVAGE Director Damian D. Lewis on the Importance of Pursuing Your Dreams

What's your dream and how much are you willing to do to achieve it? Such is the theme of the musical SALVAGE with Book by Tim Alderson, Music and Lyrics by Mark Heard, Pat Terry, Randy VanWarmer, Tim Alderson, now continuing its revival run at The Hudson Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood, at 8pm Friday and Saturdays, 3pm on Sundays through December 19. Directed by Damian D. Lewis (pictured) with musical direction by Colin Linden, the cast features David Atkinson, Natalie Llerena, Sam O'Byrne, and Leonard Earl Howze.

Having a dream is like running with scissors. Just one false step and the journey, or even your life, can be over. In SALVAGE, Harley, a singer-songwriter whose wife is expecting their first child, has decided to hang up his dream before it destroys his family. On the way to pawn his beloved guitar, he stumbles upon the bar where his musical hero, Floyd Whitaker, died. Upon entering, Harley finds an inhospitable bartender and a single surly customer who's strumming the blues on an old guitar. Can he resist an adventure like this before giving up his own dream?

BWW Interview: SALVAGE Director Damian D. Lewis on the Importance of Pursuing Your Dreams

Pictured from left: Leonard Earl Howze, Sam O'Byrne, Natalie Llerena and David Atkinson

"Weighing dreams and aspirations against responsibilities and obligations can be paralyzing," offers playwright Tim Alderson. "Each of the characters in 'Salvage' is struggling with this on some level. The words they exchange, whether encouragement or reproach, are meant as much for themselves as for anyone else."

Director Damian D. Lewis, no stranger to achieving his own dreams, first as a graduate of The Juilliard School of Theater, and the current Co-Head of BFA Acting at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA, helmed the world premiere production of SALVAGE in 2019, as well as having directed over 30 shows, including productions of In The Heights, Twilight L.A. 1992, and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf.

I decided to speak with Damian about what drew him to direct SALVAGE and how the universal theme of how reality often gets in the way of pursuing our dreams speaks directly to him.

(Shari): When did you discover your strength in directing, or was that always your dream career?

Damian: Directing stage and film has been a dream of mine since I was a teenager. As a young artist, my father would always tell me to pay attention to the people behind the camera and offstage because they were the ones that were making dreams come true.

(Shari): You directed the World Premiere of SALVAGE in 2019. Is this production a continuation of that run due to Covid-19 or a totally new production?

BWW Interview: SALVAGE Director Damian D. Lewis on the Importance of Pursuing Your Dreams

Pictured from left: Leonard Earl Howze and Sam O'Byrne

Damian: This production of SALVAGE is a continuation of the run that was stopped by the pandemic. However, every time we re-engage this text, we find new things to enhance. Staging this at the Hudson Theatre allowed us to explore new dynamics, one of the roles was expanded a bit, and working with our new musical director, Colin Linden, has been a tremendous boost to the musicality of the play.

(Shari): Having a dream and finding the courage to follow it is at the center of SALVAGE. What can you share with me about the path you have followed that led you to directing the World Premiere of this play?

Damian: Similar to the character Harley, I was expecting my first child while questioning the pursuits of my dreams. Not too long after she was born, I was offered a teaching position at a high school that would provide the opportunity to direct plays seasonally. Even though the offer was for less pay, I decided to take the teaching position because I knew in the long run that directing was what I wanted to do full-time.... something I'd always prayed for. Fast forward to now, my daughter will be turning 21 soon, and directing SALVAGE has become a testament to her that dreams do come true.

(Shari): As a former teacher myself, I certainly understand how the challenge of pursuing our dreams when real responsibilities get in the way is a very real challenge for most of us. Do you have any personal wisdom to share about why it is so important to never give up, no matter the challenges in your way?

BWW Interview: SALVAGE Director Damian D. Lewis on the Importance of Pursuing Your Dreams

Pictured from left: Sam O'Byrne, Natalie Llerena, David Atkinson

Damian: I've always felt like there was a piece of me in all of the characters of this play. At least the men, that is. I remember being 25 years old and in mid-sprint of the pursuit of my dreams, when I had to temper my pursuits through the lens of the reality of my first child being born. I remember thinking in new mantra, that it wasn't about me and what I wanted anymore. And, it potentially wouldn't be about me and what I wanted for the next 18+ years due to the responsibilities that would come with that. Back then, I chose the path of responsibility. Now here I am, some 21 years later, still seeking to make my dreams come true. So, directing the world premiere of SALVAGE and the way it's been received in Los Angeles, has helped to redeem the time, in sorts, for me. Despite the many years of frustration, fear and doubt, I am content with the path I took. Because now, any breakthroughs in my life will be a testament to my kids to never give up on their dreams. There is a scripture that says "your gift will make room for you." I believe, and have personally experienced, that if you focus on being a person of integrity... the work will speak for itself.

(Shari): Very well stated and I congratulate you on never giving up! I am curious about whether you have a background listening to and/or appreciating country music like playwright Tim Alderson does? And if not, what drew you to directing his play?

Damian: My family's roots are in the soil and swamps of Louisiana. Although I didn't grow up listening to the type of country music that Tim grew to appreciate, I was influenced by the sounds of Zydeco music, Blues, and Motown Classics which all have roots in country music. Similar to rap music, it's about great storytelling at its core. I was drawn to the work by the story, and the music has always perked my ears and pulled on my heartstrings.

BWW Interview: SALVAGE Director Damian D. Lewis on the Importance of Pursuing Your Dreams

Pictured from left: Tim Alderson (Writer), Colin Linden (Music Director) and Damian D. Lewis (Director)

(Shari): Music Director Colin Linden, a Grammy award-winning record producer with over 140 albums to his credit and a recording artist with 14 solo albums and 10 more with his band Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, spent six seasons as Music Director on ABC's "Nashville" and also performed in front of the camera as a guitarist or bandleader. How did the two of you first connect to team up on SALVAGE?

Damian: Colin is an old friend of an old friend of my dear friend and partner, Tim Alderson, the writer. Not quite six degrees of separation! When Tim approached songwriter/singer/producer Buddy Miller about the job, their "mutual connection," Buddy was busy on another project. Colin has worked with Buddy on a number of things, most extensively on the TV show "Nashville," so Buddy recommended Colin for the job. Colin came out to Los Angeles from Nashville to meet and spend some time with Tim and the cast, which turned out to be a perfect fit.

(Shari): How closely did you work with casting director Michael Donovan on finding the perfect actors for SALVAGE? Have you worked with him or any of the actors on other productions?

BWW Interview: SALVAGE Director Damian D. Lewis on the Importance of Pursuing Your Dreams

Pictured from left: Leonard Earl Howze and David Atkinson

Damian: My first time working with Michael was on the last production of SALVAGE. Tim and I would meet with him to discuss the characters and the types of talent we were considering. Michael and his assistant, Richie, brought us a great variety to choose from. In both production audition sessions, Michael and I agreed on the top choices. It was a pleasure working with him.

(Shari): How have the themes of the play impacted your life since you began working on SALVAGE?

Damian: Tremendously. They remind me that I still have an opportunity to redeem the time, both of relationships and unfulfilled dreams. That beyond taking care of my family, it is my responsibility to pursue my own dreams and share my gift with whoever is open to receiving it.

(Shari): Has the play or music changed much since the first rehearsal? How so?

Damian: Not much. The changes in the script were mostly about expanding the scenes for the characters/storyline of Destiny and Harley. There's an unexpected twist to this story, so Tim thought that restructuring the role of Destiny would serve the play and enhance the experience for audiences. Other changes that have been made are in the actor's interpretation of the music night to night. But the songs have mainly remained the same based on the demo recordings.

(Shari): This is the third or fourth time that the play has been extended. Do you see it continuing to run into the new year in Los Angeles?

Damian: It's certainly possible! It's a beautifully written piece with a wonderfully talented cast. We are hoping to share it with as many people as possible, which has been a challenge in this post pandemic season. But everyone who has seen it loves it.

(Shari): If you see this story having an extended life outside of its theatrical run, would you say it works better as a TV series or as a film?

Damian: I think this play would work best as a film. It's something Tim and I have been talking about for a while now. It's one of those real moments, that happen in real time, kind of stories. The kind that helps you clarify the reality of the pivotal choices you face.

(Shari): Anything else you would like readers to know about the play?

BWW Interview: SALVAGE Director Damian D. Lewis on the Importance of Pursuing Your Dreams

Damian: It was homegrown from a local writer who grew up listening to the "Bakersfield Sound," a sub-genre of country music that featured Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, John Fogerty, Dwight Yoakam, and more. The songwriters for this play are noted musicians who have written songs for performers like Tanya Tucker, Kenny Chesney, Travis Tritt, The Oakridge Boys, and Alabama.

SALVAGE continues through December 19, 2021 at 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays, 3pm on Sundays. Tickets are $35. Reservations and information at www.Onstage411.com/Salvage or (323) 856-4249. The Hudson Theatre is located at 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, 90038, with ample street parking.

Please note there is no late seating and everyone must present proof of FULL VACCINATION against COVID-19 along with a government-issued photo ID in order to attend. Face masks are required to be worn indoors at all times.

Photo credit: Jenny Graham


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