There is a lot to be said about a theatre company that serves Jack Rudy Cocktails and Westbrook IPA. There’s even more to say about a theatre company that writes all of their own material and then produces it with a cast and crew of no more than four people. There’s the most to say about a theatre company that allows their employees and co-stars to eat #allthepopcorn in the dressing room. Popcorn that should be being sold to loyal patrons…
They had a lot of patience with me.
Before coming to Charleston, 34 West Theater Company co-founders Stephen Wayne and Jeff Querin spent a lot of time touring with their original shows. Like 15 years of touring. FIFTEEN YEARS. Their company of four included New York–based actors Nathan Gurr and Magdalyn Donnelly, who continues to perform with them here. They performed in Ohio, Florida, Connecticut, off-Broadway in New York City, and for Charleston’s own Piccolo Spoleto before finally settling down in Charleston in the summer of 2014.
I have been working with 34 West for seven months now, and it has been an unexpected whirlwind of theatricality that I never saw coming. They opened their doors last July with an original three-person musical called Doo Wops and Beauty Shops, which ran for two months. It starred Mary Fishburne, a Best of Charleston nominee for Female Vocalist and a good friend of mine. She did the show for a month before leaving to have a baby and passing the torch on to me (funny, since one of the two characters that we played in the show is pregnant).
Mary left me her script, with every cue, prop, and costume switch marked. I used that for our one week of rehearsal. The boys didn’t have to take any time off, and without skipping a beat, we reopened the show. It was so exhilarating, jumping in with just a little bit of fear. The time constraint, rather then causing panic, made me bust my butt. Failure was not an option. The show turned out great.
At this point—if you’re really into this story and want to know more—I’d like to direct you to this post on my Tumblr, which I wrote shortly before closing Doo Wops round one.
We performed five nights a week for two months. Usually by the Sunday matinee, I felt like I was experiencing a permanent case of deja vu. I would arrive at the theater every night, 20 minutes before places, while the boys were busy serving drinks and snacks. I would go through the kitchen and into the dressing room to get into costume. We’d do the show, drink a beer, and then I’d go home to pass out and do it all again the next day. But the thing about it was that the show itself was so joyful, and elicited such a strong response from the audience, that it never got boring. Not to mention the number of times we broke character because everyone was laughing so hard. Stephen’s shows are FUNNY, y’all.
Fast forward four months: the boys did two more shows, Speakin’ Easy (starring Magdalyn Donnelly—remember her?) and A Swinging Christmas. I was in Macbeth at Woolfe Street Playhouse and auditioned for grad school before we brought Doo Wops back as filler after the New Year. This was the first time I had ever returned to something that I had performed in before. We ran it twice before the first performance and discovered that it had become a completely new show. It was all grown up. We performed for three weeks (about 15 shows), until closing right before Valentine’s Day.
After the last show, we took down our set, packed up our props and costumes, and threw it all in the truck. The next morning, we left for Apalachicola, FL for two sold-out performances at the Dixie Theatre. Now, Apalachicola is not the biggest town. Its on the Gulf Coast and has really good oysters. It's beautiful there—very quaint and very charming, but very small. We basically performed for the entire population of the town, and it was a BLAST. We got there in the evening and unloaded and rebuilt our set. We did our two shows on Valentine’s Day. Afterwards, we packed up our set (again) and loaded up the truck. Then, I drank two ridiculous martinis that I absolutely deserved—a hell of a Saturday. The next day we were back in Charleston. It was a fantastic experience.
34 West has created a wonderful environment for artists. I'm so proud of the work they do, whether I am involved in it or not. I just feel lucky that I met them. There is a sense of pride that comes from knowing that your day job is your dream job. I have 34 West to thank for making that happen for me and the many other performers mentioned in this article. They have created a wonderful tribe. The fact that there is a professional touring theatre company here is something Charleston should be immensely proud of. I look forward to working with them again in July doing A Groovy Kind of Love alongside another good friend- Becca Anderson of UNED!TED Artists!
This is the end of my tale—but the beginning of another. I haven’t mentioned that during the three-week run of Doo Wops in January, Steve and Jeff were also rehearsing for their next show, which opened the Tuesday after we got back. That show, Boogie Woogie Bugle Gals, runs through April 25. After Boogie Woogie, Magdalyn Donnelly will be back for My Name is Ruth, which she and Stephen have performed together in both New York and Charleston in the past. Boogie Woogie Bugle Gals stars New York actresses Maddie Casto and Jennifer Bissell (AE). Stephen was still writing the show when these lovely ladies were cast, and used getting to know them as inspiration for their characters. I have to be careful since he hasn’t written our next show, Groovy Kind of Love, yet…everything I say can, and WILL, be used against me.