Paul Soileau, Jason Liebrcht, and Jenny Larson in I've Never Been So Happy (Bret Brookshire)
As an actor, work is hard to come by. This is probably the first thing you learn upon deciding to embark on a career in the performing arts. I've heard it from every teacher I've ever had and everyone else who has an opinion about my chosen field. Working is hard, which is why actors often produce their own projects, something I've become incredibly familiar with in my time at USC.
The Rude Mechanicals, based in Austin, TX, pride themselves on creating theater that is "a genre-defying cocktail of big ideas, cheap laughs, and dizzying spectacle," as is evident in their current production of I've Never Been So Happy, now playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. In I've Never Been So Happy, this unique company blends fantasy, music, dance, performance art, and good ol' fashioned play to tell a story of adventure, love, and longing in the Wild West. The play follows Annabellee, a country western singer who longs to leave her father's house but can't until she is married, and Jeremy, a man tied to the last mountain lion in Texas, as they explore their world and hope to find love and happiness despite their parents' unorthodox parenting.
If you've ever been to the Kirk Douglas before, you would not recognize the lobby for the country rodeo set up inside. Walking into the theater, we were immediately met with a scavenger hunt, a dress-up booth where we were able to check out Western costumes for the evening, and a giant coloring map of Texas. The entertainment continues at intermission with a slingshot contest, a Texas geography trivia game that involves wads of wet toilet paper, and a dress-up "drag race". The Rude Mechanicals have stretched their creativity to every crevice of the theater, making sure that every member of the audience is fully involved in the experience.
To say that this production is a little unorthodox would be to say that a jackrabbit can stand still on a hot, greasy griddle in the middle of a Texan July - or in other words, a lie. The Rude Mechanicals only produce their own pieces that are created from an ensemble. Because all the work is self-created and self-produced, there is a certain honesty and personal connection to each and every production that comes out of this quirky company. Even though the lyrics may be a bit questionable (the whole company sings "We'll sleep and eat breakfast tacos" in unison for a finale) and the production design less than groundbreaking, there is an underlying layer of truth and ownership that brings the piece to life unlike anything I've ever seen before.
Watching the Rude Mechanicals, I couldn't help but think about my own work and the kinds of things I'm drawn to as an artist. I'm always compelled to work on the weird, the experimental and the bizarre. As I search out my professional career options, my mentors keep telling me that I'm going to be producing my own work. I've already started a theater company on campus, and I'm constantly being asked if I'll start another one upon graduation. After seeing the work that comes out of Rude Mechanicals, I know that I don't need to wait for someone to create projects that I'm excited about. I have a renewed confidence to create projects that make my creative juices flow.
• For students: Center Theatre Group offers $20 tickets through their Hot Tix program either over the phone (213-628-2772) or at the box office on the day of performance. • The Kirk Douglas Theatre has free parking behind city hall. Don't park in a Culver City lot because you'll have to pay like I did. • Culver City has a TON of restaurants right around the theater. Try the Onion Rings at Akasha!