How does a DTLB theatre with about 30 seats constantly remain relative and supported, especially when positioned amongst more moneyed and patronized institutions like Musical Theatre West? How does a tiny crew of theatre-loving geeks, misfits, and creatives continually churn out some of Long Beach’s most subversive, definitive theatre?
The answer might be in a Beatles song: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Inspired by how Phish forged their own scene and a special connection to their fans, the folks of The Garage Theatre are celebrating 15 years of going beyond their mission to produce affordable, independent, non-commercial theatre. They throw their fair share of free events (such as a screening of LCD Soundsystem’s farewell concert, with dancing encouraged), not just because they can but because in it is innate to their spirit as a company.
”We have always come from a very DIY way of thinking when it comes to theatre,” said Eric Hamme, long time Garage veteran and one of its co-founders. “We were the ones sneaking into the scene shop at night building sets and staying up all night hanging lights for our shows in college because we wanted it to be the best it could be. I think that way of thinking just followed us after we graduated. We never discussed trying to find work at someone else’s theatre. We just continued what we had always been doing and that was putting on shows. We were young and irreverent and felt the world needed what we had to give. I don’t think we had any clue what it meant to run a company.”
That youthful spirit—a metaphorical turn-of-the-cheek to the monotony of theatre within the region—is precisely what drove the theatre’s success. People responded to Garage’s idiosyncratic productions, its love for Long Beach, and the indispensable talent that has poured out of its tiny box of a theatre. From unique takes on comedy classics like Wet Hot American Summer (long before Netflix revived the movie and turned it into a series) to creating an adult evening out the work of Shel Silverstein to the creation of pieces like Long Beach Is Sinking and Terror at the Pike Or… How Come There Aren’t Any Waves In Long Beach?
”I think what maybe separates us from other companies is our reputation of producing alternative and sometimes provocative theatre,” Hamme said. “That reputation allows us a lot of freedom when it comes to the material we choose to produce and it also allows us to take risks that larger organizations may be hesitant to take. Also, our structure is different in that we don’t have an Artistic Director. Our seasons are decided by committee and the company is made up of people of various ages and tastes which results in a fairly eclectic body of work.”
The company isn’t shying away from that dynamism for Year 15: after four years of battling for creative rights, they’ll be taking on Sam Raimi’s horror classic Evil Dead and, of course, turning it into musical. (Because why not a musical?)
Directed by filmmaker and horror buff Matt Kollar, Garage’s lengthy journey to making Evil Dead: The Musical come alive proved to be challenging in more ways than one—specifically money. With the need for massive amounts of simulated gore, fake blood, and special effects, the crew needed to go to crowdsourcing to get the funds.
”Our meager budget just isn’t going to cut it, which is why we turned to IndieGoGO,” Hamme said. “The response has already been great and we are really hoping to have the resources to bring something very special to Long Beach.”
More importantly, beyond this special production—debuting September 16 and running through October 15—Garage maintains what theatre has maintained for thousands of years: its ability to stay alive through the most visceral art form humans have created—that is, live performance.
”The theatre is a place for humans to gather and watch other human beings tell stories about human beings, and there is nothing more human than that,” Hamme said. “Storytelling is so important in bringing people together. When we relate to the stories of others, it makes us feel a little less alone in the world. It teaches us empathy; it teaches us about ourselves. I still get a big thrill when I see a room full of strangers come together to share in a common experience. When we get it right, this dusty old storefront becomes a hidden place of magic that hopefully more people will discover.”
Living for the applause, we offer a standing ovation–and a cheers to fifteen more years and then some.
Garage Theatre is located at 251 E 7th Street.