The other night I had an inside look at a dress/tech rehearsal for DEAD PILOTS SOCIETY at the Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks. It is comprised of three pilots written by acclaimed television writers that for one reason or another never aired.
That evening, the entire theater was buzzing with energy.
Writing partners Ken Levine and David Isaac were directing their piece Under Andrea on the stage. During a technical holdup, I overheard them reminisce about an experience they had on Cheers (fn1) — how it took them about “11 seconds” to write in a scene about sheep and hours for the crew to get the sheep on set, etc. It was hysterical.
These two are worth Googling (there are several YouTube clips, blogs, interviews and photos to browse through). To get a sense of what their writing humor is like, think M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frasier and The Simpsons. You get the idea. These guys know a little “something-something” about making you laugh. Under Andrea will do just that, too.
They’ve been writing partners for over 40 years, having first met when Levine was working as a DJ and Isaacs was working at ABC.
I could have engaged in conversation with them for hours on end. They are each fascinating. The same goes for Russ Woody, the reason why they are even at the Whitefire.
Russ Woody is also a writer, known for Murphy Brown, Becker, Cybill, The Drew Carey Show – and like Ken and David, he has also won awards. (Google away. Lots will be found.) DEAD PILOTS SOCIETY, however, is Woody’s brain child.
Woody came to be part of the Whitefire Theater when he was asked to participate in its first round of Hollywood Shorts – comedies written and performed by people in the industry. The irony is that Russ admits to not liking theater, even though his friends write plays (including the guys he recruited to participate in DPS).
I was glad though that it didn’t deter him from proposing the idea of putting together a theatrical production based on pilots that never aired.
And Bryan Rasmussen – artistic director of the Whitefire – went for it.
Ken Levine and David Isaacs were on board. They brought along with them their lead — the lovely Jules Wilcox, with whom they had worked with before in a play they wrote.
Woody also recruited his friend Richard Dresser (fn2) — known for writing plays that have been on and off Broadway as well as the hit television show The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.
Dresser’s Over My Head is his contribution to the production, which is directed by Moosie Drier, a t.v. and film director.
“The Whitefire is my home theater,” says Drier, who has been directing productions there with Rasmussen since 1985. As much as Drier enjoys directing television and film, he says he has a special love for the theater, and feels it’s a place where he can be the most creative.
DEAD PILOTS SOCIETY is rounded out by Woody’s Effed Up (fn3), a memoir he wrote in 2002 that was eventually written as a pilot. (The book is worth reading.)
I happened to catch Woody standing outside the theater, talking with a couple of actors in Effed Up. I may have caught him off guard, but he was quite gracious and went along with an impromptu interview. As we were talking, actor Paul Pape joined in (he’s also in Woody’s play). The two are friends and have worked together before. Before I knew it, Woody was discussing a story idea he had with Pape. Exciting stuff.
There is nothing like being in the midst of creative minds at work. #inspiring.
Effed Up is directed by Bryan Rasmussen.
“In July we will have five different shows going on,” says Rasmussen. It’s all part of the “vertical repertory” both he and producer Jake O’Flaherty have created for the 99 seat theater.
“As a theater producer, I try to revolutionize Los Angeles theater with small budgets, original shows, one time a week with full houses,” states O’Flaherty. He and Rasmussen do more than try. They succeed.
DEAD PILOTS SOCIETY will be proof of that. It opens Monday, June 29th and will be performed for four weeks on Monday nights at 8:00 p.m.
After the show opening night, be sure to stay for the party. Reserve tickets now at www.brownpapertickets.com.
fn1 “Bar Wars” was written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs for Cheers (March 31, 1988). Check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheers_%28season_6%29
fn3 Effed Up, the book by Russ Woody: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22619333-effed-up
photos by Sophia Louisa Lee, 2015