Random Acts is a local guerilla theater troupe. It follows a simple credo: Take it to the edge and keep going. The original company set the pattern for the area’s alternative theater in the 1990s. The cold equations of making a living put a stop to its experiments.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “There are no second acts in American lives.” But, this time, he was wrong. After an 18-year hiatus, director Kelly Woodland gave the troupe new life. Its members take the stage Aug. 18-19 at Venice Theatre with “Hold My Beer.”
Woodland was happy to answer random questions about the company, its ribald hilarity and what audiences can expect.
Let’s start with a history lesson. How did Random Acts get started?
It was the early ’90s, and we were young and foolish theater types. There was me, Tom Kelly, Chris Kelley, Allan Kollar, Charlie Tucker, Gayle Kimball, Van Huff, Bob Mowry and others.
We got bored with the local theater scene — it was pretty mainstream back then. We’d get together and do play readings of edgy stuff nobody else would touch. We started out at Main Bookshop — and went from there to a production of Arthur Kopit’s “Road to Nirvana” at the original Broadway Bar.
A mind-boggling concept!
Yeah. The bar’s regular clientele was bikers, fishermen and assorted roadhouse rowdies. A few did not take kindly to the $5 cover charge. The ones that stayed dug the show. Props to Carolyn Heath for making it happen. It almost didn’t.
Yeah, if you count law enforcement. The police showed up for our second show. The two young cops looked embarrassed. The 40-something police officer in charge said, “This is pornography. If you continue performing, we will arrest all of you and shut you down.” That’s laughable — you’ve seen the play.
Yes. It’s nightmare fuel, but it’s not pornography. What did you do?
I stood my ground. I said “No, sir. You’re wrong, sir.” We just went ahead with the performance. They finally walked away and nothing happened.
You must have felt like Lenny Bruce.
That’s funny. One of the bikers said we reminded him of Lenny Bruce.
Tough act to follow. What did you do next?
We did Eric Bogosian’s “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.” We did “Dearly Departed” before it was published and became a community theater standard.
It was a fun time! But we got a little too big for our britches. We sold out shows and planned great things — then real life intervened.
It has nasty habit of doing that. What happened?
In a nutshell, we all had jobs and had to pay the bills. Whether we worked in theater or not, we had to make money. Around 1998, we agreed to fold the tent and go our separate ways.
How did Random Acts get a second act?
In the summer of 2012, Venice Theatre hired me to direct “Hair.” But community theater can be iffy — and we didn’t get the rights. I said, “Why not bring back Random Acts?” Allan said, “Why not?” And we hit the ground running.
How did the revival feel?
It felt great. Everything fell into place, like a divine convergence. The opportunity came at a time we really needed it. So we put together a wacky show.
Because we were adding songs for the first time, Peter Madpak joined us as musical director. That was super cool! We didn’t make a huge amount of money, but people came to see us, and we galvanized a new group of brilliant artists.
And you proved you could draw an audience. Then what?
Venice Theater started its summer cabaret series in 2013. They said we had to do mostly musical numbers — and we’d never really done that before. And we had to find music that was worthy of Random Acts.
How would you define that?
Well, our whole reason for being is doing stuff other people won’t touch.
The tunes don’t necessarily have to be vulgar — but they can’t be cheesy or done to death. The best way to do that is to go for something hard.
So, you’re shooting for a high level of difficulty.
That we are. I’m talking songs with harmonies you wouldn’t wish on normal mortals! But I’m working with a dream team — and they are way above normal. Whatever we dish out, they can take it.
Who’s on this dream team?
Alison Prouty, Nancy Denton, Andrea Keddell, Amanda Heisey, Vera Samuels, Steve O’Dea, Dorian Boyd and Jeremy Guerrero — I could go on, but 23 amazing talents in all. Eli Schildkraut’s our musical director this year, and he has a brilliantly twisted mind. It’s going to be a hoot.
How would you describe the Random Acts company?
We’re still a pretty loose, casual organization. It’s more therapy than anything else.
Seriously, short-form comedy is hard — adding music makes it even harder. You need highly talented performers with an instinct for that.
How do you put the show together?
Our shows go up in August. We spent the whole summer before that developing the show. We all get together, and the creative process is very organic. No judgments, no put-downs. Everybody’s equal.
Everybody contributes ideas. Some are great and some are terrible — but we never shoot the weird ideas down immediately. Sometimes, the weirdest idea is the best idea. We’ll come back to it later, play with it, and see what happens.
Ideas have a gestation period. They need time to grow.
Exactly. That’s how the creative process works. But that’s something our immediate-gratification society fails to grasp. Not every performer grasps it. Random Acts has its own chemistry. We’re egoless. We’re free to the point of anarchy. Some actors just aren’t comfortable with that.
Where do you find songs to match your ambitions?
We branched out. We looked at the New York City cabaret scene, some Broadway numbers, original material from local talents and a heaping helping of original song parody.
We try not to repeat ourselves — but Monty Python is the exception. They’re an audience fave, and we give the people what they want.
As in …?
We will definitely sing the Pythons’ “Lumberjack Song” — it’s going to happen! We’ll also sing a certain barbershop quartet number — and encourage the audience to sing along.
So how would you describe the tone this year?
We’re doing a show for grownups. We used to do two shows at 8 and 11 p.m., and we saved the really naughty stuff for last. This year, we smooshed it all together. We’re talking frat-boy jokes, intellectual references to the Weimar Republic, sketch comedy without music, tap dancers, burlesque … you name it.
Any trigger warnings?
Oh, definitely. We start the show with a very strong word of caution. If you’re easily offended … you will be. This is not for kiddies or the faint of heart. If you’re prissy, if any dang thing offends you, you’d best hit the road.