Live From the Eastside

Live Theatre Workshop's Etcetera series offers alternative late-night entertainment.

So you're looking for something to do late on a Friday night. If you're seeking something hip, would you be more inclined to go downtown, or check out a storefront theater in an eastside strip mall?

You see the challenge Live Theatre Workshop has taken up. The company is launching a late-night music and drama series called Etcetera to draw a college-age crowd. But will those people believe that they could find anything of interest so far east of the Rialto and Club Congress?

"We have an "if you build it, they will come" attitude," says Matt Walley, who, with Sybille Bruun, is coordinating the Etcetera series and co-starring in its first theatrical production, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, which opens Jan. 23.

"There are people out there who want to be challenged; they want to see this kind of thing happen," he says. "We're going to make it available, and hopefully, that crowd will come out and take a look and get excited about it. It'll be getting to be Friday or Saturday night, and there'll be a certain crowd that'll think, 'What's going on at LTW tonight?'"

Jeremy Thompson, who serves as the theater's artistic director this season, says he wants to bring the hip crowd east.

"When places in the arts district downtown offer edgier, contemporary, avant-garde productions, they do really well," he notes. "I'd like to bring that downtown feel out to this area. We're serving our mainstream audiences well with what we're already doing here, but there's an intellectual, artistic crowd that wants to see something more. Eighty-five percent of our audience is senior citizens; we want to bring people in their late teens and 20s into the theater, too, because they'll be our target audience in 20 years."

So on the past two Friday nights, once Live Theatre Workshop sends its core audience home after performances of the mainstream comedy Same Time, Next Year, the space has been re-set for 10:30 acoustic concerts by local musicians Greyhound Soul and Chris Holiman.

"It's nice for the musicians," says Walley, "because they can just play their music and have people watch the performance. This isn't a venue with people drinking beer and talking, with the music in the background."

And this weekend, the company opens a short run of the one-hour John Patrick Shanley play Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, in which Walley and Bruun play Danny and Roberta, two young people who meet at a Bronx bar.

"They're society rejects," Walley explains. "But they strike up a conversation, and in the course of less than 24 hours, they find a forgiveness for their badness. We've been saying that Danny and Roberta both like to fight and fuck, but they don't really know the difference between the two. They're very strong characters, but they feel that everything that's ever happened in their lives has happened to them; now, they want to make a choice.

"Sybille and I both really like the play, because it has that punch that we want to start this series out with. When people come to see this, they'll know they're seeing something different from what's been done in Tucson for a while."

Future offerings may include more unplugged concerts, one-act plays with music, poetry slams, art openings, readings of works by local playwrights, open-mic nights, maybe groups of 10-minute plays or improvisational theater.

Walley says he's not worried about having the focus or stamina to perform in a play that starts at 10:30 p.m. He grew up and began acting in Chicago, where he collaborated on 11 p.m. comic rap revues at bowling alleys and skating rinks. "It was a big party for the night and a lot of fun," he says.

Walley has lived in Tucson only 2 1/2 years, so he missed the heyday of cutting-edge theater here, a good decade ago. He probably wouldn't mind if the Etcetera series helped spark a new surge in innovative theater use around town (the sort of thing Wilde Playhouse also started attempting this season), but for now, his goals are modest.

"This gives people something to do on Friday and Saturday nights at a time when there's not a whole heck of a lot going on," he says. "At least it's an alternative to the bar scene."