When director Susi Brown was looking for a play for Pier Pressure Productions Grand Opening in its new black box theater, she wanted something fresh, with teeth and not produced in Clatsop County before.
“I wanted something that could balance humor, and pathos and cause a little bit of thinking,” she said.
“Henceforeward,” a 1987 play by Alan Ayckbourn set in a bunker underneath the Tube in London that focuses on a down on his luck composer who is trying to gain custody of his daughter in order to beat his composer’s block, fit Brown’s bill.
The show opens Friday, Sept. 13 at 7:15 p.m. and runs Friday-Sunday Sept. 13-28. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased in advance at libertyastoria.org or at the door.
Tech heavy play
Brown had seen the play in London in 1988 with Ian McKellin and Jane Asher and talked to local lighting director Mick Alderman about the doing the play in the late 90s but decided not to because of the amount of technology needed for the play. Flashforward to 2019, a time well into the digital era, and Alderman was immediately on board.
Alderman and his father created a tin shell buncker for the set. It is the first set in the new black box theater, and the first stage in the theater, which can be moved around for different productions.
The buncker is the home of Jerome, played by William Ham, a composer who is hiding away from the dangerous society above. Jerome's only companion is NAN, a robot. The buncker is full of late 80s retro relics and TV monitors, as Jerome is paranoid and records everything. Sounds of clanging, people and missiles from above can be heard throughout the play.
Video is also essential to this production.
Street thugs, separated into gangs like the “Daughters of Darkness” and the “Sons of Bitches” appear on video. Audiences will meet some of characters who appear on stage through video first.
Daric Moore, who leads Pier Pressure with Brown, plays Lupis and appears only on video and helps the audience learn who Jerome is.
Actor Cherise Clarke plays an escort Jerome is interviewing to be his girlfriend for when the department of child wellbeing comes to see if his home is a suitable place for his daughter to live.
“I knew from the first day I wanted to be back on stage. Being part of a new theater opening was really special to me,” Clarke, who recently moved to Astoria from Vancouver, British Columbia, said.
Brown hopes audiences see the humor in this play as well as the drama.
“Jerome’s composition is about love primarily, it’s about loss of love, gaining of love, losing it again, the recapturing of the human soul that he thought perhaps he’d lost,” Brown said.
Filling a gap
Pier Pressure is filling a gap in community theater on the North Coast, specifically in Astoria. After the River Theater closed and Pier Pressure stopped performing in its small after a one-year stint nearly 10 years ago, there has only been Astor Street Opry, which does melodrama plays, and the Liberty Theatre, which is in the process of preparing its stage to do large Broadway plays.
“People have been dreaming of the days of the River Theater for a long time,” Brown said.
Stage manager and frequent director at Astor Street Opry Jayne Osborn said having a black box theater in town gives flexibility for different genres and types of productions.
Pier Pressure will serve as a venue not only for theater but for anyone who wants to perform music, poetry, short stories or other productions. It will also give tourists as well as locals a chance to see live theater in the evenings. Brown and Moore have already started reaching out to local chefs about doing coordinated after-show events.
Future productions for Pier Pressure include a readers theater of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxing Day; a reading of “Monkey’s Paw” leading up to Halloween or on Halloween night, “Goon,” a visual radio theater play in January, a Valentine’s Day event, a play directed by Karen Bain in March and a production of “The Office” in June.
The theater will have a celebration on Oct. 15 to celebrate its one year anniversary.
While much of the fundraising and overhead work like painting the interior of the space black and renovating it into a theater have been completed, Moore said they still need $40,000 to install lighting for shows. Pier Pressure’s Performathon 24-hour fundraiser in July raised $3,000.
Donations can be mailed to Pier Pressure Productions, PO Box 903, Astoria, OR 97103. A donate button will also be available on Pier Pressure’s Facebook page soon.
It’s been a long year of production and Moore and Brown are excited to see the community’s work pay off. Most months, Pier Pressure has put on 10:15 performances where a variety of performances are given and people can make donations to the theater.
“For the most part this is our fantasy baseball field. If we build it they will come,” Brown said.