Life, with all of its laughter and tragedy is a complex thing. Each day we wake up to something different, something new. How we react to what life throws at us says more about who we are as people then what is actually happening.
On Friday, Dec. 27, the Gilbert Theater will explore the quirks of this crazy thing called life with the world premier opening of Life As We Know It. The show, written by Fayetteville-native Elaine Alexander, is a bonus offering by the Gilbert and is being produced in partnership with Up & Coming Weekly.
“The arts have always been very important to Up & Coming Weekly,” said the newspaper’s publisher, Bill Bowman. “For the first few years we were in existence, the arts defined who we were as a publication. I am a firm believer that today, the arts define who we are as a community.”
Bowman said that he, as an individual, and as a publisher, is always looking for ways that he can support the arts in the community.
“I think a community with a dynamic arts culture is a community that can grow and prosper,” said Bowman. “I also believe that people who participate in the arts either as patrons or participants lead much richer lives.”
With that in mind, Bowman is always on the look out to find interesting ways to support and participate in cultural events. And, after viewing Alexander’s work on a different play in Charlotte, Bowman believes he has found a natural fit for the community.
“Whenever we can celebrate someone who is a part of our community, it’s incredibly important to do so,” he said. “When I saw Elaine’s show in Charlotte, I immediately started thinking about ways we could showcase her unique talent and the unique community in which she grew up.”
To that end, he contacted the Gilbert Theater’s new artistic director, Robyne Parrish and suggested a partnership to produce the world-premier of Life As We Know It in Alexander’s hometown. Parrish was immediately on board.
“The Gilbert is known for celebrating cutting-edge theater and for promoting new playwrights,” said Bowman. “When I started thinking about Elaine and her work, I immediately thought of the Gilbert, and we have put together a wonderful partnership that will bring a great talent home and give Fayetteville residents a chance to enjoy great theater.”
For Alexander, the production of her work is a dream come true.
“It’s like getting to be in the homecoming parade,” said Alexander during a recent interview. But just as her play is about the foibles in life, her homecoming was interrupted.“There are so many exciting things happening over the next couple of weeks that I’m working very hard to make sure I look good for my moment of glory,” said Alexander.
One of the many events was a photo shoot with the Fayetteville Observer. Alexander, who describes herself as a “woman of a certain age,” wanted to ensure she looked her best, so she visited the hairdresser prior to her appointment. Her hair was perfectly coiffed. Her makeup fierce. As she drove to the appointment, her steadfast car, which has seen her through countless soccer games and PTA meetings, let out a horrible sound and died. “I went through the five stages of grief at the stoplight,” she joked. “Denial came first.”
It is that exact kind of moment that Alexander brings to the stage in the five, one-act plays that comprise Life As We Know It. Alexander explained that while each of the plays is unique, they all take a look at life through a fun-house mirror.
“I’m holding up a fun-house mirror to the madness I see in everyday life,” explained Alexander. “Each of these plays is about the crazy times we live in. People will instantly recognize the people they see every day, of course they are amped up and exaggerated, but they are the people we come in contact with every day.”
Alexander believes that comedy in its deepest essence is truth. She noted “When you see something truthful, it is funny. As E.B. White said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”
When asked where she gets the inspiration for her characters, she said, “I have to say that they are people I run across. I am a soccer mom. I am a PTA mom. I am out there on the front lines and I see all of the craziness. These plays are about what we all see in society. We live in crazy times. We spend more time focused on our phones than our loved ones. We know more about the Kardashians than we do our neighbors. We long to be celebrities, and we fight tooth and nail to maintain our looks. So these plays take an exaggerated look at these kinds of vanities in our lives.”
The plays range in topic touching on everything from the near “blood sport” of getting our children into the perfect school to the lengths women will go to keep their looks to the ways our phones dominate our lives.
“These are the kinds of things I am making fun of,” said Alexander, who was hesitant to go into great detail about the content of the play. “I have seen enough plays to know that the excitement comes from not knowing what’s coming next.”
This is the first play that Alexander has had produced, and she is excited that it is happening in her hometown. She is equally excited that it is being done at the Gilbert.
“The Gilbert is an incredible addition to downtown. They are willing to do plays that are like mine; that are not known. They are able to do the quirky kind of works that the average theatre does not,” said Alexander. “I am thrilled to work with our director, Jeremy Fiebig, and co-director, Robyne Parrish. These are theatre professionals with incredible resumes. My plays are in excellent hands. The cast is made up of talented actors. It is very exciting and gratifying for me to see my work come to life by these wonderfully talented actors.”
Over the years the Gilbert has gathered a strong cast of actors for this show, including Cheryl Edson (Musical of Musicals, FTCC’s Hello, Dolly!), Stanley Seay, Paul Woolverton (Clusters), James Merkle (The Fantasticks, As You Like It), Jessica Black (A Christmas Carol), Cassidy Ragland (FTCC’s Hello, Dolly!), Antionett Gage (A Christmas Carol, Gilbert Ensemble) and Whitney Manns (Fayetteville State University’s Spoon River Anthology, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot). Throughout the run of the show, there will be several special events, which organizers believe will create some excitement during the down time between Christmas and New Years when there isn’t a lot going on.
On Friday, Dec. 28, the Gilbert, Up & Coming Weekly and Hilltop House will sponsor an opening reception at 7 p.m., with the curtain rising at 8 p.m.
“This is going to be a very exciting evening,” said Bowman. “We are going to have great food, great drinks and then the opportunity to see — for the first time — this show on stage.”
If you are looking for a fun way to ring in the new year, look no further than the Gilbert. During the special 9:30 show, attendees will be treated to drinks and hors d’oeuvres before the show and during the intermission. Following the show, the party will continue as attendees will count down the old year with the cast of the show and party likes it’s 2013.
The final special event will be on Friday, Jan. 5, with a Meet the Playwright reception and question and answer session after the show. Hors d’oeuvres and drinks will also be available during intermission and during the meet and greet.
Because this is a bonus performance in the 2012-2013 season schedule, Gilbert Season tickets are not eligible for use on this show. However, all Gilbert Season ticket holders are invited to attend the Dec. 27 preview performance for free.
Tickets for the preview show on Thursday, Dec. 27 are $10. Tickets for the opening are $20 to $30, and include drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Tickets for the New Year’s Eve Show range from $40 to $50. All other tickets range in price from $13 to $15. To purchase tickets, visit the website at www.gilberttheater.com/life-as-we-know-it-bonus-show-for-2012. Profits from the show will go to support the theatre and the Kidsville News! Literacy and Education Foundation.
For tickets, reservations or more information, call (910) 678-7186.