Fall of the Band Closing Notes

Action/Adventure's sitcom-style series closed strong, proving theater can work like TV.

Is it just me, or did this last weekend seem…different?

No, not the bargains, or the holiday traffic. Something else. Oh yeah: my new favorite show didn’t air.
I don’t mean on TV—I mean in the theater. For the first time in more than a month, I didn’t cross the railroad tracks and take a seat in a packed little theater to watch “my stories,” because there was no new episode of “Fall of the Band.” Will there ever be again?

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“Fall of the Band” kicked off a year ago, and its format—a series of hour-long “episodes” about a rock band beleaguered with the usual band problems—got some buzz for sheer ambition and novelty. (Rumors of actual humor and theatrical quality also circulated, but at that time ArtsWatch had yet to confirm them.) Before the second series began in October, ArtsWatch interviewed two actors who’d taken the series to the next level by writing a spinoff musical called “The Water Man.”

At their request, we diligently avoided sharing a spoiler, but now it’s out: Kyle Acheson and Sam DeRoest will move to New York early in 2014—”breaking up the band” for real. Last Sunday’s season-closing episode was especially poignant as characters held a mock funeral for their theatrical band Ghost Dad. After curtain, the fond farewell spilled out onto Action/Adventure Theatre’s front stoop. “I’m actually going to miss Ghost Dad the band, as a fan,” confessed Post5 composer Chris Beatty. Cristina Cano, FoTB’s music director who played singer/bassist Vanessa, echoed the sentiment.

Despite David Byrne’s (and others’) recent declaration that New York is over for young artists, the much-larger city will probably always lure away many young Portland talents the minute they ripen. But that’s only one of the takeaways here.

The broader implication of “Fall of the Band” is that a local theater can—if it wants to—borrow tactics from national TV, releasing weekly sitcom-style episodes to an eager cadre of loyal viewers. Having missed the opening season, I tuned in a whole year late to this epiphany (though still a few weeks sooner than the TV news). I was delighted by what I saw.

Each hour-long episode began with a live performance of the show’s theme song while a character montage (a la sitcom intro) played behind the band on a screen. Next, all the characters lined up to perform a tightly-timed recap of the previous week’s story. In as few words as possible and minimal minutes, characters re-enacted their fights, triumphs, and unresolved negotiations from the prior week(s). As deftly coordinated as a game of patty-cake, the opening summary humorously dismissed already-resolved problems and pulled new audiences into the loop. And the fewer words, the funnier. Duncan (Devon Granmo) once only growled, “AnGERRRR,” to remind us where we’d left off with him.

Even though the shows weren’t fully scripted, the dialogue moved along at a brisk clip, free of the hem-hawing that too often plagues improv. Staging was kept simple, but not to the point of confusion. The same furniture was reconfigured between scenes and dressed with each setting’s signature pillows and throws. Actors, not stagehands, made these transitions in the semi-dark, often dancing with chairs or each other to thematically-appropriate music. It probably took a lot of planning, but it looked like a breeze moving the story along.

The characters themselves were comically exaggerated, and a couple even sported some wacky, hilarious hair…but no individual was TOO simplistically stereotyped. Vanessa (Cristina Cano) was the shy singer in her band against the bold, haughty Lana (Natalie Stringer), but more dominant at home with her sister Charlotte (Melissa Murray) who financially supported her and made meek attempts at enforcing order, but ultimately let her little sis call all the shots. Lana, too, was different at home with former-lover-turned-roommate Heath (David Saffert) sometimes transforming from lioness into needy kitty-cat.

Miles (Kyle Acheson) was a hopeless romantic, but not SO hopeless that he couldn’t choose New York over his boo Quincy (Chip Sherman) when the time came. Temperamental, needy boyfriend Jimmy (Sam DeRoest) eventually grew up and loosened his grip on his hyper, eager-to-please yes-girl Mandy (Katie Michaels) when she unveiled some hidden musical talent and even a (temporarily?) benched ex-boyfriend Shaun (Talon Bigelow). Sound man Ben “Hambone” (Nick Fenster), the band’s resident suckup, finally got his own life by hooking up with Charlotte, causing both of the outliers’ confidence to blossom.

Recording studio owner Sybil finally reached out of her boss-lady comfort zone to pursue a romance with her employee (and the band’s keyboardist) Heath. And drummer Duncan’s resolve to stay in the flailing band finally succumbed to the persistent love of his longsuffering boyfriend Charlie (James Luster)…who broke his streak of perfect concern to lash out at Duncan for his selfish behavior.

Stereotypes? Sure. But at least two disparate ones per character. Which is the difference (ahem, “Grimm“) between having somewhere, and nowhere, for a storyline to go.

Each episode closed with a cliffhanger, and season two’s finale, despite the closure of the funeral bit, was ultimately no exception. Will there be another “Fall of the Band”? A “___ of the Band”? A “Fall of the _____”? (An earlier A/A title that preceded this series was “Fall of the House”…maybe there’s more of that format to explore?) Surely the attention the series drew this year, and the consistent full-house to standing-room-only turnouts, are grounds for renewal of the title or at least its episodic mode. In the meantime, I’ll add FoTB to my “Thea-vo,” and hope something similar pops up.

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A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury

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