“Peer over the edges, and tremble…” An Interview With Rider Strong

“Peer over the edges, and tremble…” An Interview With Rider Strong

Rider Strong is a lot of things. A screenwriter. A producer. A director. A dad. A poker champion (who won the recent Theatre Unleashed Poker Classic!) At times, a he’s even a generous supplier of delicious tacos. And, yes… back in the 90s, he was a child star. Now he joins forces with Theatre Unleashed for his first production as a playwright.

Don’t sleep on this multitalented wordsmith, because his play is about to awaken some serious contemplation — and genuine emotion — in the audience for the world premiere of Never Ever Land. Rider dug in with the Theatre Unleashed team to discuss his play, his time in the spotlight, and how the latter affected the former.

Theatre Unleashed: What compelled you to pursue your writing career? Does it stoke your creative fires any differently than your other work?

Rider Strong: I actually started writing as a kid, right around the same time I started acting. In third grade, my teacher asked me to help her find a play for the class to perform, and I just went ahead and wrote my own — the epic, A Fish Story. It involved a talking fish, an evil king, and enough speaking parts for 30 eight year-olds. I think if acting hadn’t turned into a career that took over my teens, I would’ve pursued writing much more aggressively earlier. Acting is an incredible art, but a lot of my adulthood has been coming to terms with the fact that I prefer writing and directing. I don’t want to say “acting derailed my writing” but uh, acting derailed my writing.

Playwright Rider Strong with Never Ever Land director Michael A. Shepperd. Photo by Shiloh Strong.

TU: What draws you to the subject matter? You never name “the white whale” celebrity at the core of this family’s conflict, but… are you a fan?

RS: I don’t think it’s a surprise that Hollywood and the entertainment industry is one of my favorite subjects. My life made that pretty much inevitable. But I gravitate towards the forgotten, unsung, or unseen. So yes, you can say this play is about “a celebrity,” but he’s unnamed because it actually centers the family that was ruined by encounters with him. Walking to my car from rehearsals tonight, I passed about 15 homeless people on Hollywood Blvd. Those are the actual humans who, right now, are trodding  the “walk of fame.” That fact interests me way more than say, the biography of a given star.

I have a complicated relationship with the unnamed star: as a kid, I was swept up like everyone else. I appreciate his talent, obviously, but I think “idols” are dangerous, in general. I’ve never understood Elvis, The Beatles, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe — artists where the persona begins to eclipse the work itself. That’s strange to me. Not to say they’re not talented, or people don’t genuinely appreciate their work, but when they’re elevated to iconography, I believe it reduces them, and the fans. A windblown skirt has meaning? Sparkling shoes on point say what, exactly? A small mustache under the nose, an orange face with a combover — human iconography is all about the erasure of nuance and interpretation.

TU: Has your own experience with celebrity informed the play? Did you discover anything about that during the process of developing Never Ever Land?

RS: Definitely. I set out to write a play that didn’t have anything to do with me, personally, but then, dammit, I found myself quoting conversations from my childhood, and soon the whole process turned into mining memories and feelings. If you’re a successful kid actor, there’s a huge shift in power balance: maybe you suddenly make more money than your parents, maybe your fame means girls pay more attention to you than your friends. That can give you a warped view of the world, or hopefully, it can offer its own kind of wisdom. I always knew I wanted Never Ever Land to be about the two values America cherishes most — fame, money — and how they can be sources of trauma. They can tear a family apart, turn them against one another, and turn decent folks into monsters.

When people ask, “Why would any parent let their child spend the night alone with a rich, famous person?” — to me the answer is obvious: because by the standards of our culture, that’s the BEST person! That’s a person who’s won, who’s proven themselves. Of course we should trust them, because if we don’t, then we have to question our entire culture, not to mention sacrifice our own access to their power.

TU: Tell us about the production process for the show. How did this collaboration with your team come about? Has anything surprised you?

RS: I’ve been friends with (producer) Andrew Carlberg for a decade, and when I saw his production of Rotterdam I knew he and that show’s director, Michael Shepperd, were my dream team. Luckily, they both responded to the play, and it’s elevated everything. Shep is incredible with actors, and he creates a flow that keeps the audience engaged at all times. I’ve burdened him, and the actors, with an ungodly amount of words and scene changes, and he’s made it seem effortless. Well, almost effortless.

Andrew brought the script to Theatre Unleashed and it was a perfect match. When Jenn and Greg Crafts decide to do something, it gets DONE — they are tireless and supportive. I can’t believe how quickly this show became a reality. And once this was a Theatre Unleashed project, that meant we were part of a community, not only of great actors, but people were suddenly available and willing to help with everything from finding props to operating a boom mic on our video shoots. In an industry that can be cutthroat and self-obsessed, this whole experience has been a jolt to my heart of the kind of kinship theater can create.

Rider Strong with Theatre Unleashed Managing Director Gregory Crafts at rehearsal for Never Ever Land.

 TU: What else would you like us to know?

RS: I’m fine! My family’s fine! Seriously, this is dark subject matter, and yes, as a kid, I definitely tiptoed some pitfalls. I never fell in. Never Ever Land was a chance to peer over the edges, and tremble.
Never Ever Land tackles the legacy of a celebrity scandal

Never Ever Land tackles the legacy of a celebrity scandal

TU teams with writer/actor Rider Strong, acclaimed director Michael A. Shepperd and Oscar-winning producer Andrew Carlberg to offer a new perspective on one of the most notorious trials of all time, as well as our culture’s obsession with celebrity.

LOS ANGELES – Rider Strong knew celebrity, and the challenges, dangers and trauma that can come with it, at an early age. The accomplished actor, writer and director first gained fame as the star of Boy Meets World in the early 90s and he considers himself lucky to have survived his time in the spotlight, thanks mainly to a close and healthy family. Others, including some he’s known, aren’t so lucky.

“This play started as pure speculation,” he said. “I wondered what it’s like to be known as the victim in a ridiculously famous lawsuit, especially if most people think you lied. But once I started writing, I realized it was way more personal.”

Theatre Unleashed is proud to present Strong’s work, Never Ever Land, making its world premiere at studio/stage from Sept. 28-Oct. 27.

In Never Ever Land, Tim Gable’s family accused the world’s most famous singer of sex crimes in 1993. With the settlement, they walked away millionaires. Now, Tim is ready to tell the public the truth…but does he even know what that is? This bold, fictional new work offers a unique and deeply personal take on one of the most shocking lawsuits of all time and its lasting affects for one family in particular. It also takes a hard look at our celebrity culture in general, from all sides of the looking glass.

“As soon as I started reading Rider’s script, I couldn’t put it down,” said Theatre Unleashed Artistic Director Jenn Scuderi Crafts. “The characters are real and compelling and the subject matter is fascinating. I read a lot of plays, and I honestly don’t make it through a lot of them, but this one had me worked from the first moment. This play offers a glimpse into a world that most people don’t get to see. It’s going to have a tremendous impact on audiences.”

To bring Strong’s important work to the stage, TU has put together an all-star team. The show is being produced by Andrew Carlberg, a prolific and decorated stage and screen producer who recently won an Academy Award for the short film Skin. The play is being directed by Michael A. Shepperd, artistic director of award-winning Celebration Theatre whose local and national theatre credits are almost as long as his list of awards. And the cast list of Andrew Carter, Wade F. Wilson, Josh Randall, Marie-Francoise Theodore, Ashley Platz, Leif Gantvoort, Marcello Silva, Orlando Christian, Lee Pollero, Ann Hurd, Heather Lynn (u/s), Aaron Rodgers (u/s), Andrea Bennett (u/s) and Craig Jorczak (u/s) is a collection of talented artists from multiple local companies.

The show promises to be on of TU’s biggest to date, and one full of surprises.

“I hope people who come expecting a glimpse behind the curtain of a tabloid story will walk away with something else entirely,” Strong said. “Yes, this is the story of how one family was seduced by fame and greed, but it’s also a much broader story of how our whole culture has undergone the same thing, with the rise of reality TV, social media, and our emphasis on spectacle over substance. I hope this play resonates on both levels.”

Never Ever Land
Written by Rider Strong
Directed by Michael A. Shepperd
Presented by Theatre Unleashed
Produced by Andrew Carlberg, Jenn Scuderi Crafts and Gregory Crafts 

SYNOPSIS:
Theatre Unleashed presents Never Ever Land, the world premiere play by former child star and accomplished writer and director Rider Strong. Young Tim Gable’s family accused the world’s most famous singer of sex crimes in 1993. With the settlement, they walked away millionaires. Now, Tim is ready to tell the public the truth…but does he even know what that is? Helmed by acclaimed director Michael A. Shepperd and produced by Oscar-winner Andrew Carlberg, this bold, fictional new work offers a unique and deeply personal take on one of the most shocking lawsuits of all time and its lasting affects for one family in particular. It also takes a hard look at our celebrity culture in general, from all sides of the looking glass.

 

DATES AND TIMES:
Sept. 28-Oct. 27
Thursdays – 8 p.m.
Fridays – 8 p.m.
Saturdays – 8 p.m.
Sundays – 7 p.m.

LOCATION:
studio/stage
520 N. Western Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90004

TICKET PRICES:
General Admission: $35

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
www.theatreunleashed.org

PRESS CONTACT:
Jim Martyka
(818) 497-3701
[email protected]

Never Ever Land tackles the legacy of a celebrity scandal

Never Ever Land

In 1993, Tim Gable’s family accused the world’s most famous singer of sex crimes. In the settlement, they walked away millionaires. Now, Tim is ready to tell the public the truth…but does he even know what that is? A fictional take on one of the most infamous lawsuits of all time and its lasting affects — for one family in particular, and our celebrity culture in general.

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