A dingy hole-in-the-wall basement bar, with scraggly Christmas tree lights, some grandma’s mega-shellacked 1970s wood clock and a good ol’ fashioned jukebox ensconced in the corner awaiting your lazy finger on plastic buttons.
If you woke up on stage at the El Centro Theatre in Hollywood tonight, that bar is where you might believe you’ve landed””you can almost hear the Brooklyn-bound F Train rumble nearby. It’s perfectly real, every last detail.
Or is it?
It Looks Nothing Like Its Picture
The somewhat retro appearance of the set doesn’t mean the show is set in an earlier era. The LA premiere of Nerve by Brooklyn-based Adam Szymkowicz is set in 2012, according to its producer and one of its actors, Adam Silver. His company Sixth Avenue powers the turntable on which this dating tale spins. It examines a digitally connected world and its impact on the modern phenomenon of online dating.
“There is a core group of my peers using these ways to meet people,” Silver presses on about the ramifications of such interactions, such as the impossible hopes placed on the online first date scenario depicted in the play. “This situation is inherently theatrical. How can things possibly match the expectations in your head? This story is so relevant to people of our generation.”
Silver believes the greater resonance of Nerve (which was first seen in this area during Chance Theater’s West Coast premiere a year ago in Anaheim Hills) comes from its broader theme of, “This isn’t what I expected”¦but I can make this work.” A true sound bite for today’s rapidly-changing world, in which we all find ourselves adapting to survive.
Personal ads have been around since the first mail-order bride stepped on foreign soil in search of her Prince Charming and his credit card equivalent. But our age of social media and virtual-world connectedness has reached new heights. For example, you can now find an available single’s proximity to you within a few feet. Yeah. There’s an app for that. The things we learn when we talk to a 25-year-old.
Make that the things you learn when talking to Adam Silver.
Young Producer Seeks Audience for Theatrical Adventures
There’s a very good reason you’re listening to Silver so attentively. He’s been producing theater and acting since he could read a script. Literally. “I was bold at a young age,” he notes.
His producing began in his suburban Chicago home town of La Grange, IL. The theater was his family’s home on 6th Avenue, and Adam’s company was aptly named the Sixth Avenue Players. “We took it very seriously,” he recounts. Silver helmed full backyard productions with sound, lights, costumes and casting from neighborhood kids. He was a mere six years old when it started.
“At age eight I had figured out how to post a casting call notice in Chicago’s professional actor’s trade paper for our summer production,” Silver elaborates. “Adult actors started calling in to our home phone line to schedule auditions. My mother would politely say, “˜Great. You’re all set for an audition this Saturday at our house. Please prepare a song. And just FYI, the director is eight.’”
Some Chicago actors may not have been ready to perform in an eight-year-old’s visionary, albeit illegal, production of Little Shop of Horrors. But when it was time to name his new production company, which is “committed to creating bold and boundary-pushing theatrical experiences” in Los Angeles, Sixth Avenue was an easy choice.
Silver arrived in LA in 2008.Â Besides finding employment in TV, film and commercials, he has begun to add LA stage credits to his list of Chicago stage roles. Audiences at A Noise Within probably remember his young dreamer Ralph Berger in Awake and Sing in 2010.
Talking about his latest venture, he speaks quickly but never sounds rushed, passionately but never unfocused. He still knows exactly what he wants to be doing and he does it, with equal parts healthy skepticism and humorous optimism.
His proof is in his work. Sixth Avenue’s first production — the premiere of William Nedved’s Fact & Fiction, directed by DÃ¡maso Rodriguez (from Furious Theatre Company), opened as part of last summer’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, attracting audiences and favorable comment.Â Silver will reprise his Fact & Fiction role — a young Chicago-to-Hollywood transplant much like himself — at Gift Theatre Company in Chicago in May 2012.
He hopes his producing choices will elicit conversations from his audiences. For example, does Nerve suggest that online dating might be the ultimate interactive theater event, in which each player is crafting an elaborate alter ego to attract an ideal mate that doesn’t really exist? If online dating and virtual meeting is the new norm, does that change how we come together now to see theater as a live event?
Silver asked such questions when he found Szymkowicz’s script. He knew he wanted to produce it but also knew he’d need the right kind of director to bring those questions to light.
Chicago Transplant Creating Bold Theater Seeks Same
Silver already had an ace-in-the hole awaiting him in Los Angeles director””and youthful artistic powerhouse in this own right””Michael Matthews.
After serving three years (2005 ““ 2008) as artistic director of Los Angeles landmark and multiple award-winning Celebration Theatre, Matthews still serves Celebration as a resident director and calls Celebration his “artistic home.”
Technically the senior, Matthews is indeed older than Silver and once played the adult in the room. But now they sit side by side, as if brothers in the same frat house, kicking around jokes, jabs and ideas about how to tell better stories.
The two had actually crossed paths, quite by chance, years ago at the Circle Theatre in Chicago where Matthews was directing, fresh from his undergrad program at Columbia College Chicago (which Silver would also attend just a couple years later). Silver was part of the kids company at the theater and quickly evolved into a Matthews groupie, watching as many of Matthews’ directing projects as possible.
“I was way too young to see the plays that he was directing there,” Silver says. “I don’t know how I was allowed in that theater.”
Matthews quickly deflects, hands up in defense, “I had no idea.”
“I even tried to audition for adult roles,” laughs Silver, “”¦in totally inappropriate plays.”
When the laughter settles, the talk returns to storytelling and reaching an audience.
“His productions engage all of your senses,” Silver says, grasping at the empty air in front of him as if painting the directed world of a Matthews production, where such gestures would speak volumes.
“[There is] an inner violence that is extracted from these two human beings,” Matthews says as he describes the play’s ordinary event that takes place in a very literal setting””a present-day dive bar in New York’s lower Eastside.Â “It feels at times very MTV,” he adds. “Like a music video.”
Without giving anything away,Â surprises abound in Nerve — including music, choreography and a puppet designer listed in the credits. And these aren’t the whimsical machinations of these ambitious young theater-makers. It’s all in the script.
“It’s my job to tell the story,” says Matthews. “I illuminate the text and not add my own things on top of what’s already there. That’s what the text is for.”
“And I’m smart enough to get people like this around me,” adds Silver. “And stay out of his way.”
“I pitch shows all the time to theaters,” Matthews says, and often “I’ll get “˜Yeah, that material’s too dark for us’”¦It’s nice to not have to think about subscribers.”
Instead, Silver and Matthews think about their audience of young and hungry peers.
Seeking Fresh Young Audiences and New Talent
“It’s important to me that we are building a new audience,” Silver states quite matter-of-factly. While reaching all audiences is important to Sixth Avenue’s team, connecting to a general LA audience simply isn’t enough. Silver knows he’s young. And he knows having a future in theater means you need an audience still willing to go and pay the price of admission.
“I go to the theater in Los Angeles and I’m often the youngest person there,” Silver muses. “I do worry about the future of theater audiences. And I feel like it’s my job to help cultivate these younger audiences. Show them they can have a good experience.”
Besides producing provocative work, Silver also tackles this goal with strategies from the inside. Internships support Sixth Avenue projects and create opportunities for young theater professionals to learn while assisting on productions. He’s proudly providing the first professional gig for his Nerve co-star, USC BFA graduate Anna Rubley.
He’s doing all he can to entice the young, the hip, the hyper-connected youth of Los Angeles to have a lot of Nerve. “It’s definitely a date show,” Silver says, noting that the manageable 70-minute length allows more time for other activities before and after the event of attending the play. “Because it sparks a conversation. Everyone will have an opinion to talk about.”
“It’s a conversation piece,” Matthews agrees with a nod.
“I wanted to do it in Hollywood because I think that’s where people would talk about it,” admits Silver. His hopes to originally produce the project inside a true, working bar were abandoned for mostly practical reasons. But Silver has done the next best thing by reaching out to local bars (all within walking distance of the theater) offering deals on drinks.
He’s hoping his customers will behave like the cool kids do these days. Talking and stuff. In person.
Nerve, presented by Sixth Avenue. Â Opens Jan. 6. Plays Thur-Sat, 8 pm.Â Through Jan. 28. Tickets:Â $20. El Centro Theatre, Chaplin Stage, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood. www.6avenue.org.