New work playing at 12th Avenue Arts was semifinalist for the 2017 Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference but underwent some changes before the theater group, launched by three college friends, brought the show here.
The three founders of new theater company Really Really can’t stop laughing.
In between discussions of the genesis of their company and their first production — “Much Better,” a sci-fi-tinged new play opening this week at 12th Avenue Arts — are little asides followed by staccatos of giggling, the kind immediately recognizable as friends sharing a moment.
So what came first? The friendship or the collaboration? As juniors at the University of Michigan in 2014, the three co-founded the Wall-to-Wall Theatre Festival, a program of 10 or so short plays running simultaneously in different rooms of the same venue.
Aug. 18-Sept. 2, 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle; $15-$28 (800-838-3006 or really-really.org)
“Our deep friendship actually was formed in the process of creating that festival,” said Henry Nettleton, whose initial commitment to directing one show in the fest blossomed into a “life-changing” relationship.
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“We realized that in addition to being good friends, we also worked together quite well, and as theatrical collaborators, valued similar things,” said Danielle Cohn.
A little later, Nettleton stated the obvious: “We also value laughter.”
That easy camaraderie and their complementary skill sets — Nettleton directs, Cohn acts and Trevor Griffin is the marketing specialist — led the trio to create Really Really.
The three now live in New York City, but chose Seattle as the launching point for the company, for reasons both financial and philosophical.
“We want to be in a place whose culture we want to affect the DNA of our company,” said Nettleton, who hails from Tacoma and whose theatrical coming-of-age stretches from Village Theatre to the 5th Avenue, where he was assistant director for last year’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
“The people you bring into your home are your home.”
Despite the fact that two-thirds of the company founders had never been to Seattle before the audition process started, there was no resistance to perceived outsiders parachuting in for their own purposes, Griffin said.
“We came in here and held our first round of auditions, and were immediately embraced by the people that we saw in the room,” he said.
It helps that the show cast all local actors and features a number of local designers. The co-founders like to talk about the appeal of a close-knit community, and that extends to the audience members.
“Seattle audiences are hyperintelligent, but also very supportive,” Nettleton said. “New York audiences are very intelligent, and not always supportive. It’s a different temperature and a different vibe. This is a glorious place to try something new.”
There are a lot of new things involved in this first-ever staging of “Much Better,” a play that’s had some significant changes since it was named a semifinalist for the 2017 Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference. The playwright, Elisabeth Frankel, was a classmate at the University of Michigan, and had a piece featured in their first Wall-to-Wall festival.
“Much Better” takes place in an unspecified future where a new medical procedure allows people to edit aspects of their personality. Ashley (Alysha Curry), whose “hyperempathy” keeps her from becoming inured to the sensory overload of modern life, has to deal with a familiar sci-fi conundrum: How much progress is too much?
“We’re always sort of looking for the next thing, and technology has helped us achieve that,” Griffin said. “But when you finally achieve that one thing, is that enough?”
Nettleton, who’s directing the show, said the play’s bleakness provoked a strong gut reaction to some unsettling truths.
“A lot of Elisabeth’s plays deal with this idea of holding out hope for a world that possibly doesn’t deserve it,” he said.
That bleakness doesn’t exactly square with this group’s mood — Nettleton jokes that he might need to escape to “The Music Man” for a bit — but they are clearly dedicated to trying a variety of different things.
That could even include a musical in the (better-funded) future. For now, the company is funded via donations collected through Fractured Atlas, a service that allows artists to solicit tax-deductible contributions without having to maintain 501(c)(3) status.
Is this a New York company? A traveling company? Maybe it’ll be bicoastal, Cohn says.
One thing is certain: “Eclecticism is something that’s definitely in our bones,” Nettleton says.