February 25, 2016
by John Ross Clark
The Cast & Composer/Lyricist of the LA professional premiere of “35MM: A Musical Exhibition.” BACK ROW: Jeff Scot Carey, Emily Clark, Ryan Scott Oliver, Cody Clark. FRONT ROW: Dana Shaw, Vincent Perez, Katherine Washington.
is a song cycle written by composer/lyricist Ryan Scott Oliver – and a song cycle is a very specific type of musical theatre show. Rather than having a distinct plot, song cycles focus on related themes or ideas, and the theme that ties together 35MM are the photographs, taken by Broadway photographer, Matthew Murphy. All of the songs are accompanied by an image that inspired it (or vice versa!). That’s why the show is called “a musical exhibition” – it’s like going to an art gallery and a high energy rock show at the same time. Ryan’s music is very pop-rock, yet incredibly musical theatre, and the songs in this show run the gamut. You’ll get something very traditionally musical theatre, followed by chanting in Latin, a full-on rock song, then a dark Southern gothic opera, an a cappella choral piece, and then a story about vampires. It’s nuts in the best possible way, and it all ties together, somehow. I don’t know how Ryan and Matt do it, but it works!
I notice there’s several people involved in the production with the surname Clark. Is that just a coincidence?
I don’t know what you’re talking about John Ross Clark! Like many theater kids raised in LA, I like to keep it all in the family. One of the performers in 35MM is my brother, Cody Clark. We’ve been acting together since we were kids, and it’s always so much fun. I’m lucky he has almost perfect pitch, because this Ryan Scott Oliver music is hard! We’re both
lucky, though, because we were raised by my mother, Gayle Bluemel, who is a singer-songwriter-music director-retired principal with an auditorium named after her. In fact, last year The Unknown Artists produced an original song cycle she wrote called The Girl is Still Here
. My stepdad, Dan Ames, is our company’s go-to Master Carpenter and sound guy, plus occasional cowboy guitarist. And my dad has been an actor and director in LA for over 30 years, and he directed some of the pieces in 35MM. But I dunno how much I reeeeally take after him…
So you could say this is a family affair?
Yes, definitely a family affair! I’m really lucky to have a family around me that supports this totally crazy dream of being the artistic director of a theatre company, but then again, I was producing and starring in adaptations of “Beauty and the Beast” in my living room when I was a kid, so they couldn’t have been surprised!
I saw a tweet in which you claimed to have been involved/cast in every production of an RSO show in Los Angeles. How did that come about?
Emily Clark, Cody Clark, Ryan Scott Oliver. The 90’s.
Emily Clark, Ryan Scott Oliver, Cody Clark. 2016
It’s true! Ryan, Cody, and I have been friends since we were 6 or 7 years old! My mother started the Pasadena Musical Theatre Program
when we were kids to give us something to do during the summer (Ryan is the artistic director now, and I’ve worked for the company since 2008). We all went to the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts
together, and that’s where Ryan started writing musicals. The first song he ever wrote was an ode to teenage angst called “Do You Know How to Love Me?” which we sang at our final choir concert of the year in 2000; we thought it was so deep! After that, Ryan went on to UCLA and then NYU, and now he’s New York based, so there haven’t been too many RSO projects in Los Angeles. When they do happen, though, I tend to be involved! There were both of Ryan’s concerts at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center
– “Rated RSO” back in 2009. I got to sing back-up for Megan Hilty
and Lesli Margherita and all these talented people from NYC and LA. It was such a great experience. That was when I first started hearing songs from 35MM, and I was absolutely blown away. I’ve also been on featured on some of Ryan’s albums. Ryan also helped write my one-woman cabaret, Slightly Dramatic
which I’ve been performing for several years on both coasts. But I guess the shows I’ve had the biggest hands in were the Mechanicals Theatre Group’s
LA premiere of “Out of My Head,” and now the LA professional premiere of 35MM! What can I say? I’ve been his biggest fan since we were in high school. I always knew he was a genius.
RATED RSO, Boston Court 2009. Emily Clark, Grace Wall, and Katie Gassert (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
OUT OF MY HEAD, Mechanicals Theatre Group, 2011. Jeni Incontro, Emily Clark, Saro Badalian (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
You’ve basically known Ryan your whole life then?
I have! And we’re still in each other’s lives! I was the maid of honor at his wedding. He even wrote a song
for my wedding a few years ago. I’m divorced now, but the song is still good!
The Unknown Artists is a true labor of love for you. You’ve been in literally every production since its inception either as an actor, director, and/or producer. Can you give us a brief rundown of the last four years?
Emily Clark and Pamela Eberhardt, 2007, New York City
Emily Clark and Ryan Scott Oliver, 2014 (Photo by Monica Simoes)
The story really starts in 2007 when I was living in New York and I founded the company with my good friend, Pamela Eberhardt. She had written a musical and wanted to produce it, and we were tired of waiting for other people to give us opportunities, so we figured we’d make them for ourselves! We produced the show, and it was a nightmare! Not the show, just trying to produce theater in New York when you’re 25…oh man. I had way more connections in LA, so I relocated and by 2011 we moved the company out here. We started Play Club West
, our weekly free cold reading group, as a way to stay creative, but we also reach out to playwrights looking to have new works produced. We love new works and helping actors, writers, and directors find a voice! We’ve produced seven shows (two of them have been short play festivals), plus multiple concerts, fundraisers, and cabarets. Most of these have been new works, but we also did Matt & Ben
, a re-imagining of Lysistrata
, and now 35MM, which is absolutely our most ambitious project to date!
Right Together, Left Together (2013)
Snakeskin Suit (2013)
Matt & Ben (2013)
Lysistrata, A Re-Imagining (2013)
Gearhead and the Realbot (2014)
The Girl is Still Here (2015)
Festival of Unknown Artists (2015)
And what prompted you to take on the daunting task of starting/running your own theatre company in what has been described by many as a declining market for theatre?
Oh boy, that’s a tough one. I guess the only answer I have is that I cannot see myself being truly happy doing anything else. I’m constantly stressed out and overworked, but if I’m not working on a show, I’m going absolutely crazy! The end result is always worth it, in my opinion. I’m so fortunate to be surrounded with like-minded performers. We just want to do theatre, and do it our way. And the more I work in this town, the more I’m able to find people with the same mindset! It’s incredibly encouraging. I’m obviously not in it for the money. Did I mention that I’m a performing arts teacher by day?
What’s next for the Unknown Artists?
Play Club West will continue to meet every Tuesday
night at the Complex for free readings of new and established works, as well as our monthly Sunday
Musical Symposiums. Anyone can sign up by sending us an email!
March is Women Playwrights Month, so you know it’s gonna be good!
Thanks for sitting down with us and we look forward to your future success, and especially to seeing 35MM on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm at The Dorie Theatre at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood for the next four weekends.
“35MM: A Musical Exhibition” is presented by special arrangement with SAMUEL FRENCH, INC.