Since moving to Seattle from the Midwest some 15 years ago, theater artist Scotto Moore has honed his skills as a playwright, and has primarily built his reputation writing science fiction for the stage in a city that offers more opportunities than most for producing the genre. However, for his latest play Balconies, which debuted at Capitol Hill’s Annex Theatre last weekend, Moore says he decided to foray in to the realm of realism, and to create something more accessible.
“I really wanted to take a little break from science fiction and do something that was a little zanier and just more light-hearted, but structurally still kind of interesting,” Moore told CHS. The play’s writer and the director of its debut production says Balconies was inspired by the 1968 film The Party, starring Peter Sellers, which is set in a single situation that becomes more and more chaotic throughout the film, “until by the end, they literally have an elephant dancing in a swimming pool.”
“I describe that movie as basically one long comic crescendo,” Moore said.
Moore’s version of this comic scenario involves two adjacent, almost adjoining, balconies, at a building in Albany, New York, and the “cultural clash” that ensues between a group of video game producers and their friends celebrating the successful launch of “Sparkle Dungeon 5: Assassins of Glitter,” and a group coming together for a political fundraiser for a state senator making a run for the US Senate.
“It was important to me that we lampooned both sides equally,” Moore said. He says he did not want the play end up “picking on people who care about politics” or “rich people” any more than it has fun with “the characters on the video game side of the fence, where all the burners and the DJ’s and the performance artists are hanging out.”
The show has received mixed reviews so far but ticket sales were strong on its opening weekend with a sold-out opening night.
Balconies could be classified as a romantic comedy, driven as it is by a core plot involving video game developer and party host Cameron initially ‘crushing on,’ but afraid to talk to, his neighbor, and host of the political fundraiser, Annalise. But the plot seems seems to take a back seat to the jokes and send-ups that hang on it — and to the some 20 characters the show introduces, played by a whopping 14 actors in the 99-seat fringe theater. The large cast and also the lighting designed by Carolina Johnson that moves the play’s scenes from 3pm, through the night and in to the early dawn, and a few other surprises, may be reflective of what Annex’s artistic director Pamala Mijatov calls the theater’s approach — “big, cheap theater.”
Mijatov says Annex strives to do “big spectacle pieces” on a “shoe-string budget,” and that it almost exclusively shows new works. The goal at Annex is to give audiences a chance to see fresh and engaging new work, and also often to give artists a chance to develop their pieces and their skills, she said. Mijatov also says Annex tries to avoid pieces that drive any specific message too overtly, preferring complex work that manages to tackle big issues while still being engaging and entertaining.
Moore says he took a collaborative approach to getting Balconies ready for its premier, working both with Annex staff and the show’s cast. “Annex has a rigorous development model for playwrights, if you take advantage of it, the staff and company are invited to participate in progress showings throughout the process,” he said. “We did multiple readings even before the show was cast,” he said. “‘Is the show tight enough? What are the flagging points? What are the strong points that shouldn’t change?.’ And so I got tons of feedback.”
Writing strong female characters is a passion and constant goal for Moore, he said. “I trace this back very clearly to a point in my childhood where I was taking children’s theater classes, and even at the age of 12 trying to write screen plays,” he said. “I had a female instructor who I was showing them to who I really liked a lot, and I showed her this script — it was about a rock band that traveled to an inter dimensional realm — and she comes back and she goes, ‘Well the only female in your script is the girlfriend of the main character, and she doesn’t have anything to do except be pretty,’” he said.
Finding the right cast of 14 was the biggest challenge in the production process, Moore said. While the turnout for tryouts was not quite what he expected, Moore says in the end he says he got the cast just right. “It’s one of those really fruitful processes, where you struggle and you struggle but if you work hard enough you end up getting what you want,” he said.
Moore, whose day job is in tech, says he’s only had one of his plays produced outside of town before — When I Come to My Senses I’m Alive, which was discovered and picked up by a community college theater program in New York. However, he says he may be more proactive about sending Balconies out for consideration, and that he thinks it has a better chance of getting picked up than some of his previous work.
“Balconies is a more accessible play so I’m hoping that there might be more interest in it across the country if I start sending it out,” he said. “But I’m not keeping my hopes up for that.”
Balconies plays Thursday through Saturday through August 30th at 1100 E Pike’s Annex Theatre. You can learn more and purchase tickets here.
Also: Caught One Handed
Also at Annex in August — Noah Duffy’s solo show Caught One Handed captures the tensions between the protagonist’s sexuality and self-expression — often pulled off through subtle forms of resistance like pink socks and plaid ties not officially “against the rules” — and the fundamentalist Christian world he grew up in. It also explores the tensions between a community’s conscience and methods of justice and the persistent trespasses of a sexual predator. Ticket info and performance schedule is here.