“Bring your beer, bring your Mike’s hard lemonade, bring your vodka lemonade, bring your regular lemonade, bring Beyonce’s Lemonade
—Jenna Kuerzi, cast of WOLFCRUSH (a queer werewolf play)
A lot of work goes into each Fringe Festival show. There’s a long process of writing, casting, fundraising, finding a venue, rehearsing, marketing, and countless other tasks before an audience ever arrives.
ON THE ROCKS, the Fringe-tastic theater collaborative of Haygen-Brice Walker and Elaina Di Monaco, knows how the process works. The company’s been a fixture of late night Fringe at the last few Festivals, with their Dead Teenager Trilogy (The Bride’s a Cunt…, 2017; Birdie’s Pit Stop…, 2016; Spookfish, 2015) deconstructing millennial culture in a series of rambunctious, rambling, in-your-face BYOB plays.
Last week saw the cast of ON THE ROCKS’ 2018 Fringe Festival production, WOLFCRUSH (a queer werewolf play), gather for the first time for a full read-through. Conflicting schedules meant the team had to get together at 9am on a Saturday, but mimosas (heavy on the bubbly, light on the OJ) helped fix the mood. They shared some photos of the first rehearsal.
“We all met bright and early in my living room, stocked up on caffeine (and champagne!) and spent the whole afternoon together filling in this world that Haygen-Brice made for us to play in,” says Di Monaco. “We had an incredible dramaturgical discussion afterwards about queerness, small towns, werewolf mythology, and the character web that builds the play.”
The rehearsal was the first gathering after casting, but it’s not the start of the process. “Elaina and I have been developing this play for more than two years now and the evolution of the play is deeply rooted in the feedback and suggestions that I get from these guys,” says Walker. “I’m in a lot of writers’ groups and playwrights’ collectives and I find people constantly balk at ‘prescriptive feedback’. I want it. I’m like: ‘No, tell me exactly what you think should happen,’ and if I don’t like it, cool, I won’t use it. I think Elaina and my willingness to let everyone take initiative and speak up makes our room really special and bad-ass.”
Walker says he thought the play was 65% done, but he’s revised that to about 40% (“that’s daunting, but in a good way”). He’s living now in Minnesota as one of the 2018/2019 Jerome Foundation Many Voices Fellows at the Playwrights’ Center. But though he won’t get many more chances during the process to be there in person, he “plans on having lots of skype rehearsal dates with the wolfpack.”
From here, Di Monaco will start rehearsing using Walker’s draft. After some workshops “we discuss major questions and challenges that rehearsals are bringing up, the actors contribute, he rewrites, and we do it over and over until we feel confident about the integrity of the script and story. This is the part where both of us are spending the most hours doing separate work, but it has to align perfectly.”
Because Walker is in the Twin Cities, the pair plan to hire a producer to help with the myriad other tasks that await: “We’re fundraising, booking space, leading a design team, buying a million things on a credit card (it hurts…truly), and spending hours emailing,” says Di Monaco.
“It’s all done with love,” she says. “We decide to make it happen and then we love-bother each other until it happens. It’s truly [though not literally] a marriage, and I am not getting divorced any time soon.”
Audiences had long been impressed by the sheer Fringeyness of ON THE ROCKS’ late night shows, but last year’s production seemed to mark a watershed, with critics raving about “Walker’s prodigious talents as a writer” and “Di Monaco’s steady direction” (Cameron Kelsall, Phindie), “Walker’s incisively raw script” (Mark Cofta, Broad Street Review), and the “rare and accurate observation of human behavior” (Deb Miller, DC Metro Theater Arts).
According to Di Monaco, this year’s show “is going to be the best Fringe show we have ever made. The script is so much tighter than past years, Haygen-Brice is a better playwright, I am a better director, we are both better producers…we have grown so much and this is going to be a showcase of that growth.”
“We even have two 8pm shows,” adds Walker — remarkable for a company know for its late night start times. “We’re trying to expand our audience so more people can see our shows.”
WOLFCRUSH also sees a more intimate cast than the huge ensembles of previous years. “It’s only a five-person cast and most of the scenes are extremely intimate,” says Walker.
But the company is not losing sight of the celebratory “late-night, BYOB, shit-show” aspect of its Fringe offerings. “There’s still so much camp and gore and stupidity and it’s BYOB,” says Walker. “We haven’t lost our charm. We’re just trying to step up our game.”
There’s a lot of work still to be done before audiences witness the magic of this queer werewolf play, but if Philly knows one thing, it’s to trust the process.
What: WOLFCRUSH (a queer werewolf play)
When: September 13, 15–17 + 19–22, 2018
Where: Vox Populi, 319 North 11th Street
Created by ON THE ROCKS Elaina Di Monaco and Haygen-Brice Walker
Help ON THE ROCKS make their show possible by donating here.