Acting Against Cancer (AAC) takes its most recent production from the theater to the nightclub when it presents “Heathers: The ’80s Party” at Play Dance Bar on Saturday.
“Heathers” is a bright musical with a dark edge, based on the 1988 film of the same name starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. The musical keeps the time and setting of the film, and is usually produced with the eye-popping color and sometimes questionable fashion choices of the ’80s. Scrunchies — and who wears them — is an important plot point.
Insider spoke with director Whitten Montgomery about transporting the musical to an unusual space, why theater companies benefit from exploring new venues, and how to turn a musical into a party. We also spoke with performer Charlie Meredith about the challenges of remounting a role, as well as the joy of direct audience interaction.
This isn’t AAC’s first time performing at Play — they’ve staged portions of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” there in the past and have tried other unconventional venues.
“We’ve actually done a couple other shows in non-traditional spaces, too,” says Montgomery. “Tim Faulkner Gallery is where we chose to produce ‘Rent.'”
According to the director, the unconventional venue for “Heathers” also plays to an audience with whom AAC feels they have a good rapport.
“We feel like we have a good niche between the 20-somethings and the 30-somethings,” she says.
Nightclubs like Play often draw in a younger crowd, and it’s a crowd that doesn’t always sit still and stay quiet for the club’s often raucous drag shows. That suits Montgomery just fine and, in fact, she’s counting on it.
“We’re trying to harness the atmosphere at Play, which is this great dynamic, great lights, a great setting for a production like this that really extends the party beyond the stage,” says Montgomery.
To encourage audience members to get in on the action, AAC will bring many scrunchies to share, as well as other ’80s accoutrements.
Frequent Play patrons know there’s another way the audience gets involved at drag shows — they tip the performers.
“I am working that in,” says Montgomery. “We’re changing up a couple of pieces to take tips.”
Meredith says he enjoys getting tipped during numbers, and adds that Play is a great place for a play.
“We always have the best time, because Play is so much fun, the people are so much fun, so being able to do such a cool show with a great cast — at such a fun awesome place — I’m super excited about it,” he says.
But there also are challenges to remounting portions of a production.
To portray J.D., the brooding boyfriend with dangerous tendencies, Meredith says he spent months getting ready.
“That role is super physical vocally — it’s the highest I’ve ever had to sing in a show and it took months of me preparing vocally to sing it,” he says. “So jumping back into it, after it’s already been closed, is a little bit scary.”
As soon as AAC put “Heathers” on its season schedule, the company members knew they wanted to take it out of the theater.
“We’ve always known we wanted to take ‘Heathers’ to Play,” says Montgomery. “After we did ‘Rocky,’ ‘Heathers’ is such a perfect fit because the nature of the show — it has those big numbers, which are showy and flashy, and we can really amplify them on that stage.”
Saturday’s performance will still tell the story, but it’ll be stripped down to focus on those big numbers. And that’s not the only aspect AAC has tweaked — there will be some costume changes as well.
“So it’s a little bit sexier, and a little bit trendier than the traditional garb we did for the production,” says Montgomery. “Our Heathers have corsets under their blazers … it’s a little bit more fun that way.”
No word on whether the sexier costumes and the tipping will coincide.
But despite a sexier show, AAC still is raising funds to help kids affected by cancer — specifically raising scholarship money so they can attend summer camp with the theater company.
“Heathers: The ’80s Party” starts at 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 15. There is a $10 cover that goes to AAC, and afterward you can stay and party at the club until the wee hours of the morning. Costumes — from “Heathers” or the ’80s — are encouraged. And bring singles to tip the performers. Play is located at 1101 E. Washington St.