By Nick BeJeaux
BR’s indie theatre scene has gotten more crowded with the addition of the Bang Bang, You’re Dead Theatre Collective, an organization dedicated to bringing contemporary stage magic to the Red Stick.
Neal Hebert, a PhD candidate in theatre history at LSU and artistic director of BBYD, says that the collective grew out of the courses he teaches at LSU and his students’ desire to create opportunities for themselves.
“One of the things that I’ve always told my students when they complain about a lack of acting, directing, or designing opportunities, is that the only thing stopping them is getting their friends together, have everyone chip in a hundred bucks, and get a play to happen,” he said. “So many of my students are doing interesting work outside of their university work, so I decided to take my own advice.”
Hebert decided to ground BBYD in contemporary theatre because he felt that genre is both underserved in Baton Rouge and resonant with audiences.
“Of all the companies in town, there isn’t one dedicated to doing exclusively contemporary theatre,” he said. “These are the plays my students and people near my students’ age respond best to. There are many reasons for that, but I think the biggest reason is because the stories and acting from these plays very closely resemble movies.”
Cinema has successfully overtaken the space theatre used to occupy, and there has been a debate in theatre circles on how best to respond to this trend. Hebert says that many directors feel plays can do things that cinema cannot, but he has an answer to that.
“What I like to do instead is look at other popular artforms, see what they are doing right, and bring them back to the theatre so that we can show them that theatre is doing the sorts of things they want to see,” he said.
John C. Russell’s Stupid Kids will be the inaugural play of the BBYD, opening on August 21 in Theatre Baton Rouge’s studio space. The 1991 play follows the story of four high school students who, in the pursuit of being “normal,” end up way outside of normalcy.
Jim Stark, a straight rebellious teenager, falls for Judy Noona, who is just as rebellious as he is. The pair court one another using the awkward mating rituals of a 1990s high school, all the while being individually pursued by two characters of the same sex, John “Neechee” Crawford and Jane “Kimberly” Willis.
“I would say there’s a dearth of LGBTQ theatre being performed in Baton Rouge,” said Hebert. “LSU does the Outworks Theatre Festival once a year, and it’s there, but if we’re going to do it, we should be doing it more than once a year for a festival.”
Hebert said that he and his team made it a priority to recruit talent that can personally relate to the story of Stupid Kids to produce an authentic portrayal of growing up as an LGBTQ teen.
“What we’re hoping to do is addresses what it’s like for LGBTQ people to become aware of who they are,” he said. “It’s also a weird comedy—sort of like a parody of Rebel Without A Cause. It’s really funny and dark, but also easy to produce. If we sell 90 tickets, we will have broken even, and all of the funds we raised will go towards our next show.”
BBYD hopes to be regularly producing four shows a year in the next few years, and Hebert plans to be long gone by then.
“In five years, even two years, I hope to not be part of this company anymore—I hope to be a professor somewhere and everything be under the control of an LSU grad student,” he said. “I really want to see this become an enduring part of the city-parish, and I think it will because there’s definitely room for a small-cast, small-budget local theatre company.”
For ticket information, visit theatrebr.org/specials.html.