Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: The Theatre Unleashed production, Never Ever Land, recently made its world premiere with Theatre Unleashed in Los Angeles, CA. For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about its premise?
Rider Strong: It’s the story of a family that, in 1993, accused a famous pop star of sexual assault. There was a settlement that awarded the family $22 million, and consequently, there was never a criminal trial. In 2012, the brother of the “victim” has decided to come forward and tell the truth… only to realize he might not know what that is.
BD: Rider, as the writer of this new production, can you share with us your inspiration for bringing this story to life, and how your perspective - having been an actor and creator from a young age - may have informed your vision for the show?
RS: This play was inspired by both my personal experiences with fame and a lot of ideas that have been brewing for years. I’ve always been fascinated with — and concerned by — the rise of celebrity culture, and I wanted this story to chart the way it has grown and infiltrated all of our lives since the 1990s. Because I wanted to focus on a family in the midst of a tabloid scandal, as opposed to the pop star at the center of it, the play had to feel personal, lived in. That meant drawing from my own life and my own feelings. I actually feel pretty unscathed by my time as a teenager in the spotlight, but I know there are a lot of dangers when fame and money come pouring into somebody’s life at an early age.
BD: Andrew, as the producer of Never Ever Land, what enticed you to join the production, and what can you share about your approach to bringing the story to life with the all-star team that is now involved?
Andrew Carlberg: Rider has been a great friend of mine for years, and I’ve always been a fan of his writing. When another frequent collaborator of mine, Michael A. Shepperd, responded so strongly to the play, it became a no-brainer for me!
BD: You have a tremendous cast and crew involved with the production, as do all Theatre Unleashed productions. What can you share with us about the creative process of working with the team on stage and behind the scenes?
RS: It’s been a dream come true. This isn’t an easy play, and it’s not for everybody. And I feel so fortunate that people like Michael A. Shepperd, our director, brought his considerable talent and never complained, even when it seemed like we were facing an impossible task. And the cast has elevated everything; each one has utterly changed my view of their character and made it their own. No matter how small the part.
AC: We’ve been very fortunate; it was a true collaboration, and both the TU resident artists and the outside artists have been fantastic.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show, and what conversations do you hope that it will spark with viewers?
RS: I hope people are a bit uncomfortable. With a big, famous sex scandal, I think there’s a lot of energy dedicated to “did he” or “didn’t he” questions, and while I understand that, I really hope the play speaks more to the characters we’ve created and to broader ideas about our culture. Gossip, innuendo, “reality” TV — these things only exist because we want them to, and, frankly, I don’t think they’re good for us!
AC: I hope people really comprehend when our news gets so sensationalized. It really does read and play like fiction.
BD: What makes Theatre Unleashed an ideal venue for the world premiere of Never Ever Land?
RS: Their willingness to take risks. More than a venue, Theatre Unleashed is an undaunted, incredibly supportive community. I’m honored they’ve welcomed me in with this play. It wouldn’t exist without them.
AC: They jumped in quickly and enthusiastically. As we all know, sometimes, mounting a play can take years. They were really determined to do this in a timely fashion, especially given the subject matter.
BD: The show will be appearing at the studio/stage through October 27, 2019. Are there any future plans to perform the show at other venues?
AC: Nothing is off the table!
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for Never Ever Land?
RS: Come and get your tickets at theatreunleashed.org and drop me a line on Twitter (@RiderStrong)!