Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: The production, Life, Death, & Duran Duran, will soon be appearing as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. What inspired you to tell this story, and how would you describe your creative process in bringing it to life?
Sam Shaber: I’ve been a performing songwriter, touring solo and with various rock bands, for over twenty years. In that time, I've lost some very important people in my life, and songs have emerged as I experienced and processed the emotions and stories of who those people were to me.
I met writer/actor/director Lynn Ferguson on a storytelling show in Pasadena last year, and as we started to work on this project, (which was initially to be about my music career), she noticed that I was "carrying all these dead people around," as she put it. She had me go home and record 3 minutes about every person I've lost, and I came back with 47 stories! Yet what intrigued her was that I didn't describe any of them by how they died - it was all about how they lived. Which makes sense, because despite everything, I seem to be a ruthlessly positive person.
So we looked at the four most significant deaths, and began to see this longer story emerge about someone who's experienced a lot of loss, but has found joy in the fact that the people we love become a part of us when they go, which actually keeps them very much alive. As I say in the show, "People aren't just what they make, they're what they make in other people."
And my story all begins with a crazy, obsessive love for Duran Duran as a kid. My love for music and my sense of determination to press forward all came from this initial inspiration and fixation with the five guys in silk suits who sang, "Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand." So, we wove that little girl through the show as a reminder of innocence, optimism, and love; the life we live before the rest of life happens. As the first song in the show says:
Minute one, the heart is yet unbroken
Taking names, the whole world in your hands
Oozing love, industrial optimism
Innocent of the devastation planned
"Young Sam," as we call her in the script, is also great comic relief. I pierced my own ear with a push pin one night out of love for Duran Duran, and other such ridiculous conquests. No matter where life takes us, it's fun to remember those formative – and often embarrassing – places we came from.
BD: The show first premiered at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. What was the initial critical and audience response to the show, and what encouraged you to revisit the production in Los Angeles?
SS: The critical and popular response in Edinburgh was really gratifying. British Theatre Guide gave it five stars after just two performances, and BBC personalities not only brought me onto their shows, but came to see my show themselves, and got really emotional––in a good way. Audiences came up to me every night after the show with their own stories of loss, or love for Duran Duran – or their own idols – and their own discoveries about the difference between their childhood dreams and their current situations. It’s very meaningful to me that they saw my life almost like a mirror to theirs, and then we could bounce ideas off each other and see the ways in which we are the same, and different.
I'm excited to do the show in as many places as I can, would love to tour it, bring it to New York and London and beyond. The great thing about the theater scene in Los Angeles, and the Hollywood Fringe Festival in particular, is the combination of structure and freedom. The structure of the festival is in place, with venue access, support, and community spirit to nourish and encourage my production. Then there the anything-goes, creative spirit of Los Angeles which frees me up to do my show, my way, no matter what else might be going on in the world. Also, I live here. Nothing like a hometown show!
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
SS: I hope audiences will laugh – they do laugh, because it's very funny at times – I mean, I once spent six weeks babysitting just to take all that money and buy John Taylor a birthday present – which I could only mail to him at the radio station. And I suspect audiences will also cry a lot, because they’ve lost people themselves, or have great fear of losing people who mean the world to them, as my loved ones did to me. But the real takeaway from this show should not be the pain of death, rather the reaffirmation of life and love. It’s about how rich life is when you have people who become a part of you, inspire you, and fill you with love. That’s what keeps us dancing on the sand. :-)
BD: Given that the performance is a one-woman show, how do you balance the workload of the production, and do you feel that the various roles enhance your creative process?
SS: Ah yes, always the hardest part of doing theatre at the "fringe" level. We have to be our own producers, publicists, sometimes our own directors, designers, and stage managers. I'm lucky to have a fabulous director in Lynn Ferguson, but the producing falls to me – as it did in Edinburgh, too – and it's a tough but necessary balance. Right now for example, instead of answering these questions, I could be going over the script and rehearsing the songs. But I think as long as I keep in mind that "the play's the thing"(!) and all the other marketing, technical and admin aspects of the work must revolve around that, I can stay focused on what matters most. After all, without a show, none of this other stuff would be happening anyway!
BD: What makes the Hollywood Fringe Festival an ideal venue for Life, Death, & Duran Duran?
SS: It’s that great combination I was mentioning of structure and freedom. And it's inspiring and galvanizing to be amongst so many other creative and diverse performers. Festivals are really wonderful for experiencing that intensity and energy, everyone intrigued by each other, feeding off ideas, supporting each other. HFF is particularly supportive and they really make a point of encouraging that atmosphere, which makes it welcoming and downright fun.
BD: The show will be appearing at the Complex (Ruby Theatre) from June 1-21, 2018. Are there any future plans to perform the show at other venues?
SS: I hope so! I'm working on a New York run in October, and after that, the sky's the limit.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects that you would care to share with our readers?
SS: I’m working on a new jazz album with amazing guitarist Pamela Means – quite a departure from the singer-songwriter and rock music I've done on my previous 12 albums. But I'm also very active in the live storytelling scene, including The Moth and other series. I just did a Moth GrandSLAM competition in Brooklyn, and my first Moth Mainstage show was this week in Ithaca, NY. (The mainstage shows become The Moth Radio Hour.) So, all being well, I'll have more of those coming up this season. There's also a book deal in the works based on Sam Shaber: Life, Death & Duran Duran. A senior editor came to the show in Edinburgh and is very interested in adapting it with me, so we'll see what happens with that. But first, Hollywood Fringe!
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for Life, Death, & Duran Duran?
SS: Tickets are on sale now at hff18.org/5065, and readers can hear the music from the show, watch a trailer, see pics and read reviews at www.samshaber.com/lifedeathduranduran. Also, at the first preview on Friday, June 1, the first 20 people in the door will get a free commemorative t-shirt – who wouldn't want that?