Gender Rocked: A Conversation With The Women Behind These Streets

Samie Detzer and Eden Schwartz play Grunge musicians in THESE STREETS at ACT. Image by Charles Peterson.
Samie Detzer and Eden Schwartz play Grunge musicians in THESE STREETS at ACT. Image by Charles Peterson.

By the time of this writing, it would be pretty remarkable if you haven’t heard about Sarah Rudinoff and Gretta Harley‘s These Streets, the creative duo’s new rock music theatrical experience that is opening tonight (Friday, February 22nd) at ACT). The promotional reach for the production has been expansive: The women involved could be seen being interviewed by Margareet Larson on KING5’s New Day Northwest, by Nancy Guppy on the Seattle Channel’s Art Zone, and also by KUOW, the local NPR station’s Marcie Sillman (which is being picked up nationally), and in the pages of Alaska Airlines’ in-flight magazine. Mayor Mike McGinn even declared February 2013 Seattle Women Who Rock Month as a result of their outreach.

The impact of this outreach will continue to be felt in the years to come, as Harley and Rudinoff have started to create an oral history around the subject of Streets, the group of female musicians in Seattle in the late 80s-early 90s who were largely ignored as their male counterparts in the Grunge scene were being celebrated. This movement led to interviews with countless participants of the scene, which were filmed by local filmmaker Wes Hurley. These interviews will also be archived by the University of Washington, an archive that will continue to be built long after the Streets performances have completed. In conjunction with the archive, the Experience Music Project will be bringing in the “History of Women in Rock and Roll” exhibit from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland this coming fall, which may include some of the gallery art from Streets. While all of that is going on, The Project Room is running their own exhibit at their Capitol Hill home (the exhibit runs until March 15th), which features videos, posters, and other memorabilia from the era, and includes items from 7 Year Bitch and Capping Day, among other bands. The idea, according to Rudinoff, is to create “ritualized objects for people to start appreciating a lost period of time in town. So that they could begin to worship these women as they should be worshiped.”

The scale of their effort is as impressive as everything else about the project. This is due, in no small part, to the women behind the project, with whom The Seattle Star’s José Amador had an opportunity to have a discussion.

Over nearly two decades, Rudinoff has become a luminary for the Seattle theater scene, where she has been something of a critical darling; she began working at the Fringe level with companies like Annex Theatre, and moving through the ranks with 14/48 and the Empty Space, has done a few of solo shows (Broad Perspective, Go There! and The Last State) and has been seen on the 5th Avenue stage amid self produced work. Rudinoff shone brightly in these were performances, an incandescence that was used to great effect in her portrayal of Yitzhak opposite Nick Garrison’s Hedwig in Seattle’s original production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. All of this work eventually led to her winning the Stranger’s Genius Award in 2004.

Harley’s resume is as extensive as Rudinoff’s, though the focus is more on the rock and roll side of the equation. After moving to Seattle from New York City in the late 80s, Harley became a central figure in the fertile music scene that was blossoming at the time. Harley was involved in a few bands and side projects, though Maxi Badd (later the Danger Gens) is perhaps the most well known. Since that period, Harley has been creating scores and pieces for numerous theater and dance companies, and is currently teaching music composition at the Cornish College for the Arts. She and Rudinoff are currently the creative force behind We Are Golden, a rock band that came together in the time after the Hedwig production.

Also present at this interview were Elizabeth Kenny and Laura Vanderpool. Kenny is a collaborator on Streets with Harley and Rudinoff, who came on board later in the project in order to help the duo sculpt the theatricality of the play. Kenny is also a Seattle Theater stalwart (she and Rudinoff have crossed paths numerous times over the years), most recently known for her 2011 solo piece Sick, a work that has been on tour nationally and has been the recipient of both the Theater Puget Sound’s Gregory and Seattle Theater Writers’ Gypsy Rose Lee Awards.

Vanderpool is the PR manager for These Streets, though she has been present during the project’s workshop phases. Her band, Capping Day, was an active participant in the music scene depicted in the show. She has also worked as a DJ at KCMU, the radio station that later morphed into what is now known as KEXP, where she was one of the original hosts of AudiOasis, the station’s program dedicated to local bands, a version of which still runs to this day.

Amador met with the group at West Seattle’s Beveridge Place Pub about five weeks before the show would open. Harley, Kenny, Rudinoff and Vanderpool had just wrapped a production meeting, and so were already in a jovial mood at the time the interview began. The quartet had a synched in quality that is hard to describe, but is pretty much characteristic of close collaboration. A jocularity permeated the proceedings, a result of the giddy energy emanating from the group.

Seattle Star: How did this project begin?

Gretta Harley: We were retreating at Vashon Island—

Sarah Rudinoff: That’s an action verb now.

SStar: “Retreat-”ing?

Rudinoff: Yeah. It’s when women get together and drink tea—

Harley: Open up bottles of wine—

Rudinoff: And then drink—

Harley: Copious bottles of wine.

Rudinoff: So, yeah, Gretta and I were on a retreat with We Are Golden, which we do because we both have our jobs, and all our lives. So then one of us says “let’s go work and write music.” We usually go out of town, we like to go to Vashon, or we have friends who have cabins—

Harley: Like on Bainbridge Island—

Rudinoff: We had a thing at Fort Warden—

Harley: At Centrum—

Rudinoff: Yeah, we had a residency at Centrum where they had a cabin with a grand piano in it. We brought our guitars—

Harley: We wrote our last record there.

Rudinoff: We did that for weeks. We’d go grocery shopping…Anyway, so, we just kind of did these trips together and created a lot of our music out of them. For this, we went to Vashon with music, and the idea was—

Harley: We were almost finished with our record.

Rudinoff: Right.

Harley: We had ten songs.

SStar: Ten songs you were going to record for the album?

Harley: Yeah, we were going to make a full length record. We just needed to create some bridges, write some final lyrics, maybe one or two new songs…We had a couple of ideas floating around, so we were going to find out if they were real songs–

Rudinoff: Brought the keyboard, brought the guitars

Harley: There was a piano there, a wood stove, we settled in, so then we…departed again. [Laughter.]

Rudinoff: This place is in the woods, it’s beautiful.

Harley: So, I said to Sarah—we have this little joke where Sarah is really a rocker in an actor body, and I am really an actor in a rocker body…

You see, I spent a lot of time doing these weird fringe things. For a long time back in New York, I had a character called Patty Cash, the Affirmative Cowgirl on Roller Skates, and a friend of mine was Pasadena Luscious, we were both cowgirls and we wore roller skates, and…I brought Patty Cash to Seattle, in the 80s, and at Rebar, I hosted the Molotov Cocktail Cabaret on roller skates. This character does not know how to roller skate, and so I’d hold on to the bar, then roller skate around on the floor, then grabbed onto somebody’s arm and stumbled around.

Just fun stuff like that, I’d slap affirmations on your body, like (Southern drawl:) “I luhv to pay my taxes!”…anyway. [Silence, then group laughter.] (To Elizabeth:) There’s a whole side of me you do not know.

Elizabeth Kenny: I knew this interview was going to be fun, but—

Harley: So, anyway, I said to Sarah, “I’m wondering if we could do something like on the theatrical side, something with our new show,” and she said, “I was thinking the same thing!” “So, let’s go off into our corners for an hour and write. See what all these songs conjure up.”

SStar: Lyrically?

Harley: Lyrically. It’s an old creative exercise, you know: “Think about all our songs and imagine what kind of story we could tell.” We came back and we both had the same story. Which was basically a woman in her 40s, making music in a youth culture, she’s already had a career in her 20s, and how does that work for her as an older person.

SStar: Set in the present day, essentially?

Harley: Yeah. We also had this other idea where there is an older person and a younger person, and maybe they meet at The Gong Show.

Rudinoff: That came out of this experience I had when I was a judge for one of The Stranger’s Gong Show events that was just…notorious. So, the idea was that she, the character, was this hip hop artist, who entered with a black eye, and she was a barista—

Kenny: This is not in the show, by the way, I just want to make that clear. [Laughter.]

Rudinoff: Right, this is not in the show.

Kenny: Don’t want you to go away with the impression that “wow, this is a great set up for a show” and then have you come and see that we did something else.

Rudinoff: Right, no, the hip hop artist thing was just one of the first things we wrote.

Harley: Right, it was this theatrical thing we started out with on Vashon Island at the beginning of this process. Some time later, we met with our grant writer, Robert Aguilar, to start talking about a budget because we wanted a grant for this theatrical experience that we were creating.

Rudinoff: That we were going to put our music into.

Harley: Right, all of our new songs. We were going to write some kind of story around these songs. So, we were at this pizza place with Rob during a grant writing session, I went to use the restroom, and when I came back Sarah was talking with this woman, and the woman and I had this moment of recognition. “Hey, I know you!” “I know you too!” Eventually we figure it out, I say “you used to open up for my band!” It was Susan Robb from the Incredible Force of Junior, I hadn’t seen her in twenty years, though she has become well known in the visual arts scene.

Rudinoff: She is a big installation artist, using big city grants, a lot of public art work, and I know her from that world.

Harley: So Susan and I have this back and forth for a few minutes. “Remember this?” “Oh, remember that?” and “Ohmygod” yaddayaddaya—when we left, Sarah said, “That’s our play. That interaction you just had, that energized memory…that’s it.”

So then, what we did is, I have a lot of women friends who were in bands back then, and Sarah and I have a lot crossover in people we both know, like Carrie Akre, we both knew Jen Ayers, Amy Stolezenbach and Bryan Smith…We invited we had a dinner, and recorded the conversation on the computer. We just spent hours talking that night, it was a great time.

SStar: What was discussed, a lot of memories from back then?

Harley: The talk wasn’t focused on that time so much, it was more about life being a musician, being a woman musician. It felt like there was so much material there that we wanted people to witness…That was the beginning of These Streets. Now we have a play with none of our music in it. [Laughter.]

Rudinoff: No no no, there’s like two songs.

Harley: Snippets, there are snippets.

SStar: There are only portions of the original music in the play now?

Rudinoff: Well, I play a character in the show who was a singer back in the day, she had a band and everything, and she’s working on a new album, so the audience sees the concert she’s performing throughout the night. So, you end up hearing these snippets during the concert, that was the stuff we were working with.

Harley: To give you an idea of what we mean by “snippets,” we were starting to teach the music to the band the other day, and it was just a verse and a chorus, and that’s it. Then the show and the music transitions to a new scene. The band was like, “Wait, what’s the whole song? I wanna hear the whole song!” I told them to wait for the record, because we are actually going to put out the record, finally.

SStar: Nice!

Harley: We were hoping to do that as the play opened.

Rudinoff: Yeah, because we weren’t busy enough.

Harley: That’s now going to happen later.

SStar: So, the focus is primarily on the life of a woman musician who hit it big in the day and…

Rudinoff: Not just that…we also explore a few questions that I’d been fixated on. “How do you stay in a city and become well known in the city that you’re in—well known for your work or whatever? How do you get older and keep changing? Keep doing things that are different, keep doing things that make you feel alive. Like you’re going somewhere, career wise, without changing your location. Do you know what I mean?

That was my hook into it. Addressing the entire attitude of, (snotty:) “Okay, well you’ve done well enough here, now go somewhere else, because we don’t want to see you anymore.” That old question, you know, “what are you still doing here?”

SStar: “You’re big here, now go be big there.”

Rudinoff: “You can’t keep doing creative and interesting shit here.”

Harley: “You should go to L.A.” or “you should go to New York.”

Rudinoff: I’d already been to New York, and Chicago, and wrote a show about that whole mentality, that whole experience.

SStar: Go There?

Rudinoff: Yeah, and I…it’s like, I wondered how could you walk these same streets, which were hot shit back in the day? With a new younger crowd coming up? How do you keep being vital and working within that scene?

Harley: And staying inspired.

Rudinoff: That became more of the focus. We started thinking “what scene became so big that people felt almost a self consciousness about continuing to be in?” It felt like [the Seattle music scene in the late 80s] was one that exploded onto the entire world. All of the stories that came from it, all the bittersweet details—all of the carrots that were dangled…what do you do after that? Do you just go “I don’t want to do music at all?”

We’ve done a lot of interviews over the last few years, not just with women, but people like Steve Wells, who kicked Nirvana out of Rebar for being too fucked up during their Nevermind release party, before that record became what it is.

Harley: Linda Derschang the owner of Linda’s; Barbara Dollarhide who was a booker, a manager and was the PR person at C/Z Records. Jack Endino who was making record covers and posters.

Rudinoff: People who were doing all kinds of things on the periphery as things changed in town, people around the whole scene when it was happening, in order to try to answer that question.

SStar: Let me clarify something, when the project first started showing up online, on Facebook, it was my understanding was that this was about the female rock scene before grunge took off. Did I misunderstand that?

Ron Nine, Mitch Ebert, Gretta Harley, Fiia McGann play present day survivors of the Grunge scene in THESE STREETS at ACT. Image by Charles Peterson
Ron Nine, Mitch Ebert, Gretta Harley, Fiia McGann play present day survivors of the Grunge scene in THESE STREETS at ACT. Image by Charles Peterson

Rudinoff: Okay, yeah. It’s about the musicians from that time, but principally about the women. In a way, because the women who were playing here consciously decided to be in Seattle and their focus was simply on playing music—as opposed to going to Olympia, and being politically all “WE’RE WOMEN!”

Harley: Which is the Riot Grrl movement.

SStar: Right.

Rudinoff: Because the women we’re talking about didn’t have a shtick and a story that was specific enough to be remembered, they kind of fell off by the wayside. If they did break into the public consciousness and released an album, like Hammerbox, or the Danger Gens, or Faster Tiger.

SStar: Like L7.

Harley: Well, L7 is from L.A. They had some connections to Seattle, because they toured with friends, bands and had members from here, but they were from L.A. Hole had a connection to Seattle through Courtney Love, but it’s not a Seattle band.

Rudinoff: These were women who were in bands, and these were bands with male members, not all of the bands I’m talking about were just strictly women—they weren’t in Seattle to be political. They literally were musicians who were playing in the music scene at the time, doing punk shows.

When we looked at all of the retrospective books that were coming out during the last couple of years while we were working on this—

Harley: We were kind of freaking out at all of the 20th Anniversary stuff that was coming out, because we thought that by the time we opened nobody would give a shit anymore. But when they came out, we looked at them closely and we noticed, “Oh, the women aren’t there.”

SStar: Seriously?

Rudinoff: There’s like a half page, a page and a half that was called “The Female Presence.”

SStar: Wow, that’s—predictable, kind of..

Rudinoff: Gretta was in a band that decided not to go to Olympia and go the whole “we’re women!” shtick.

Harley: We never thought about it, it wasn’t even a decision. That was the mentality. We never thought “should I go to Olympia and be a Riot Grrl?” No, it was a completely different culture. Here, we had women who just wanted to play music; we also didn’t think about asking the question “are you a guy or a girl?” It didn’t enter the conversation.

Which is not to say that we didn’t talk about feminism, of course we did. But did we make our decisions based on asking “is there going to be a guy in my band?” That wasn’t the group of women we’re talking about.

Kenny: But still—

Harley: We came up against sexism, yeah. One of the things that came up during our first dinner, one of the questions I asked was “did any of you ever experience a situation where the sound guy came up to your amp and changed your settings without talking to you first?” Everybody who played guitar went “YES! What is that?”

Kenny: I bet that doesn’t happen to dudes.

Harley: It doesn’t happen to dudes.

SStar: Now, to be completely honest, I was all about the Grrl movement. I loved the sound, I loved what they were saying…

Laura Vanderpool: The extra Rs. [Laughter.]

SStar: Yeah, I loved the extra Rs. So, I sort of get what you’re talking about, not that I lived or live through it, but I’m familiar. It was something that Sleater-Kinney talked about even after they went big…I’m curious, what was the local reaction to the Riot Grrls? Were people asking, “what the fuck is that?”

Harley: I think it was complicated. Like what we’re trying to say with the show, life is complicated, and it’s not ever one thing. In this time period, culturally speaking, we like to put things in boxes. We like to say “oh, it was this, it was that,” but I think it depended on who you asked that question to, you’d get different answers.

I can tell you that some of the answers would have been “that’s so cool, what they’re doing. It totally needs to happen. Oh my god, they’re great!” Then you would hear a guy saying, “I went to a show at the OK Hotel where Bikini Kill was playing, and I got spit at by a woman in the audience, who told me to get out of the show.” Then you might hear a woman who heard that story say, “what the fuck is that about?”

Kenny: Then you also heard things like, “is it just making anger cute?” Is it this marketing thing?

Harley: And that depended on which Riot Grrl band you’re talking about. Because some Riot Grrl bands were not wearing cute dresses, some were wearing nothing, totally going topless, taking sharpies and writing on their bellies. Totally like “I am a billboard up here, saying what I feel by using a sharpie on my stomach.”

Rudinoff: And some of them did not have great tits…you know, talking from a guy’s perspective. [Laughter.]

Harley: No, some of them did not have great tits.

I mean, there’s nothing more that I love than great tits. I love a great body. But I also love a woman with a body that is not considered a culturally or aesthetically pleasing body, getting on stage and taking off her shirt. I think that’s fucking awesome. With electric tape covering her nipples, I think that’s fucking powerful and amazing.

Kenny: The thing about all of the retrospectives that came out is the obsession they have that there was “a way,” meaning that there was a way people felt about grunge.

SStar: That there was a view that people hewed to.

Kenny: Right, and we talked a ton about the different scenes, the history, personal histories, people’s memories, and there were people who were down with the marketing, down with the whole notion of grunge, while other people weren’t.

We tried to talk about why everyone likes the punk rock label, they say “call me punk rock,” and why grunge is a label that people don’t dig. How people argue that one is a better brand than the other, trying to find an ethos underneath it…the whole topic was full of contradictions, it wasn’t one thing for everybody.

Finally, we ended up saying that it was rock, it was fucking awesome, and we kind of let those contradictions go by.

Rudinoff: Then there are the people who were in a Seattle band, but because the band was all women, they are now lost in history, in college courses about this era, because they are identified as Riot Grrl bands.

Harley: And it drives them crazy. They don’t identify as Riot Grrl bands.

Rudinoff: But [claps hands] now they’re Riot Grrl bands and that’s it.

Harley: Like Mia Zapata.

Rudinoff: If you sat with any of them, if they were here right now and asked them “do you consider yourselves Riot Grrl bands?” They would say no.

Vanderpool: Riot Grrl was about gender, it’s girls that have an agenda, and they have important things to talk about. I think the Seattle thing was not about gender.

SStar: More about the music?

Harley: Yeah.

Vanderpool: Absolutely. Half the time I had to go, “no, I’m not in a girl band.” I didn’t care, I didn’t even think of myself as a girl, I thought of myself as a guitar player. I didn’t get up on stage and think “how do I show off my ideas?” I just wanted to play guitar.

Harley: When we were collecting bios as part of our historical agenda for the website, Barbara Dollarhide—who is probably making our website right now—she was quoted in a national magazine where she said, “If one person calls me and asks me for, or refers to one of the bands I represent as a ‘girl band,’ I’m going to take my spent tampon and shove it down their throat.” [Laughter.] She’s not an angry woman, she’s just a lovely person, but she was fed up! That quote is now her bio.

SStar: So, exactly what time period does the play cover?

Rudinoff: Well, there are two timelines in the show, one is the “old person” timeline, which is the present day. Then there is the stuff from her younger days.

Harley: We start the play in 1989, which is right at the cusp when people started to hear about Seattle music. Then we move through the dawn of Nevermind, to the time when the world was looking at Seattle.

Kenny: We end our young person’s story in 1994; so we’re really focusing in on Seattle’s years of change, that tipping point in time. It was this incredible moment, we talk about this in the play, where the definition of success as a musician in Seattle was that you were headlining the RCKCNDY on a Saturday night.

That’s what everybody was aspiring to, the vision if what was possible, what success meant. It was pretty small, but the feeling was enormously great. Overnight, that definition was blown up; what was the pinnacle became nothing, there was now this big space above.

Rudinoff: Sort of like if you weren’t on the cover of Rolling Stone—

Kenny: Then you’re an asshole. So, we wanted to explore what happens to those regular, hardcore, working musicians and artists in that time. How the pressure of those polar opposites impact people. How that resonates for people 28 years later. What was the particular impact on artists living in Seattle from ’89 to ’94, where does that leave you as an adult, and how do you carry that.

SStar: Okay.

Rudinoff: Each character is shared by two actors; Teri Weagant and Imogen Love share a part. Gretta and Eden Schwartz share a part…

SStar: And even though the original music is barely in it, the stuff that’s there is all original?

Harley: No, no.

Rudinoff: No, there’s a ton of music that’s not ours. We got a lawyer and got the rights to all the non-original music. Stuff by Hammerbox, 7 Year Bitch, Bell, Danger Gen.

SStar: Wow. Wow.

Harley: There’s a shit load of music.

SStar: Wall to wall, essentially?

Kenny: Almost, I mean, we don’t know—We’re trying to understand how much silence the show can hold.

[These Streets had just begun its final rehearsal phase at the time of this interview. –ed.]

Rudinoff: We’re starting to run it, and we’re finding out that we need more transitional music in this spot, not so much at this other part of the play, that’s what’s happening right now.

SStar: And the story is somehow told through the music? I guess I’m trying to pre-emptively answer the dorks who’ll ask “is this an operetta?”

Rudinoff: We are decidedly not calling it a rock musical.

Kenny: Think about it as a rock show.

SStar: Hedwig-ish?

Rudinoff: That is more of a rock show than our play is, in a sense. Because Hedwig is set up as banter at a rock concert, that’s the device.

Kenny: So, we’re trying to do something that’s never been done before—though probably someone has.

Rudinoff: And we should have seen it.

Kenny: But we don’t know it.

Rudinoff: It was in Holland. [Laughter.] But who would go all the way there?

Kenny: What I mean when I say it’s a rock show is that the music inside the play doesn’t function to move the story forward.

Rudinoff: The lyrics do not—

Harley: We didn’t write the play around the lyrics.

Rudinoff: There’s no (sings:) “And now I have a feeling and now there’s a thought/I’m so lonelyyyyy.” [Laughter.]

Kenny: We hope that when the music kicks in that people are moved forward emotionally. That it changes your heartbeat, from where you were before the song started. It’s more about how these songs impact people rhythmically.

SStar: So not necessarily emotionally or storytelling wise.

Kenny: Emotionally yes.

Harley: But not literally, not storytelling wise.

Rudinoff: Though, sometimes things creep more toward story than we want. Sometimes the lyric and what we’re doing…we have named a part of what we’re doing “arias,” and it’s in these arias that we come closest to what musical theater audiences would understand in the context of music being used in a story.

We have not taken the easy way out that TV shows have adopted. There’s no [singing:] “it’s karaoke and we’re singing this song/’Cuz it’s karaoke…” There are some times where the convention is pretty standard, like a character is working with a band for the first time, and will sing a song as if they were trying it out, which is like what you see on TV, you know what I mean?

But we’ve expanded the conventions beyond that, and then expanded them some more until it’s become very abstract.

Harley: There’s also a layering of time, as two versions of one character will trade off on the lyrics in a song—using time as a layer. Some things are chronological, and some are not.

Kenny: So, there’s a past storyline that happens chronologically but you don’t see all of it, you’re dropping in on these characters between 1989 and 1994. Then there’s the concert that happens chronologically, as well. You don’t see all of that, either. And then there’s all of this other material that came out of the playwrighting process, based on the interviews that we did. We framed that material by having one of the characters in the play doing a podcast about the past, the present and things in between. The stuff the characters talk about is not married to chronology.

Harley: We came to that structure for the play because we, as people, are not linear. We might live through time chronologically, but that’s not how we think. That’s not the way our brains operate when dealing with time.

Kenny: This is also a particularly female form of storytelling, which…you’re experiencing right now.

SStar: Right. [Laughter.]

Kenny: It tends to meander all around, and then three and a half hours later, someone makes a point, and we say, “right! Like I was saying earlier!” The play works like that intentionally. Will that be pleasing? We don’t know yet. [Laughter.]

Rudinoff: Elizabeth came on board after Gretta and I had spent a year approaching a number of different people, Bret Fetzer, Juliet Waller-Pruzan—

Harley: We wanted another set of eyes on it, because we’d never done this kind of dialogue before. We had both written in various formats, but this was new to us. There were moments of insecurity, so we wanted someone else to look it over.

Rudinoff: We were doing so many different projects that came out of this idea, that we needed someone to just keep track of the play we were building. So, I had just sent out an announcement about the Project Room exhibit, and needing some stuff for that…Elizabeth was on that list, and she wrote back, “hey, this sounds like an interesting thing.” She was in the middle of visiting family, and touring Sick, which she was fabulous in.

[Kenny disruptively pounds on the table in response to this, successfully drowning out Rudinoff’s effusiveness. Laughter.]

Elizabeth and I were in Ubu together at the Empty Space, so we had this history, a mutual admiration, and I loved the writing on Sick, but more importantly the form of Sick. Gretta and I had been talking about what kind of form we wanted our story to take. Elizabeth came in, took a look at everything we had.

Harley: Which were on yellow post-it notes all over my house. Giant stickies on the walls, we had taken down the pictures in my house so we could replace them with stickies.

Rudinoff: And Elizabeth’s like, “I see where you guys are going, and if you wanted to make a ‘well-made play’…(dismissively:) you could do that.” [Laughter.] “But, wouldn’t you rather have a play that rocked? Would you rather have the form itself be filled with the kind of life—“

Harley: Loud-Soft-Loud!

Rudinoff: Yeah! Loud-Soft-Loud! The kind of sound that bands like The Pixies made into a thing, that bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam—the sound that became the basis for rock music after the grunge scene had arrived. I loved that sound, that structure, and so we adapted it for the These Streets…That was the beginning of figuring out the form we wanted for the show.

Harley: That was when we started to play around with our definition of an “aria.” Traditionally, an aria is supposed to be a solo voice with musical accompaniment. We flipped that around so that the song was the solo voice, and then the energy itself became the accompaniment.

Rudinoff: It also became a way to move time forward within the show, which we use within the first five minutes of the play.

Kenny: You know, the first email I sent in reply to Sarah’s…it was more of an “I miss you! It’s really cool that you’re doing this play!” it wasn’t like I was saying “I’d like to work with you on this.”

Rudinoff: Yeah, it was more of an “if there’s time, and the schedules work out…”

Kenny: Yeah. Now, myself, I think that the thing that is wrong with almost all of theater is that it’s not punk rock enough…

SStar: It’s far too formalized, it’s become this really rigid way to tell anything…

Kenny: It’s been rigid for a really long time…and I felt that if there’s anything I could add to the idea of trying to make a play that’s about the music that is rooted in that time, it would be bringing the things that I love about the music. It would be bringing those two things, punk rock and rigidity, together. We know it won’t fit one hundred percent, that we’ll be learning about that rigidity.

Part of the reason that rigidity is in place is because you might be presenting things at established big houses like the Rep—

Rudinoff: “Yeah, that’s all great and everything, but we have to make everything make sense RIGHT. NOW!”

Kenny: Yeah, there’s a pressure, we have to book a space and a set time.

Rudinoff: The rigidity is an apology to the audience.

Kenny: It’s trying to find the boundaries of the world we make, within the constraints we have—how punk rock could we be? I mean, we could cancel the show and go do it in my basement. We could make that choice.

Rudinoff: That’s a strong one. I just ordered the posters—

Kenny: That could be the play, okay? But short of that, short of making that choice, because we want to pay people…it’s an interesting challenge to try to wrestle with that experiment…

SStar: Jesus…the scope of this thing is huge. I mean, the ambition of this project…I love that none of you are taking it lightly.

Rudinoff: We can’t. We just can’t.

Vanderpool: I think about this idea that they’re writing something historical that’s going to be presented in the city it took place in. This is going to have an audience that is going to know whether something is real or not real. They keep that in mind all the time; that they have to get it just right, they are honoring that. The integrity of every line that is spoken is perfect.

I think that it’s great that they’re capturing something that many of the people in the audience are going to think, “yeah, I was there.” I feel as someone who was there, back in the day, I feel that the story is in totally capable hands. Not only from the standpoint of the truth of the story, but also in the reason and the punk rock nature of the show, it is going to have the integrity to be quite extraordinary.

[Silence as the collaborators take this in.]

Harley: Yay!

Kenny: I’ve never heard you say that before!

Rudinoff: You know Ron Nine, who was the guitarist from Love Battery, was part of the big grunge scene—he is our guitarist in the show, he’s been with us through all of the workshops–

Harley: Laura suggested Ron—

Rudinoff: I did not know that!

Vanderpool: I’ve known him since high school.

Harley: Ron was talking with Scott Vanderpool, Laura’s husband, who told him about the project and Ron said, [exaggerated drawl:]“well, that sounds good! I think I want to get in on that!” Laura called me and said “what about Ron?”

Rudinoff: It’s just amazing to have him in the room and hearing him talk about the play after the first reading–

Harley: What he said said was, “what I love about this is you’re telling the story I remember, but you’re telling it from a woman’s perspective, but you’re not hitting me over the head with it.” [Another silence.] That’s big.

Kenny: That’s big!

Harley: That’s a great way to put this play, I think.

These Streets premieres at 8:00p.m. this evening and will run through March 10th // ACT Theater, 700 Union Street // For more information about the project, the era, the artists, the various exhibits, and information about tickets, please visit the These Streets website.

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