Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
July 16, 2014
Theater invites dialogue. Four years ago, Ned Farley and Sandy O’Brien were sitting in a corner booth at Useless Bay Coffee. They perceived a need in the South Whidbey community for intimate, edgy productions that would spur conversation about social issues.
Out of this dialogue, OutCast Productions was born.
They decided to produce two shows in 2011 to see if they had an audience. Their first show was Steven Dietz’s “Yankee Tavern,” an acclaimed dramatic thriller. Later that year, they produced “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” which had a sold-out run after the opening weekend.
Three years and fifteen productions later, OutCast has become a staple of the Whidbey theatre scene. The success of the company can be attributed to Ned and Sandy’s dedication and years of theatrical experience, starting from a very young age.
Sandy recalled her first time onstage:
“My earliest memory of performing was actually being backstage in a real old Vaudeville theater in Schenectady, NY. It was the old Erie Theater…now gone. The orchestra was tuning up and I was standing backstage in the dark with that glow that you can feel more than you can see.
“Although I didn’t know what ‘hooked’ meant….this was the first time I had felt it. You walked up narrow stairways to dressing rooms on different levels…plain…faded yellow walls with mirrors that must have reflected so many performers before me. I was five and thrilled.”
Ned has been directing productions since he was seven years old:
“I wrote a play about Thanksgiving in second grade,” he said, “and directed it for my second grade class…go figure! I seriously got the acting bug in a fourth grade production of music from Disney films and it all went south from there.”
OutCast attracts actors living all over the island, from Clinton to Oak Harbor. When asked to choose a favorite production, they find it’s hard to pick just one.
Patricia Duff, portrayed Gertrude Stein in “Gertrude Stein and a Companion,” a member of the ensemble in “Oh, What a Lovely War” and, earlier this year, Margie in “Good People.”
“I enjoyed playing Margie so much,” she said, “not only because I understand the Boston roots of the character—having partially grown-up in Massachusetts—but the play itself tells such an important story through Margie’s character. Lindsay-Abaire is an excellent playwright and in Margie he found the perfect vehicle with which to shine a light on the class system in this country, the poverty to which so many single mothers find themselves due to the circumstances of their lives.
“Ultimately I took all those roles because I respect Sandy O’Brien so much as a director. Sandy has a unique ability to let an actor explore the process, while also knowing how to guide that person toward a specificity of feeling. She knows just what to say to make me go to the right specific place with the character. I like directors who can be specific like that.”
Perhaps the most audacious play that OutCast has produced was their 2012 production of “August: Osage County.” The Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play by Tracy Letts calls for a cast of thirteen and a set of a three-story house. Not an easy feat in the sixty-seat black box theatre at the Island County Fairgrounds that OutCast calls home.
The production remains memorable in the minds of company members. Ned references it as the production he’s most proud of, and Sandy names it as her favorite role that she’s breathed life into on the OutCast stage.
Company member Gail Liston fondly recalled portraying Barbara:
“I would have to say my role in “August: Osage County” was my favorite. The script is brilliant, and the role of Barbara is an actor’s dream. It was very challenging from an acting standpoint, and also, the role demanded physical and mental stamina. I was very proud of myself for pulling it off! The rest of the cast was made up of some of Whidbey’s finest actors…It was just a pleasure to do.”
OutCast is currently producing Christopher Durang’s raucous satire, “Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them.” The play addresses terrorism, feminism and “homeland insecurity.” Ned has been giving audiences a preview of the 2015 season during his curtain speeches.
Theater creates a temporary community of audience and cast members. The best productions encourage conversation long after the curtain call has ended.
Ned expressed his passion for the work that OutCast does:
“I’m proud we have built a thriving theater from scratch and without fundraising. It can be done if your product is solid. While I always believe we can get better, do better, I think we are making a contribution to the community that offers something unique—we strive for consistency in quality knowing that not every play will be everybody’s cup of tea. However, if folks can walk away from any of our shows and at least say it was ‘well done’ then I think we are doing what we set out to do…provide provocative, contemporary, thoughtful theater about issues and ideas that are timely and get us to think and reflect on the world we live in.”
Image at top: Ned Farley and Sandy O’Brien outside the Fairgrounds Black Blox Theater (photo by Jim Carroll)
Katie Woodzick works at Hedgebrook as an External Relations Manager. She is also an actor and director who can be seen on local stages. Her current production, “Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them,” runs at OutCast Productions through July 26.
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