interview: Noah Dunham – Action/Adventure Theatre

For the second in our weekly interview series, we check in with Action/Adventure Theatre member Noah Dunham. Originally founded in 2007 by Tamara Carroll, Sabra Choi, Devon Granmo, Steve Granmo, Aubrey Jessen and Miranda King, Action/Adventure has produced 10 shows, including the wildly popular serial improv comedy FALL OF THE HOUSE, which ran for three years before closing in 2009. This year they have more than ever on their plate, including a new series FALL OF THE BAND, which opens October 26.

Are you ready, Portland? FALL OF THE BAND. Natalie Stringer, Kyle Acheson, Devon Granmo, Sam De Roest, David Saffert, Cristina Cano. Photo: Aaron Cronan.

Hi Noah. How has the summer been for Action/Adventure? What have you been up to?

The summer for us Action/Adventurers has been nice, but also very busy. We’ve been working on improving our lighting system, bringing on new company members, prepping for our fall show, FALL OF THE BAND, and getting ready to kick off our most ambitious season yet.

Who are the current ensemble members?

Myself, Tamara Carroll (although she has just recently moved away) Devon Granmo, Pat Moran, Bri Pruett, Greta West, Greg Heaton, and Laura Fraley.

Can you describe how you work on shows you create like FALL OF THE HOUSE? How collaborative is the process between the writers and actors? You create a story outline, but then a lot of the dialogue is improvised each night, is that right?

This is true. In a show like FOTH, which is the format we’ll also be using for FALL OF THE BAND, the collaboration with the actors is essential. We try to do our best as the writing team, to give them as much to work with as possible in terms of storyline, plot points, beat, and intentions, but we really have no control over what comes out of their mouths. So we have to rely on putting really smart, funny, and creative actors on stage who we know are going to make the scene work using their own words. It makes for a quite a thrilling ride and one we love to challenge ourselves with.

David Saffert, Devon Granmo. Photo: Pat Moran.

Is the same episode different night to night?

Yes, without a doubt. The scenes are essentially the same in terms of the plot points we are trying to move forward, but the dialogue, the blocking, and the action often take different shapes from night to night.

FALL OF THE HOUSE seemed to be a runaway hit for several years in a row. Many theatres talk about bringing in a younger demographic, but you actually did it – in droves. How did you lure this sought after audience so easily?

I think mostly we were able to grab hold of a younger audience because we were creating a show that related to them and their everyday lives in an honest and often times hilarious way. We also had a lot of luck with publicity and our network extending into outlets that mainstream theater doesn’t always get to. We’re not only serious about craft at Action/Adventure but also about building a brand that is accessible and exciting for people to be a part of.

Can you give us an example of some of those non-traditional outlets?

According to our mission we’ve done a lot of programming and projects that have focused on collaboration with artists and organizations with different artistic practices outside of theater. This has really helped us to gain new audience members and also gain some press from publications that normally write about literary or visual arts.

Kyle Acheson. Photo: Pat Moran.

When you have done other more traditional plays like DANNY IN THE DEEP BLUE SEA by John Patrick Shanley, did your core FALL OF THE HOUSE audience turn out?

That is a great question. I think we did have support from a lot of our FOTH fans but we knew that not all of them would carry over to a more serious and dramatic play. It was an experiment we were willing to try though, as we have always wanted to delve into scripted work, and one we feel good about doing as it gained some of our collaborators a couple Drammys this last theater season.

Always a good thing! Did the popularity of FOTH surprise you?

I think it was both a big of a surprise and also a realization that we had something original and dynamic going on. It was a confidence booster. Something a lot of young companies need to keep going and build an audience even bigger.

Even though it’s been a while since a FOTH show, I’m sure all the characters have been busy with their lives. Can you give us any updates on what’s happened to them? How is Addison doing?

Ha- I’m sure Addison is doing just fine. FOTH ended in such a way that I think the audience could tell that the core cast was not only going to be alright but that they had a bright future ahead of them. But to be honest, since the closing of FOTH Action/Adventure has been so busy pursuing other projects and ideas, that we really have had to let go of some of these characters we have loved so much.

David Saffert, Matt Hopkins. Photo: Pat Moran.

This year kicks off in October for you with the brand new FALL OF THE BAND. What can you tell us about this one?

We’re really excited about this project. It is essentially a show that will follow the same format as FOTH (a semi-improvised serial comedy) but the cast is made up of characters that are all in a band together. There will be a ton of live music, plenty of comedy, and a new musical guest each week who will be playing a bit of a “mini-concert” for the audience. It is really trying to bring together many of the things we Action/Adventurers love: comedy, music, and theater. We’re hoping our audiences will be as excited about it as we are.

Sounds fabulous. Are there any characters from FOTH in FOTB, or is it an all new crew?

Fall of the Band will be having brand new characters and will be taking on a whole new world of its own. Like I said, we are following the same structure but it is a brand new show with a brand new storyline.

Devon Granmo. Photo: Pat Moran.

Is this show in a late night slot? Where will you be performing?

We will be performing at our theater (Action/Adventure Theater) over at 1050 SE Clinton. It won’t be a late night slotted show but we are looking at a 9pm start time to get both the after dinner crowd and the younger crowd who like to go to things that are a little later.

What else is new for Action/Adventure this year?

We’re going to be producing three other show besides FALL OF THE BAND. January is going to see a relaunch of our comedy variety show LATE NIGHT ACTION WITH ALEX FALCONE. In the spring we’re going to be producing a brand new devised theater work with our lovely friend and director Ashley Hollingshead. And then we will bookmark our season with an original scripted play called DISASSEMBLY by Bay Area Playwright Steven Yockey. It will be Steven’s Northwest premier and we’re really excited to be working with him and bringing a brand new voice to Portland.

Thanks, Noah. I’m sure I’m not the only one looking forward to seeing FALL OF THE BAND.

I’m glad you’re looking forward to it. We’re really excited to be going back to our bread and butter and creating something new we hope our audiences enjoy!

Sam De Roest. Photo: Pat Moran.