Three debuts are happening this week on the Charlotte theater scene — simultaneously. When J.D. Lewis's AmerWrecka opens this Thursday night at the Charlotte Art League in SouthEnd, it will mark the Queen City debut of the play, the first time the Arts League has been used as a theater, and the first production by Lewis's company, The Actor's Lab. Since a former president of Paramount Pictures is flying in to see this production, we thought it would be a good idea to check out the source of all the excitement. Here's our Q&A with J.D. Lewis.
Creative Loafing: What is Actor's Lab and why is it in Charlotte?
J.D. Lewis: I started The Actor's Lab about 20 years ago in Los Angeles as an acting coach. I was an actor and all my friends were asking me to coach them for auditions. Then one of them said, "Start a class." So I started with eight people, and now I teach a master class, and I have teachers that teach my beginning and intermediate classes.
I have two sons that I adopted as a single parent at birth, and one of them was turning 11, and we were living in Venice Beach. And I thought, "It's time to get out of L.A. I want to be with my kid in someplace cool." And we came here. I just loved it here, and I loved that the mountains were really close. I feel like Charlotte has Southern hospitality and also this intelligence of a metropolitan city. I feel like it's such a good match, and it has an artistic community. I was commuting back and forth from L.A., and then JTA and a few of the agencies in town -- including Carolina Talent -- got wind that I was here and said, "Would you be willing to start a class?" And I said, "Yeah, I guess."
Next thing, I have full classes with a waiting list. Apparently right place, right time.
How did this visit to Charlotte turn into semi-settling here before you even started up your local wing of The Actor's Lab?
I had actually been in a relationship with somebody in this town. That's how I knew about Charlotte. We're not together anymore, but that's how I was introduced to Charlotte, and I just fell in love with it. I flew into Charlotte, saw the downtown area, and I just had one of those weird feelings like, "Uh-oh, I'm going to live here!" Cut to a year-and-a-half later, and we're living in Plaza Midwood, and my older son goes to Northwest School of the Arts, and my little one goes to Eastover. I couldn't be happier.
If you'd told me three years ago that I would be living in Charlotte, North Carolina, I would be like, "What!?" I honestly thought that Charlotte was on the coast. That's how much I knew about Charlotte. I can't tell you what a surprise Charlotte has been for me. And my kids just adore it. They're really involved here. I discovered NoDa, and I got a little studio at the Hart-Witzen Gallery.
And now I'm discovering the SouthEnd. You know, we're doing the show at the Charlotte Art League, and my older son Jack is 11, and he's a painter. He goes to Northwest School of the Arts, and I took him down to the Art League, because when I lived in New York as an actor, I used to hang out at the Student Art League on 59th Street. It was all displays of these artists with cubicles, and everybody was painting, and it was just a cool scene. So I took Jack down there, and I walked in there and thought, "Wow! This place is cool."
And the whole idea came together. It was like this place needs to be known! I felt like the Charlotte Art League didn't have sort of the hubbub it deserved. I talked to the owner, Jewel, who's this great hippy that I love, and I told her about my plan. I told her, "I think I'm supposed to do my play here." And she was like, "Well, that's bizarre." And I said, "I really would love to use this space to do it, and how would you feel about that?"
And she read the play, and it's about the four kids who died at Kent State University, so it was right up her alley, and she said, "I'd love for you to do it here." So that's how all that came about.
You know, I took this to the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland originally, and it took off. I mean, it was a huge hit at the Festival, which was a shocker, and then we got invited to headline a theater festival in Ireland, and then we opened it in L.A. Then it was kind of done. I have written the screenplay, and it's been optioned for a film. Then Cher Ferreyra, who's on a show called Veronica Mars ... Veronica Mars got canceled, and Kevin Patrick Murphy had a break before pilot season, and I said, "Would you guys come to Charlotte to do the show if I did it?" And they were like, "We'd love to!" So they are basically sacked out at my house!