We don’t have a show.
It’s two days before we open a brand new sketch comedy and rock n’ roll show. We’ve just finished a run-through rehearsal of the show. Stev Guyer, the executive producer of Shadowbox Live (the largest resident theater company in America) is pulling on the front of his shirt and slowly breathing down into his chest. This was an act the rest of us came to know well, a way of Stev calming himself so he didn’t say something he would come to regret.
“We don’t have a show,” he says again. This is directed at me. In usual fashion, the band is killing the music and the comedy is … lacking. As the head writer since 1996, it’s my job to make sure the comedy is not only good but (as he would say) worth people getting off their couch, driving downtown, paying for a ticket AND parking, and then having them leave inspired enough to tell their friends they need to see this show. So we run up to his office and go through every line of the scripts until we feel they fit the criteria.
When I started at Shadowbox, we were in a warehouse on Spring Street. If 50 people came and saw the show, we would scream in celebration. Many of us were working as volunteers because most of the money went to rent. We sold three kinds of beer and a few food items. It was in this dusty, non-air-conditioned environment that Stev would say he wasn’t interested in competing with other theaters—he wanted to compete with DreamWorks. His dream was always so big, so out of reach … so impossible. At least, the majority of us saw it that way. He never did. He wanted to turn art inside out. He wanted our audience members to not just have a good time, but be challenged and inspired. He wanted the shows to be world-class.
When I first started working at Shadowbox, act one of our shows would consist of a series of one-act plays with a few songs from the band and act two would be sketch comedy and rock ‘n’ roll (inspired by SNL and Monty Python.) The formula seemed to work, but in no time Stev insisted we do an all-original show—the plays and music would all be created in-house. Then our band put out its own CD. Then we were working on putting together a video of original material called “Marsupials of North America.” Then we hooked up with a local production company and put out a season of television called Shadowbox Wired. Then we were writing original musicals. (“I hate musicals,” I told him. “That’s why you’re the perfect person to write one,” he replied.”) Next, we were collaborating with BalletMet on a dance/rock show. Then with CCAD for a Pink Floyd tribute show. Then with the Columbus Museum of Art for a show that brought artwork to life through video and original music. Then with New York Times best-selling writer David Mack. And so on and so on.
From the Buggyworks building to the warehouse on Spring Street to the Easton Town Center to our new home in the Brewery District (and even with theaters in the Short North and Newport, Ky. along the way), Stev’s dream became our dream.
This isn’t to say it was all sunshine and rainbows. Stev was difficult, flawed, and could be a total pain in the ass. When he was in a foul mood, he made sure you knew it. It was much easier for him to tell you that you suck than it was for him to compliment any aspect of your work. He could look at you, see that you were exhausted and then announce we would be doing another two-hour rehearsal. He was a self-proclaimed “egotistical bastard.”
Despite his faults, though, he was a great visionary, mentor, and friend. When he would laugh, his smile would take over his whole face and he’s clap his hands together while bending backwards, almost as if he was literally being blown away by the joke. God, I miss that laugh.
Stev died after a year fighting a battle with brain cancer. Shadowbox is still doing its thing. Stev, being who he was, made sure years ago that we would be able to continue in case he was “hit by a bus.” How ironic that the “bus” ended up being his own wonderful brain.
We just went through a tech week of a new sketch comedy and rock ‘n’ roll show. Two days before it opened, I watched the dress rehearsal and thought to myself, “We don’t have a show.”
Two days later we opened one of our strongest shows to date, in my opinion. Stev would be proud.
Shadowbox will once again take the Columbus Commons stage this spring, dedicating their May 27 performance of Which One’s Pink, their Pink Floyd Tribute show, to Stev. For more, visit shadowboxlive.com.