Writing Fried Meat Ridge Road and Its Holiday Sequel Blogs by Keith Stevenson – LA Stage Times

December 19, 2012

Keith Stevenson and Kendrah McKay in “A Fried Meat Christmas”

The author Kathleen Duey once encountered Ray Bradbury in an elevator and asked what advice he could give a beginner. “Ass glue,” he replied.

It should be sold in stores, because I could use a gallon or two. In fact, I got up from my chair and paced around outside after I finished that last sentence. The biggest problem I find as a writer is that it is so easy not to write. But there is one thing that will keep my butt in the chair — a deadline. More to the point, the fear of not meeting a deadline. So, to finish (start, actually) my first full-length play (70 minute one-act, actually) I forced myself into a deadline.

Keith Stevenson

I’ve belonged to Pacific Resident Theatre since 1998. My first several years at PRT were spent primarily as an actor and sound designer. Then, a few years ago, I joined PRT’s Writers’ Group — a very talented collective, from which many wonderful works have sprung, including Vince Melocchi’s Julia, which ran Off-Broadway after a mainstage production at PRT, and Valerie Dillman’s Sarah’s War, which had a critically-acclaimed run at the Hudson earlier this year after a workshop production at PRT.

In the latter part of 2011, the group decided to present a series of new works. That December, we would hold public readings of full-length plays penned by our members. As we went around the room for a head count of whose plays would be read, I said, “I’ll do mine.” Of course, I hadn’t written page one of “mine.”

I gave the group a title, Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road (the last word of which was later shortened to ‘Rd.‘ through a poster printing error, but hey, the printing was free, so I kept it). Fried Meat Ridge Road is a real road outside of my hometown of Keyser, West Virginia. The name had always fascinated me. It seemed the ideal setting for the farce I wanted to write. (Hooker Hollow Road, also outside Keyser, had fascinated me as well, but that would have been a much different play.)

Keith Stevenson and Neil McGowan

I had a deadline of December 18. I stared at the moon every night until December 1. When I had concluded the moon was not going to write the play for me, I took my netbook to the Cinema Bar on Sepulveda, where there is a back patio. I like to write outdoors.

All I had were two characters from a screenplay I had abandoned a long time ago: JD, a somewhat bizarre, but affable hillbilly of otherworldly origin and Mitchell, a straight man who answers a “roommate wanted” ad that JD had listed. The original screenplay started with 35 pages of backstory for Mitchell, but once he entered the room with JD, writer’s block set in for the next several years. So as a challenge, I started my stage play there, with the moment that Mitchell walks in the door. With the help of my writing partner, Jack Daniels, I wrote the first five pages that day. I returned the next day to the patio and wrote another eight pages. Decent progress, but one problem — I was now $90 in to the Cinema Bar. The Rockefellers may have family in West Virginia, but I ain’t one of them.

Keith Stevenson

The next few nights I wrote in my driveway with my netbook set on the tailgate of my pick-up truck. Then my friend and fellow PRTer, Norman Scott (who would later become the production’s scenic designer), offered me an empty apartment in the building he manages in Inglewood as a writing studio. I burned through the last 30 pages of the script there, desperately coming up with jokes from the stuff I saw lying around (a ladder, a fake-rock key safe — believe it or not, they worked.)

I finished the play with 24 hours to spare before the reading. Deadline met. The reading was such a success, we decided to do a three-week workshop production in March of this year. PRT’s artistic director Marilyn Fox gave us the green light to keep going. That turned into a six-month run — six of the best months of my life, spent with cast members Neil McGowan, Kendrah McKay, Michael Prichard, Jason Huber, Alex Fernandez and Scott Jackson — led by our director, Guillermo Cienfuegos. Near the end of the run, we were honored with an Ovation Award nomination for playwriting for an original play.

The success and themes of that play have led to a sequel, A Fried Meat Christmas, which is now currently playing alongside the original at Pacific Resident Theatre. Christmastime is fitting for a continuation of the original story, given JD’s somewhat holy(?) origin.

A Fried Meat Christmas, Pacific Resident Theatre, 707 Venice Boulevard, Venice 90291. Tonight and Friday, 8 pm. It’s paired with Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Rd. as a back-to-back double bill on Saturday 8 pm and Sunday 3 pm. Tickets: $20 per show; $30 if purchase tickets for both at same time. www.pacificresidenttheatre.com. 310-822-8392.

***All A Fried Meat Christmas production photos by Guillermo Cienfugos

Keith Stevenson penned the plays, Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd. and A Fried Meat Christmas as well as the films In the A.M. Of Dec 26th (On The Corner Of Cunningham & Kongosak in Barrow), The Magic Castle Presents The Amazing Joshua (Presto) Shapiro, and All That Glitters.

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