Granados: Local theater goes meta with [title of show]

June 28, 2013 

The cast members of [title of show], left to right, are Jess Barbour, James Ilsley, Phil Denny and Katie Bowra. The musical kicks off the summer series at the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre.


North Raleigh never ceases to amaze me. I’ve written about the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre before. It’s tucked into a shopping center, hidden near a gas station and amongst your usualnormal strip mall fare. But it is far from ordinary, as I discovered when I recently opened my inbox. I found this:

“RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre (NRACT) will present the Raleigh premiere of the musical [title of show] for four performances, June 22-23 and 29-30."

I assumed it was a mistake. I sent out an e-mail asking the sender what exactly the “title of show” was. After a bit of time, I got a response. THAT was the title.

[title of show] follows two friends as they make a musical ... about making a musical.

And what’s weirder still is that the original production on Broadway was written by two friends who were trying to make a musical about two friends making a musical about making a musical. The friends, in collaboration with two of their friends, were the stars of the show and kept their same names. So now, when a local group does the production, they have to embody the characters of the real-life people who made the musical. It’s all a bit confusing, I know. I’ll let Jess Barbour, the producer and one of the actresses in the production, explain.

“You know you’re not going to tell it the exact same way that the four people who wrote it did,” she said. Rather, the actors have to find a way to make the characters uniquely theirs, even though they are based on real people.

Director David Henderson agrees.

“Any time you come after those people, it’s ‘finding your own voice,’ if you will, in that piece,” he said.

The decision to have this particular show kick off the summer series at the NRACT was one that reflects the creation of [title of show] itself: friends being creative with friends.

“That came out of me sitting around with several of my actor and musician friends saying how we really wanted to do a show together again because we had so much fun doing a previous show,” Barbour said.

Barbour is a rarity in these parts: an actress born and raised in the area. She went to Elon and majored in theater before striking out for the thespian meccas of New York and California. She had modest ambitions.

“I just always wanted to work,” she said. “It wasn’t about being famous or about doing something huge. It was about calling myself a working actor.”

She eventually learned that if she wanted a lot of work, the Raleigh area was the place to be. So she returned. Here she gets to be in great productions like [title of show] while subsidizing her passion with local gigs such as going into schools to teach children about bullying.

In her time in the theater, she’s learned that acting is so much more than pretending to be other people. And it can be an empowering tool for young people.

“It’s not just about performing, but about being able to stand up in front of your class and giving a presentation and not being uncomfortable,” she said.

As for Henderson, this is his directing debut at NRACT. Perhaps an odd start given how minimalist this production is: just four chairs and a keyboard. That puts a lot of pressure on the actors, he said.

“How you relate to those chairs physically ... says a lot about who you are in the play,” he said.

So far, he loves the crowd he’s worked with.

“Everybody’s been great. Everybody’s been very welcoming and kind. It’s such a neat space,” he said.

And it is. The shopping center has character, as Henderson illustrated.

“You’ve got a great taco place next door. A coffee shop, a sushi restaurant,” he said. “Why would I ever leave?”

Sadly, by the time you read this, the show is most likely over. But that shouldn’t stop you from checking out all the great offerings the NRACT will be bringing to you this summer.

And if you find yourself wondering about the title of the show, go to NRACT.ORG. It’ll save you some confusion.

Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at

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