Jaime Keeling's Point Break Live! is a ha-ha-fun drunken dorm room idea gone terrifically right. Take Kathryn Bigelow's tubular surfer-bro action-adventure bank-robber film starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze (RIP), put it in a theater, keep all the best lines, also keep all the water and blood, and then, just to add that extra special something, cast the show's lead role from the audience each night.
That's right, Seattle. If you buy a ticket to Point Break Live! at the Showbox this Saturday, May 6, you can audition for the role of special agent Johnny Utah. It'll be you up onstage in the pouring rain, erotically handcuffed to surfer guru and gang leader Bodhi, trying to decide whether to do your duty as an officer of the law and bring him to justice or do your dude-ty as a brah and let him ride that ultimate wave. Vaya con dios.
Besides the sun-beaten bros, two other important figures will dominate the stage that night. One is NYC stunt double Jo-anne Lee, who spends a lot of time kicking the men and taking over for Johnny Utah when it's time to do the technically complicated action sequences. The other is Keeling, a five-foot-two spark plug from Arkansas who plays director Kathryn Bigelow with lots of authority and raw aggression.
In an empty theater at Northwest Film Forum last Saturday, I witnessed Keeling running rehearsals for the show like a grizzled campaign manager trying to whip a doughy politician into shape. She showed the actors how best to toss the plastic machine guns, demonstrated the way to sniff a comically large line of cocaine like you mean it, and with her spiky Southern accent corrected actors who flubbed their lines.
"It's New Zealand!" she shouted to the actor playing Bodhi, who accidentally said he wasn't going to paddle his way to Australia. "New Zealand! You need to get that right. People really love that line!"
She'd know: Keeling created Point Break Live! while she was living in Seattle back in 2003, and she's been running it ever since. What began as drunken playacting with her and a few of her roommates eventually grew into a fully staged production at Northwest Film Forum's the Little Theatre (which eventually became Washington Ensemble Theatre, which is now Ritual House of Yoga).
The original cast included all the members of a death-metal band called Doomsday 1999. Three actors from that original performance will take the stage this weekend as well. Brandon Bay will play the burnout guitarist, Spenser Hoyt will do his best Gary Busey impression as coke-sniffing FBI mentor Pappas, and Peter Carrs will reprise his role as Bodhi, lo these 14 years later.
The Seattle performances back in the day were wildly successful. They sold out their original and extended runs, and the show ended up going to the Olympia Film Festival the following year. In 2007, it got picked up in Los Angeles, and now it's that city's longest-running live show.
Along the way, Keeling won a court battle against a production company that was an investor in the LA show. The production company continued to do the show without paying her royalties. After a few long, hard years, she found someone to take her case pro bono, and she eventually won her own show back.
"Now my copyright is super fucking enforced because there was a federal fucking judge and an entire goddamn jury who say I fucking own this shit," she said to me at Saint John's Bar after the rehearsal. "Copyright law students will study my case in the future."
Now, in addition to the LA shows, Keeling oversees about 14 East Coast performances each year, playing to a crowd of 250 to 650 per night.
Despite the fact that every iteration of Point Break Live! is one giant, satisfying "fuck you" to that production company, she's thinking about licensing the show to focus on creating new work, but she's wary of making a call one way or another. She doesn't want it to turn into a pro-bro show.
"It's a feminist show. It's about making fun of bros," she said. Then she added: "It's also about ladies being able to wild out. It's like, 'You can be the director of all these dudes. Own it. Take up the space.'"
Though it meant driving all the way out here from New York with a car full of tropical props, bringing the show back to Seattle with that message is important for Keeling. This was the place where she flourished, the place that was open to her silly idea, the place that finally, to some degree, accepted her. She wants to remind people that still may yet be possible.