COLUMBIA—What stands out about “The After Hours” is that it’s a collage of genres: It’s drama, rock opera, ballet, doo-wop and vaudeville. That mix is what playwright Holly K. Maness had in mind.
“It’s a visual extravaganza like nothing you have ever seen before,” said Abby Rhodes, who is performing one of three speaking roles in the play that includes two other actors, two dancers, two rock bands and two solo acts.
Also directed by Maness and largely inspired by her time bartending at Mojo’s in Columbia, “The After Hours” takes place at a music club at that point in the night when even though the bar closes, the night doesn’t end.
“The play begins with the bartender trying to shut the bar down for the night,” Maness said. “And it sort of moves in between the idea that the people that are hanging out at the bar are actually there or that they’re sort of figments of the bartender’s imagination to sort of keep her company as it shuts down. This begins exploring the line between fantasy and reality.”
Besides the bartender, the other speakers are a pair of ushers who together serve as a kind of emcee or circus master.
“They’re both informing the bartender’s decision to struggle through and try to get home by the end of the night,” Maness said. “It’s almost like the angel-and-the-devil-on-the-shoulder thing influencing good and bad behavior. ... The thought is that (the bartender) has to struggle through all this noise in her head to make a statement of her own.”
That statement is at the heart of the play.
“When I was bartending, I was in a music club all the time, and I was just hearing all this great music come and go,” Maness recalled. “It kind of made me feel stuck and too young to know where to start making myself a more creative presence.”
Singer Wil Reeves said he thinks many will connect to this notion.
“It’s a place we’ve all been,” Reeves said. “Late at night, it could be the middle of the week or the weekend, we’re out and drinking, and you start to create this alternate reality. And you talk to your friends about these ideas. You get these grandiose plans together. And sometimes they might play out, but a lot of times it’s just talk, just this thing that goes on in the after hours.”
Reeves, singer and bassist for Columbia’s Bockman, is part of the local artistic collaboration used to complete this project. Originally, Maness had put the play to music by some of her favorite national bands such as The Flaming Lips. But about a year into the production process, she said she knew the play needed a local score.
Now, it’s composed entirely of original music put together by Columbia artists such as Reeves, some of which was written specifically for the play. And as the play takes place at a music club, these bands, such as Bockman and The Doxies, will be there to perform the songs live during the performances. They will interact with both the actors and the audience, even heckling the performers at times.
Rhodes, who plays one of the ushers, said the community feel this created was a large selling point to her.
“It attracted me because it seemed like Holly was making a point to utilize a lot of talent here,” Rhodes said. “There’s a big music scene here and a big art scene, but not as much of a post-college theater scene, so I was really encouraged by all these musicians. They are so invested in this. They’re so enthusiastic and supportive and interested in more of this in the future.
“And I think if Columbia is to ever have a growth of a real theater scene, it will need combined support like that,” Rhodes said. “Ultimately, we’re all artists here.”
Daryl Keller, who plays the other usher and is one of the co-founders of the Pedestrian Company, which is putting on “The After Hours” with Co-Opt Records, said she agrees the artistic collaboration was key to the development.
“I think that when we made the decision to use only local artists and even some music specifically written for the show, it helped immensely and did much more than we could even initially realize to create a feel,” Keller said.
And while this is the first play Maness and the Pedestrian Company have been able to take on the road — to Kirksville, St. Louis and Springfield — this Columbia feel was important to Maness.
“I had a lot of friends after they graduated move out to California or New York,” she said. “But for me, part of what makes theater worth doing is knowing the community that you’re performing it in and tapping into that.”