Grant Myers and Ed Higgins just wanted to put on one show eight years ago. Now, their company How Do You Like Me Now Productions is on its seventh play, fifth art show, has another art show on the way and curated art at Laurel Coffee Shop.
Before the close of their run of “The Addams Family” at the Chesapeake Arts Center, Myers talked to the Capital about why they kept going and what theater can mean to those who need help.
How did your company get started?
I always get a little emotional for this part… Eight years ago, we were having my daughter’s 14th birthday party when news broke that one of her classmates had just committed suicide. I had a dozen kids at my house look at me like, “What do we do?” I was like, “Kids, I’ve got nothing for you. I don’t know.” Nicholas had been bullied for several years at school over his perceived sexual orientation, being gay. So he went home on my daughter’s birthday and hung himself. As a gay man, I have a problem with that. I was just in the process of coming out to my kid, and I had to make a difference. So I stumbled across the script for “The Laramie Project” at a friend’s house and decided I wanted to do it. Right then and there, How Do You Like Me Now [Productions] was born.
What has been your priority as a company since that first show?
Our mission is to raise awareness against hate crimes and bullying, especially against the LGBTQ community in the Baltimore/D.C. area. It’s expanded, so pretty much anyone who gets hated on, we’ve got their back. All of our plays, “The Laramie Project,” “Stop Kiss,” “Rocky [Horror Picture Show],” “Heathers,” “Breaking the Code,” “Addams Family,” have a theme of acceptance or tolerance.
We’re so lucky to live in this area where you step out your front door and the neighbors on your left are Muslims, then across the street they’re Jewish, and you’ve got your mixed-race and your Asians and your gays. It’s a wonderful melting pot of everyone who’s around, and we should be celebrating that, not hating one another. That’s how we took our place.
How does “The Addams Family” channel that message of acceptance?
[The character] Wednesday is Wednesday. The show opens up: She’s in Central Park with her crossbow, goose-hunting at a petting zoo, where she meets Lucas, the son of former hippies, out taking a stroll in the park. They fall in love and it comes time for that fateful time the parents have to meet. We’ve got the very “normal,” as you and I would see it, Beinekes and the not-so-normal Addams family. And it’s time for the game where they call all the ancestors back from the grave for a little full-disclosure where they’re going to kind of just lay all their cards on the table. It’s just a really, really fun show. Grandma’s there, Uncle Fester, Lurch. Everybody’s got their story. The main thing we have in common is we accept one another.
How does that message translate offstage while you’re making the show?
We are just there for one another. We're cheering each other on, we’ve got each other’s back. I put a lady in a dress last night because she injured her arm. You do what you’ve gotta do, and it’s not about all these other weird things we’re caught up in. We’re just telling a story. That’s the magical part of it. We’ve been busting our hump trying to get this show together for everybody. The singing and the dancing and the set and the costume and the props. I live in thrift stores, and Amazon is going to think my account got hacked, but I’m having fun, and I get to tell this great story.
If one family along the way gets the message… As a kid who was bullied, I never went home and told my mom because I knew the bullying would get worse. Maybe some kid will say “I can tell, I can open up and let people know I’m not getting treated so well.” Then my mission was successful. Whether I have one audience member or 5,000, if that one person gets the message, we did it. We met our goal, and it’s a fun way to do it.
What’s it like finding props and costumes for a show like “The Addams Family”?
We bring everybody together, collect their sizes, start rehearsals and then I hit the ground.
We need a black slinky dress for Morticia. We need the same dress in black and yellow for Wednesday. Grandma needs something kind of creepy and spooky that looks like she’s had it on for a thousand years. Uncle Fester needs the bald wig — unless he wants to shave his head. Lurch is a tall dude; he needs the morning coat.
You just hit the thrift stores, and we have so many wonderful thrift stores here in Laurel. You look for wacky furniture that doesn’t fit in anybody’s house except yours because you’ve got eclectic stuff you’ve collected from doing shows. I’ve got a crazy statue called “Biker Pirate Jesus.” It’s kind of creepy. We’ve got a chalice, swords that I found in thrift stores, a crazy red velvet chair that looks like it’s got a butterfly on the back. We’re collecting furniture we can’t use because we have too much of it and it all comes from thrift stores. I have seven options for Morticia to try on. I know more about fashion than I ever thought I did.
What’s one thing you want people to know about this production?
For every purchased ticket, you can bring one furloughed federal employee. They just have to bring their ID card. Those folks are going without a paycheck right now. Stress has to be super high for them. Let’s bring them out, give them a good show. I wish we could let them all in for free, but there are production costs. Whatever your position is on wall or no wall, Democrat or Republican, the real crisis is our citizens. These 800,000 people who don’t get a paycheck. If I have to give up the price of one ticket to give somebody two hours of time they don’t have to think about that, bring it on.
See for yourself
The last productions of “The Addams Family” run Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Lane in Brooklyn Park. The theater can be reached at 410-636-6597 or email@example.com.
Tickets are $18 at hdylmn.org. Ticketholders can bring one furloughed government employee for free.* For more information, call 410-849-9603 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Editor's note: Interview was conducted while the government was still shut down. Furlough deal is no longer an option.