The '90s Live With Rec Room's My So-Called Mondays

The '90s Live With Rec Room's My So-Called Mondays
Courtesy of Stephanie Wittles Wachs

My So Called Life likely captures your high school years perfectly, and yet you’ve probably never heard of it. One of the great “brilliant but canceled” series of the early ’90s, the Claire Danes vehicle ran for a mere 19 episodes across six months in 1994.  Yet in that brief stint, the angsty critical darling racked up a Golden Globe, four Emmy nominations and a legacy of devoted fans mourning the loss of a potential hall-of-fame series snuffed before its time. But one of those beleaguered fans has big plans to revive the cult series, so clear your Mondays.

“This was the greatest show, maybe ever,” says actor-writer-director and MSCL super-fan Stephanie Wittels-Wachs. “It was super ahead of its time, and dealt with issues we’re still grappling with today. The third episode was literally titled ‘Guns and Gossip.’ [The series] tackles school shootings, sexuality, gender identity, female empowerment. And the writing is likely the best teenage writing of all time.” The writing will be on full display in Wittels-Wachs’s Rec Room revival (entitled My So-Called Mondays), each Monday as a full cast will perform a dramatic re-creation of an episode’s script. “I realized: People just want to be home watching Netflix. What if we bring Netflix to the stage?” the director asks. “These [episode] transcripts I’ve found are so obviously fan-written, and the stage directions are amazing. They’re so melodramatic and super emo – they’re like a character of their own.” A character so juicy, Wittels-Wachs has claimed that part for herself.

As a whole, Wittels-Wachs hopes My So-Called Mondays will help establish the identity of her space, The Rec Room. “The whole reason Rec Room was founded was because we hate theater,” she blurts out. “We’re theater artists who are so burnt out on theater. [This was our way] to just do something fun.”

The former HSPVA director credits the Chicago art collective known as The Neo-Futurists with helping inspire an enviable atmosphere. “The Neo-Futurists do this show every Friday night in Chicago called Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. It’s dependable entertainment you can count on. It’s fun [for] everyone to get [drunk] and watch this crazy show.” 

As each Monday lurks closer, Wittels-Wachs finds herself beginning to prioritize accommodations. “These [are] the problems with weekly shows,” the director confides. “You can’t have actors [attempting] to memorize a full hour of text each time – we’re doing like three hours of rehearsal a week.” The compromise was simply to make each show a staged reading; staged readings are full performances with the addition of music stands, so actors can have their scripts on deck.

Theatricalizing the teleplays is another priority for the series. One of Stephanie’s tricks is a rarely used “staging method” called “The Rasaboxes.” The director lays it out like this: “That totally weird thing where [actors] will step into a box, have a very strong emotional reaction and then step out [of the box]. It’s this very ‘take-yourself-too-seriously’ form of actor training.” Additionally, the crew plans to have a type of “God Mike” to use for the main character’s inner monologues. Also, if you have a bit of the acting bug, there’s a chance you could get a line. “Audience members are going to be part of [each] cast. All the teacher roles, Girl #1, Girl #2 – these sort of bit roles that have just amazing lines, we’re going to cast the crowd!”

Ultimately, Wittels-Wachs hopes My So-Called Mondays can be a much-needed form of escapism. “We just wanna keep bringing people back. I mean, not to get too political, but I just feel like everything is so horrible right now. So I just want to [be part of] something fun, and lighthearted and engaging. Let’s all just escape to the ’90s for a little bit, where everything felt just that much less…crazy."

Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Mondays. July 18-December 12 at  100 Jackson. For information, call 832-786-8822 or visit $10.

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