Alex Wallace is a founding company member of The NOLA Project and is currently leading in “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”. Alex Ates is the youngest company member, the interim education director, and director of the upcoming production of “Shiner”. Alex Neher is a young actor from LA who is co-starring in “Shiner”.
They all sat down on Labor Day for beers, burgers, and Alex talk about acting and New Orleans.
ATES: Wallace, how did you get involved with The NOLA Project? When did you first come to New Orleans? What was that like?
WALLACE: Okay, in NYU, Andrew [Larimer] compiled a group of names of people he’d be interested in starting a company with. He presented them to Jimmy Tripp who had agreed to direct the first couple of shows and Jimmy looked over the names and helped him whittle down who he would like to work with in a company and all that and, uh, I made the CUT! Then eventually after a few meetings and discussions we decided we should do The Cripple of Inishmaan which was a great show that I had done when I was in my tender youth and I knew of the playwright, Martin McDonagh and I liked his work and I like all Irish playwrights and myself and Andrew actually went to visit the isle of Inishmaan—which was a real trip—to do some research and that was fantastic. And then that summer we all came down to New Orleans to do The Cripple of Inishmaan and that was the first time I’d been in New Orleans.
ATES: What was the craziest experience you had?
WALLACE: Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum… There was something. It was a crazy experience. We decided…there was a time, right? So we were doing shows that sorta overlapped and so there was a period of time where—in Andrew Larimer’s house—there was some (I don’t know?) twenty people sleeping at the same time? We were doing Misanthrope and what was coming next was Cloud 9 and so there was a period of time where there were, like, twenty people and you’d grab a pillow, hopefully you could find some floor and you’d sleep. Somehow we decided—I don’t know, I brought boxing gloves for whatever reason—I said let’s do a thing and Andrew said, “What we’ll do is we’ll go to the levee and we’ll make a ring of torches and we’ll have boxing matches,” and it was great! It was a really great experience. And we all got just terribly drunk…and then we boxed. It was a great team-building experience and Jimmy Tripp really let us have it after that.
ATES: How did he find out about it?
WALLACE: I think we told him. And I think the next day we went to rehearsal and we were all a little, you know, blockheaded from being knocked around a bit and I’m sure we were a little hungover. And he said, “Maybe if you had studied your lines instead of boxing by the bayou!” And I was like, god, we should have called it that! That was a great name! Boxing By The Bayou!
ATES: Now, Alex Neher, you have been in New Orleans for close to 24 hours. What has it been like?
NEHER: Well, apart from it being very hot, everyone I met has just been overbearingly nice.
WALLACE: Overbearingly nice?!? You asshole! We’ll change that around right now!
NEHER: No, but I was telling…
WALLACE: Too much to bear, is it? Allow me to relieve you!
NEHER: No, no, I was telling Ates that I was at the grocery store and it was raining and I texted Alex to pull up and I had to walk in the rain just a little bit and I’m putting groceries in, I’m getting a little wet, and then, all of a sudden, I stop getting wet and there’s this man’s face right next to mine and—
ATES: —He wanted to make out with you.
WALLACE: Overbearingly nice!
NEHER: And then he said, “It’s about doing things that are nice. PASS IT ALONG!” He said it, it was, like very sweet, but—
NEHER: Yeah, exactly! It was, like, aggressive! But, no, it’s been great! Everywhere I go people are either feeding me or buying me drinks and including me. It’s great. I love it.
WALLACE: Especially in comparison to Boston, I’m from Boston. Love Boston.
ATES: We all have that in common too! [Ates and Neher attended Emerson College in Boston]
WALLACE: Boston’s cold. They’re chilly people.
WALLACE: Puritanical is right! Yeah, not like down here. But that has it’s ups and downs as well. There’s a big part of me that really enjoys that, ‘you stay out of my business and I’ll stay out of yours’ aspect of Boston and I can really get behind that sometimes. On the other hand, the community aspect that exists in New Orleans I’ve never experienced anywhere else since now living in New York, living in Chicago for a while, and Boston, and Los Angeles and all over the place. I really tried to live in all sorts of places and make all of the pilgrimages that an actor is supposed to make and that sense of community exists in New Orleans in a way that I hadn’t seen before. Yeah, and in comparison to Boston, yeah, it’s overbearingly friendly. It’s wild.
ATES: So what advice do you have for Alex Neher? Because he’s kinda continuing this NOLA Project tradition of coming down, staying with a college friend, and he’s sleeping on a cot in a living room.
NEHER: It’s very comfortable, I will say!
ATES: What advice do you have for this young Alex who is taking the same journey you once took?
WALLACE: If I were you, I think that living with any kind of regret is the worst thing that you can do and if you’re looking to be an actor, if I were you, I would make like I did, the pilgrimages that an actor should make and really give LA a good stab—it has it’s ups and downs. The theater scene, if you’re any kind of good stage actor, you can take it by storm! It’s fantastic! (Mind you, they won’t pay you anything.) New York is hell on earth, but it’s magic at the same time—and there’s nothing like it! Chicago has a fantastic theater scene, but it’s too cold and the snow goes up real high. And Chicago will boast that they have a very great public transportation system, but you actually need a car—so it’s hard. All these places have these amazing ups and downs. And then, eventually—like you’re doing now—give New Orleans a try and if you find that New Orleans is calling you to stay, then you should definitely do it because right now the city is reminiscent of Greenwich Village of the 60s and 70s, except it’s different because in the 60s and 70s artists would find themselves in The Village, whereas things are moving much quicker here in New Orleans because artists are now seeking this place out. Of course, film is exploding and this and that. So it’s a hot time to be here and I don’t know how long it’s going to last. I mean, I hope it lasts for a long time, but this kind of, the kind of crackling in the arts scene, generally like anything that crackles, doesn’t crackle for long. It’s just the nature of things that crackle…I’ve cooked in many restaurants. But if you feel the want to stay in New Orleans and give it a shot, dude, totally do it. It’s totally worth it. It’s a growing experience and I can’t recommend it enough. But, also, get those pilgrimages out of the way, cause don’t ever live with regret and say, “Oh I should have lived in LA!” Go on! Give LA a try! It’s atrocious! Go on!
NEHER: What was the moment where you knew you had to stay in New Orleans?
WALLACE: It was every time I would leave, actually. Every time I left New Orleans. And it was also during the time when I was here in New Orleans, the economy was in a really bad state and it didn’t necessarily hit New Orleans in the way it hit other cities. And so finding a job, I would walk down the street and I would just pop my head into every place and I would say, “You guys hiring?” That opportunity does exist in New Orleans and if you do go door to door with resumes, you can find your side gig in a week! I promise! And to me—how old are you?
WALLACE: Yeah, as a 22-year-old artist, finding that side gig so you can do your art is tantamount to being a happy and healthy artist. This city has that in a huge way. It’s great.
ATES: We’re all Alexs here. Do you have any pieces of advice?
WALLACE: You know, I was talking earlier about regret. I regret not insisting that I go by Alexander.
NEHER: Whoa! As like an acting name? Or just day to day?
WALLACE: It’s a very powerful name. And that way you’ll distinguish yourself from the other Alexs. Go ahead! Cut us out! Go on! Cut us down by the knees! Do it! I’m giving you a hint here and insist that you are called Alexander. So that’s top secret advice that I’m giving it to you because it’s too late now. I’m known as Alex. It’s too late. But if I were you, and you were coming down here, go on! Insist that you’re known as Alexander. You have time, Alexander!