Rebecca O’Brien Is Getting There
The Hollywood Fringe Festival 2023 (HFF23) filled local streets and the month of June with 300 shows, about half of them solo performances. Of those 150, Rebecca O’Brien’s Getting There! was voted the best. Getting There! is a moving and hilarious saga of Rebecca’s travels to and from Cedars-Sinai Hospital for cancer treatment,
We asked Rebecca about how she put together her award-winning show.
Tell us a little about your background, as an actor, writer, and LA resident.
I have always had the acting bug! I played Snow White in sixth grade. Going to an all-girls school, I gladly played John the Baptist! I have a BA in Theatre from University of Tennessee and I studied Meisner with Katheryn Gately at Gately/Poole Acting Studio in a two-year conservatory program. I went from first to fifth level in comedy at Gotham City Improv. I actually had my own show at the World Famous Comedy Store for years I have three Toastmasters Humorous Awards.
What is the history of Getting There!?
I wrote the stories that evolved into Getting There! as a way to entertain myself. While riding the city bus, you can witness a real, live Netflix series right before your eyes. Also, when you ride the bus, you’re either early or late. So, when I was going through treatment for cancer, I was always early for the hospital and I would sit with my iPhone and let my thumbs get busy.
Writing my stories entertained me. And more importantly, writing kept me in the moment. When the nurse would call my name, I wouldn’t be scared to hear the results of yesterday’s medical test because my head was still humming along with my characters.
Writing Getting There! was a huge gift I gave myself. I had a successful run with an earlier version at the Whitefire Theatre in early 2020. When the idea arose of doing a show in the Hollywood Fringe, I didn’t have to wonder what I’d do. I knew I had to do my stories in Getting There!
How did you choose your director, Cameron Watson? What did he bring to the show?
Luckily, I have known Cameron since I was 19 years old. We have a dear mutual friend, Deborah Obenchain. She was his best friend in high school and my best friend in college. After seeing his work, I knew I had wanted to work with him. I called his number, crossed my fingers and he said yes! I was lucky that he had seen my original show at the Whitefire.
Cameron Watson is a busy director and a popular acting teacher. Yet, we figured it out. We finalized a few changes in the script at his home and then I rented the Hudson Guild for our rehearsals. Cameron utilized every inch of that space.
Fringe comes quickly. We worked under pressure rather well, I think, because we have a great deal of mutual respect. I love that he is now part of my team. I call him for advice and he always makes time for me. He is one dear man! His best advice was to focus on telling my story from my heart to the audience.
What changed from the first iteration to the second?
Getting There! certainly went to the next level at Fringe. I knew in my gut that I needed to add more to it, to go deeper. I was ready emotionally to do so! And working with Cameron helped; he asked me many questions.
Time brings perspective and helps you see what may be missing from your story. The changes were actually few, but they were important for the overall message. Even though I was so disappointed to not to get to do Fringe in 2020, because of Covid, I believe the extra time helped me to be more honest and open to tell Getting There!
Watching you at the Hollywood Fringe, it felt like you were a driven woman. You promoted the show, you worked and worked on it with your director, you obviously were determined to polish it to the highest possible shine and get it seen as widely as possible. What drove you?
Let’s be honest, when you get to the other side of cancer, you are very aware that you have limited time on this earth. Not to worry, I am all good, in complete remission, yet I went through a personal pandemic before we all went through the pandemic.
Hollywood Fringe Festival was a real treat for me. I loved meeting all those young folks, as passionate about their shows as I am about my Getting There! In an odd way, Fringe reminded me of how much I love doing theater. You have a date and the train is running and you need to do your all to make it as good as you can.
After conquering my remission, I broke my leg, then Getting There! was in the Whitefire Festival Jan 19, 2020. I was getting ready to put money down in for Fringe 2020 and was at hospital telling one of my doctors, Dr. Asher, about it. He tried to explain that nobody would be doing any theater. That appointment was March 11, 2020.
I performed a story that night at the Broadwater and We Make Movies, an organization I belong to announced we would not be meeting in person anymore, and the rest is history. This horse, (I can’t believe I’m calling myself a horse!) was ready for the race in 2020. So, obviously I couldn’t wait to get out of the gate in 2023!
I’m not young anymore, but age and dealing with real-life hurdles make you aware that it’s time to seize the day! If not now, when? I just want to say a big thank you to HFF23! The whole experience reminded me of who I am, and that was indeed a huge gift!
How was writing about cancer different from other writing you have done?
I believe we get more honest in our lives, be it a survivor of cancer or a survivor of whatever. We are here in this life for a very short time. Be here and tell your stories. Why not? I happen to be a single, older, childless women. If I don’t tell my stories who will? And, it is OK to be who I am! Believe me, I hear thank you at the end of my show from the audience. And believe me, being brave is perhaps maybe helping others to be brave. We need to all be brave. Seeing that we’re all in this team of life is a way to do that. Wait, that is the message of Getting There! Good, I got that in!
Getting There is very much a Los Angeles story. What did you learn about LA and its public transportation system that you didn’t know before you had to use it regularly? How were you able to re-create so many of the characters you encountered and capture such a unique world?
A lot of folks are on their phones, talking, listening to music, reading, or even sleeping while riding on the bus. I personally do enjoy people watching. I always have. And I like to ask myself why is that guy talking out loud? What is he really saying or wanting?
I used to live in New York City and mass transit was the smart way to go. In LA, there’s judgment about who rides the bus, but sometimes it is the faster way to go. Finding parking in LA can be a part-time job. I think going through a life-threatening disease, I somehow tapped into being comforted by the humanity on the bus. We are all together traveling in this life together.
Even though I am in between relationships and far from family, the universe wasn’t ever going to have me doing cancer alone. I had oodles of friends show up for the big appointment and the rest of the time going back and forth to the hospital the universe showed up for me in a profound, life-changing way. I hope if you are reading this you get to come see Getting There! In the future!
Are there any more Getting There performances scheduled?
The Hudson Guild has invited me back. We will be announcing more dates very soon. After 11 virtually sold-out shows, I just need a bit of a break! The plan is to come back in October. The H.I.T. Festival has just asked me to perform in October. Dates to be announced.
What are you writing now?
I am writing a memoir of growing up in Tennessee as the daughter of a prestigious architect. I would describe it as a little girl’s Wonder Years/Mad Men meets Roseanne in Tennessee: crazy Southern fun, with no politics!