This post was updated on February 2 at 9:45 p.m.
Born from a childhood friendship, Highball Media strikes a balance between discomfort and laughter.
When they launched the production company at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, co-founder and third-year theater Student Lucy Urbano said her and third-year film and television student Charlie Stuip’s original goal was to give each other the opportunity to create the absurd art they had dreamed of creating since they were children. Since Highball debuted in the summer of 2020, Stuip said he’s assembled a board of producers and creatives from across the country who all have their own personal niche, from poetry to graphic design.
“We like to indulge in the grotesque and the absurd,” Stuip said. “Personally, through Highball, my dream is to make art (that accesses) that visceral emotion and experience in a way that can be really intimate and sometimes make people feel uncomfortable.”
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Both being raised by artist parents in rather non-traditional homes, Urbano said she and Stuip felt somewhat alienated from their peers when they were younger. Part of a multi-ethnic, multi-generational household that included her professional drummer father and social activist grandparents, Urbano said her parents raised her to be an artist. That upbringing might be why she and Stuip felt their dream of starting a production company was within reach, she said.
“To meet (Stuip) when I was a kid, I was like, ‘Here’s that person who really understands where I’m from and really wants to be weird,'” Urbano said. “We found a community of people like that at art school, and finding yours is one of the greatest things. Together, we’ve also found so many other wonderful people.
Along with other board members, Stuip said Highball’s artistic method is to create a sense of discomfort and then break that discomfort through laughter. In a tribute to Dadaism with a darker and more emotional core, Stuip said Highball is a mix of interdisciplinary artists aiming to capture a similar bohemian spirit. She said some might feel that today’s younger generation doesn’t echo the wild community in which poets, filmmakers, photographers and actors all work together, and Highball seeks to change that.
In order to fulfill this goal at the start of the pandemic, Stuip and Urbano said they organized events that required no funding, such as remote monologue and photography competitions, as well as a virtual variety show with poetry and jazz. . Despite its challenges, Urbano said working remotely has had its fair share of blessings, like being able to work with creators who aren’t located in Los Angeles and having in-depth conversations about the company’s roots with Stuip.
“As an actress, they want you to be obedient and they want you to follow instructions,” Urbano said. “As much as I love being an actress and following instructions, as much as I have my own ideas. (Stuip and I) being isolated together pushed us to have these conversations in a more real way than before to realize that we were capable to start something ourselves.
Highball has since developed a network of friends and collaborators that Urbano says gives the company a greater diversity of perspectives. Literary director Roan Pearl said the board is highly collaborative when it comes to creating new projects. With her experience training as an actor before learning to direct, Pearl said she places particular importance on discussing what the characters are going through with the actors. As a director, Pearl said she prioritizes authenticity in many Highball productions by ensuring the actors are empathetic to the characters they play.
Since theater is an in-person art form, Pearl said the company is doing its best to stay safe while composing more in-person events to maintain the authentic connection with its audience. The goal of maintaining that bond has been present since Highball debuted in the company’s first in-person show, Stuip said, which was a production of a play she wrote and directed titled “Living Room Play.” Being a young company, Stuip said it was done rather in a hurry with limited resources and involved dragging a clawfoot tub into the dining room of someone’s apartment.
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Continuing to bring their thoughts to life, Urbano said the company is currently working on the production of her first short film “Goodbye Horses,” where she will be the lead costume designer. When the wave of the omicron variant subsides, Urbano said she hopes to host a fundraising craft fair that includes music and craft artists from UCLA and the greater Los Angeles area.
“When I was little, I knew I wanted more than anything to be an actress in LA, and I always thought it would be on someone else’s terms,” Urbano said. “I can’t even describe how wonderful it is to do work that I am passionate about among other equally passionate people, all on our own terms, this gift for which I am so grateful.”