LA People 2009: Point Break Live!'s Punk Theater Impresario Thomas Blake
The first time I met Thomas Blake, he was busy robbing a bank in downtown Los Angeles. I was face-down on the floor, my cheek pressed against the cold cement, when Blake yanked me up by the arm, put a gun to my head and yelled, “Open the fucking vault!”
I wasn’t so much terrified as intrigued — it’s not every day you’re manhandled by a criminal wearing a Condoleezza Rice mask.
The “bank” was the cocktail lounge Charlie O’s; the robbery, a scene from the wildly popular stage production Point Break Live! during its premiere L.A. run in 2007. At this pivotal moment in the show, Blake and the other cast members make their fatal mistake: They get greedy and burn too much time in the vault.
“Where do I go?” I mumbled, flustered in front of the audience and tangled in my rain poncho.
“Into the vault,” Blake growled, laughing as he shoved me into a corner to wait while the rest of the scene played out.
Cap guns were fired, stage blood splattered across the cheering crowd, and Blake took a bullet in the stomach. The bank job had gone bad, real bad, and mayhem erupted as the renegade actors leaped over cowering hostages and into the laps of theatergoers, while the audience volunteer playing Keanu Reeves tried to read his next cue card.
“If the audience doesn’t get accosted, then they feel like they got slighted,” Blake tells me over diner coffee. It’s just more than a year since our violent introduction at Charlie O’s, and the show has since moved to the Dragonfly on Santa Monica Boulevard’s Theater Row. “They love us running out there and throwing them on the ground. We try to make sure everybody gets harmed. We’re gonna spit blood on you, we’re going to squirt you with water, we don’t care if you’re Steven Spielberg, you’re going to get bloody.”
Point Break Live! is the interactive, DIY stage adaptation of director Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 adrenaline-soaked big-screen blockbuster, Point Break. In the film, Keanu Reeves’ undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah pursues Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi Sattva and his gang of bank-robbing surfers, the Ex-Presidents, through a series of escalating set pieces: death-defying waves, skydiving (without a chute!) and one hell of a foot chase through the sprawling geography of L.A. But in Point Break Live!, ocean waves are cardboard cutouts, a tsunami is re-created with Super Soakers and a plastic kiddy pool, and as for the skydiving sequence, the actors fly harnessed above the crowd, dangling from hooks in the ceiling while getting blasted by a wind machine.
Blake smiles, “The show is like this: If you’re 11 years old and you’re going to act out your favorite movie in your backyard with all your buddies, how would you do it? That’s what we do. We are punk-rock theater. We pride ourselves in that.”
If you didn’t know better, you’d think Blake was a West Coast native. His blond hair, blue eyes and dimpled smile have L.A. local written all over them, and then there are his striking similarities to Kurt Cobain. Blake, however, is a Southern boy, raised on a small coastal island in North Carolina. There he grew up a talented surfer, ranking 12th in his East Coast division by age 14, and there he first became involved in musical theater.
In addition to his role as the surfer-turned–cap-gun-wielding outlaw named Roach, Thomas Blake serves as co-producer and director of Point Break Live! alongside Eve Hars and George Spielvogel (who doubles as Gary Busey’s character, Angelo Pappas). The team met in 2006 during the show’s run at a small theater on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, after originators Jamie Hook and Jaime Keeling brought the production to New York from Seattle. “Point Break Live! is a collaboration between many different people over many years,” Blake clarifies, though he insists the Los Angeles cast is the best the show’s ever had, if maybe a little prone to mischief.
One night after a show, when he was asked for his phone number by a female audience member, he obliged, only to write down the digits of cast member Mitch Eakins instead. Later, when Eakins received a salacious text from the girl and Blake told him what he’d done, Eakins messaged her back with “a better number to reach him on,” that of Spielvogel. Prankster, yes, but at age 27, Blake’s puckish charm is tempered by the patience of a businessman running a successful stage show in a city where he was told it was impossible.
“A lot of people told us we couldn’t do theater in L.A., that we wouldn’t have a long-running show here because it’s a movie place. But we opened on October 12, 2007,” he says, “and it just caught on.”
The show continues to pack sold-out audiences in L.A. after nearly two years, and Blake says that he and his co-producers have recently relaunched a second production in San Francisco.
After we pay our diner tab, Blake invites me to what one might call the Point Break Live! headquarters, a bungalow-style house he shares with cast members Eakins and Christi Waldon. As we walk up to the front door, Eakins is fixing broken surfboards in the front yard. Later, there will be burgers and chicken on the grill, a bonfire and a highly competitive ping-pong tournament in the backyard.
“The cast is best friends,” Blake says, relaxed, his dog, Bauer, asleep on the couch next to him. “We all hang out when we’re not doing the show. We make little movies together. But doing the show is my favorite part of the week. When you can see that the audience is really into what you’re doing, when you look out into the crowd and everyone is smiling, that’s why we do it. Where else can you run out with guns and throw people on the ground and they’re really happy about it?”
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.