The Santa Monica Pier is an entertaining place. On any given day you can see a juxtaposition of class, the full melting-pot of America present, people looking for a never-ending ocean view and entertainment. There are buskers performing their talents for cash, carnival-like games, an arcade, and Pacific Park and it’s Sea Dragon and West Coaster rides.
Starting Friday, February 10, the pier will house another attraction for entertainment — Jim Harris and Paul Sands’ play, “An Illegal Start”, taking another run inside of the historic Santa Monica Merry-Go-Round building.
“We were just trying it out in that space to see if it even worked,” Jim Harris, local playwright and Pier historian said in a phone call, reflecting on the play’s initial run last summer. “It ended up being very well-received, the audience seemed to love it and the performers did a tremendous job.”
The play, about two teenagers whose lives become intertwined after a car crash, is based on true events that took place in Harris’s life and was originally written for the stage.
Harris and Santa Monica bred Tony-award winner Paul Sand adapted “An Illegal Start” to be performed inside the pier’s Merry-Go-Round building, with performances from actors Cameron Tagge and Irish Giron in its trial run.
“During that trial run, we learned a lot,” Harris said. The logistics of figuring how to exactly stage a play in a historic landmark wasn’t much of an issue for Harris, calling the Merry-Go-Round “an antique we always treated with respect.” He cited external forces — namely, parking — as the main culprit affecting the plays initial run.
“We actually almost extended the run of shows, it was doing so well,” Harris said. “But parking was such a hassle. Still is. We’d start some shows an hour late just to try and accommodate everyone that wanted to see the play.”
After nearly a year, Harris and Sands have ironed out kinks both within the play and out.
Moving the date to February, Harris feels traffic will be much alleviated and having nearly a year to fine-tune the play, Harris and Sands added some new wrinkles expected to emotionally engage the audience.
“We came to realize we can offer something special and unique in an area of the world where unique artistic experiences are welcomed and expected part of our culture,” Harris said. “We had the ability and experience to do it and do it right.”
The duo added new musical components, carousel music to fit the ambiance, and certain things, Harris says, “you’ll have to experience for yourself.” His favorite addition is more emotional resonance.
“That final scene was touching and wonderful, but we realized it could use some sharpening up. Last year you may have needed a tissue, this year you might want to bring the whole box.”
Jim Harris and Paul Sand’s “An Illegal Start” performs at the Santa Monica Pier’s Merry-Go-Round Building, beginning Feb. 9 for a five-week run, continuing Fridays & Saturdays in February & March.
Tickets cost $24-$30 and are available through paulsandprojects.com/an-illegal-start.html.