By Lauren Karp
The news spread through the downtown Phoenix acting and writing worlds through a mix of Facebook, text message, and word of mouth. Just 24 hours before auditions were scheduled to be held at The Firehouse Gallery for the local hit sketch comedy show First Friday Night Live, the word spread like wildfire—Season 3 of FFNL was on hiatus and auditions were canceled until further notice.
Fans of the late-night show might remember that this is not the first time FFNL has fallen on hard times. Last January, city codes caused The Firehouse to shut down their iconic “backyard” stage—home of not only FFNL, but also the popular Firestage show. FFNL then was required to move to the unique temporary location of Bragg’s Pie Factory, where the crew had the daunting task to set up the stage, lighting, and sound all in the hour after the art gallery officially “closed” their first Friday art show. This usually meant that set up would not begin until 10:00 pm for the 11:00 pm show… and many patrons found that this resulted in several shows starting later than advertised and with more challenging set transitions. While some of the show’s best sketches occurred during its “Bragg Period,” as one might affectionately call it, and the actors really seemed to hit their stride, one was constantly reminded that the Bragg’s Pie Factory was not meant for comedy performances.
“The show in Season 2 was really funny, but sometimes hard to hear,” one regular audience member explained. “And some of the art—like the giant piñatas—the crew had to kind of work around when they set up. It was quirky and fun, a really interesting environment. But I think we all missed the old stage set-up at The Firehouse.”
Plans and rumors began to circulate about new, less challenging locations for Season 3 of FFNL. Phoenix’s Center for the Arts became the front runner and The Firehouse director, Michael 23, began talks to find FFNL a new home. The announcement that Season 3 was on hold until further notice may have seemed abrupt to many, but others of the FFNL cast and crew knew that this was likely best for the community and the production.
“The Firehouse needs to focus on renovating its space,” staff writer Michael Gustie explained. “FFNL would spread the resources too thin.” The Firehouse Gallery was financially backing the comedy production, many times losing money on the complicated show after set costs, equipment, refreshment set-up, and costuming. The extra time and travel of hosting the show away from its “mother” gallery had become too taxing.
So what is the plan now? The Firehouse will work on renovating their backyard space once again, focusing on defeating the challenge of bringing their stage and “secret garden” up to city code. And what of the writers and actors who usually grace us with their talent and wit? “We’re focusing on other projects,” Gustie states. “Some are really exciting.” Most notably, many former FFNL writers and cast members will be working throughout the summer and fall season on a new web-based sitcom called The Arthouse, which stars many familiar local talents and is loosely based on interactions and events from The Firehouse Gallery itself. “It’s keeping us busy.”
The folks at The Firehouse assure us that this is not the last we’ve seen of FFNL, in one form or another. With The Arthouse, one can be assured of some laughs still coming out of the ever eclectic Firehouse. As for live late-night comedy shows? I suppose locations like Space 55 and The Torch Theater are just going to have to fill the gaps in our First Friday hearts. For now.