Success has been welcome, but it has upped the ante not to fail, artistically or administratively.
“It’s an interesting uphill climb and learning curve,” Morgan says. “Until recently we could say, ‘Oops — we’re actors, we don’t know how to run a theater company.’”
The troupe doubled in size each of its first few seasons, with No Rules performing at the H Street Playhouse until it became clear that the venue would be shuttered. Even so, Sutow and Morgan – Equity actors – still take outside gigs. Sutow writes, and he has performed on tour with the Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences program. Morgan was just in “Twelfth Night” at the Folger Theatre, and his identity as a pianist-emcee for cabarets and open mic events at Arena Stage, TheatreWashington and Capital Pride is part of what inspired “The No Rules Show.”
“We’re people who don’t really say no,” Sutow says (though Morgan says for his part, he says “no” fairly regularly). “That’s been a hard lesson.”
A couple times the conversation swings around to tempering the workload so they can have grown-up relationships. Sutow is engaged to theater professor Jessie Mills, and Morgan is in a committed relationship with insurance salesman Louis Phillips.
“It’s very probable that the company has chopped 10 years off our lives,” Morgan says. “People who work with us think we’ve been here for seven to 10 years.”
“Just from looking at us,” cracks Sutow, whose dark beard includes a few flecks of gray.
The logistical challenges will continue as the collaborators figure out where to live. Sutow, originally from Chicago, has toeholds here and in North Carolina. Morgan, born in England but raised in Los Angeles and then formatively, he says, in New Jersey, is trying to be in Winston-Salem at least six days a month when he’s not performing.
They’re standing by the two-city plan. “It’s not easy,” Morgan says. “But that’s the company.”
For the current variety show bearing the company name, scheduled guests include local performers (like Ron Litman and Laura Zam from the Capital Fringe Festival) and media personalities (WRC TV’s Barbara Harrison, WAMU-FM’s Rebecca Sheir). “There is a lot of room for liberties,” Sutow says. “It’s very scripted and very improvised.”
“Totally,” Morgan jumps in. “Because there are no rules.” A little later he adds, “I was thinking how amazing it would be to have Paula Deen on the show.”
“That’s what I love about No Rules,” Sutow says, “and something we haven’t really stepped away from so far: a willingness to try anything once.”
“The No Rules Show,” created by Joshua Morgan and Brian Sutow. Directed by Brian Sutow. Through July 21 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. Call 703-820-9771 or visit norulestheatre.org