Kevin Smith spent his birthday weekend giving back.
Smith, thefilmmaker, actor, author and podcasterÂ turned 49 on Friday. HeÂ was back in his old New Jersey stomping grounds on Saturday and Sunday to support a local arts institution, and to give a handful of fans a tantalizing glimpse of a never-produced film.
Joined by friends and colleagues with whom he shares decades of history, Smith staged readings of his unfilmed “Clerks 3” screenplay on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the First Avenue Playhouse in Atlantic Highlands.
Why did this happen, why there and why now? The intimate,Â nonprofit dessert theaterÂ which opened in 1988Â needs an estimatedÂ $50,000 in renovations, First Avenue Playhouse co-founder and executive producer Joe Bagnole said.
Smith, who’d held the auditions for the original “Clerks” at the First Avenue Playhouse back in 1993, answered the call; the two 80-seat, $100-ticket benefit “Clerks 3” readings sold out quickly.
The cast included original “Clerks” star Brian O’Halloran, reprising his role as Dante Hicks. He was joined by Smith, playing both Jason Mewes’ Jay and his own Silent Bob as well as the character Randall Graves, played in “Clerks” and its 2006 sequel by JeffÂ Anderson.
Other performers included regular Smith player Bryan Johnson, Diana DevlinÂ and originalÂ “Clerks” cast membersÂ Marilyn Ghigliotti, Ernie O’Donnell (who also organized the weekend’s fundraising shows), and the First Avenue Playhouse’s own Donna Jeanne Bagnole.
“Some people have to wait longer than others to get their props or their moment,” Smith said.Â “Joe and Donna Jean had to wait 25 years but we got to have a moment with them. These are all people that are incredibly important to my career and what I’ve done â€”Â not just Brian and Marilyn. They’re obviously important because they were front and center, but without the First Avenue Playhouse we don’t even get to that cast.”
â€œWe all love â€˜Clerksâ€™ and we love Kevin because we have this history going way back,â€ Dawn Antonis, Bagnole’s daughter, told the Asbury Park Press in June.Â â€œWeâ€™re thrilled heâ€™s being so kind and gracious to us. Weâ€™re hopeful this can help us keep the energy going and make the theater stable again.â€
A GoFundMe campaign has also been launched to assist the theater.
“We made theater nonprofit from the very beginning so that the young people coming up will have a place to do theater,” Bagnole told the Press. “Right now I’m not sure how much longer all this stuff will last for these kids after I’m gone, so hopefully the public will help.”
The First Avenue Playhouse played an integral role in the birth of Smith’s View Askew cinematic universe, which launched with “Clerks” (1994) and included “Mallrats” (1995), “Chasing Amy” (1997), “Dogma” (1999), “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” (2001) and “Clerks II” (2006).
As for the “Clerks 3” experience itself, we won’t be giving away any details of the unseen film here. Needless to say, this iteration of the filmÂ â€” the eighth draft of the screenplay, dated March 9, 2015, and clocking in at 103 pages, according to SmithÂ â€” will never see the light of day.
It is a bleak vision of life for “Clerks” protagonists Dante and Randall in their 40s, feeling of a piece with Smith’s then-recent endeavors in horror cinema, “Red State” (2011) and “Tusk” (2014). Prior to the reading, Smith described this script as “the ‘King Lear’ of View Askew movies.”
The charity reading played like gangbusters. Fans traveled across the country and from as far as Canada to be there, and Saturday night’s performance elicited laughter, gasps and tears.
“It was interesting to see how it worked,” Smith said following the reading.Â “It’s certainly not the movie I want to make anymore, it’s a little too much of a downer, but it worked. I was happy. I wasn’t sitting there going … ‘The audience hates this.’ They were kind of with it every step of the way.
“But these are hardcore fans. What would a real audience make of that movie if you made it and put it out there and you were like, ‘This is “Clerks 3”? They (would be like), ‘What? You’ve completely lost the point of these movies.’ “
Mewes and Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob, who made a surprise cameo in Drake’s 2018 “I’m Upset” music video, instead return to the big screen this fall with “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.”
“Reboot” plays select cinemas Oct. 15Â and 17 before the “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow” tour of screenings and question-and-answer sessions launches Oct. 19 at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park.
The “Reboot Roadshow” plays the Prince Theatre in Philadelphia on Nov. 7 and will bring Smith and Mewes to theÂ BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center in Manhattan on Nov. 9 as part of the New York Comedy Festival.
Smith, who suffered a massive heart attack in 2018, expressed a tremendous gratitude for the faithful characters who have been with him for a quarter of a centuryÂ â€” and said his current vision for “Clerks 3” isÂ sunnier than what he brought to Atlantic Highlands.
“I’ve traveled the world on the backs of Dante and Randall and Jay and Silent Bob, they’re as real to me as raincoats,” Smith said.Â “I know they’re fictional characters in a movie but those individuals â€”Â who, granted, I created â€”Â are responsible for presenting me to the world, giving me a job, giving me something to do for 25 years. So I feel like I owe them.
” ‘Jay and Silent Bob Reboot,’ I get to pay back Jay and Silent Bob in a way of like (acknowledging that) these cats have taken me everywhere so I’m giving them a movie where they get to do something special or grow up. … The same, I think, is owed to Dante and Randall.”
A link has been posted to your Facebook feed.