by Amelia Wedemeyer
The last time we saw Winona native Sarah Jane Sutton, the central character of the web series “Off-Awful,” she was navigating the unpredictable world of off-Broadway acting. In three new episodes, Sutton, who is a fictionalized version of real Winona native Sarah Jane Marek, is back and still trying to make it in New York City (NYC). “We have five episodes, so that completes our season,” said Marek, who graduated from Cotter High School and is a Saint Mary’s University (SMU) theater alum. “My experience at the LA Web Festival gave me the encouragement to finish [the season].”
Earlier this year Marek and “Off-Awful” traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the LA Web Festival 2014, where the series was named an official selection and won two acting awards. Following the success of the festival and the connections she made there, Marek found herself with access to better equipment and more crew members for the final three episodes of “Off-Awful” season one. She also was able to collaborate with another popular web series, “Crew: The Webseries,” which is centered around three men who work for a ruthless crime boss in NYC. “We did a crossover episode called ‘Mob Apartment,’” Marek explained. “It was fun to bring those two worlds together, [which is] unique for web series right now.”
In the last three episodes of the first season, Marek, who is not only the star of “Off-Awful” but is also the creator, producer and co-writer of the series, continues to tell the story of her off-Broadway alter ego, Sutton. In one episode Sutton is introduced to a neurotic photographer, who takes new head shots that casting agents in the second episode coerced her into getting. The crossover ‘Mob Apartment’ episode shows Sutton flirting with a potential love interest who also happens to be in the mob. In the season finale Sutton is cast in what she calls an “off-off-Broadway” play called “Cocktail Hour,” only to learn that everyone involved in the production is either rude or delusional. Just before the credits roll, Sutton addresses the camera and says, “Well, maybe I’ll just move to L.A.” If it’s any indication of the direction in which season two of “Off-Awful” might go, Marek confirms that pre-production is happening in Los Angeles. “There are going to be some surprises,” she said of the second season. “Right now, [Sutton’s storyline is] up in the air, [but it is] going to take place in L.A.”
Just as big things are happening in the life of her character, the same can be said about Marek, who again impressed critics and peers at another web festival. “We were one of 154 web series that got [accepted into] the Miami Web Festival,” Marek said of the event, which she attended October 2 through October 5. “Off-Awful” was one of five web series nominated for best comedy, while the series' Lauren Gambino was one of five actresses nominated for best supporting actress. Nyle Cazavos Garcia, who directed the first two episodes, won the best directing award, which Marek accepted on his behalf at the awards ceremony. “I was very surprised,” Marek said of the award. “We weren’t expecting to win; there were a lot of good, established web series that had bigger budgets, and honestly, I was just happy to get in.”
Since attending the Miami Web Festival, “Off-Awful” has received more online traffic to its website as well as additional followers and likes on Twitter and Facebook. While the fame of this series, which she previously referred to as somewhat of “a love letter back home to Winona,” continues to grow, Marek has also started work as a member of the writing team behind an upcoming web series called “Styled by Kree.” “My [Sarah Jane Sutton] character will show up as a guest actress in a couple of episodes,” Marek said of the series, which is based on the popular fashion blog of the same name. “It will be awesome to have Sarah Jane show up in another world, and I’m excited to be on the writing end.” Marek will be co-writing the series with her “Off-Awful” writing partner Katie Sullivan as well as Christina Royster Sykes, who is a former executive of Disney who has worked on popular shows such as “Sister, Sister.”
While Marek and her husband, Winona native Murl Landman, currently split their time between their home in Naples, Fla., and NYC — as well as Los Angeles, now that production for her series has moved there — she still finds time to come back to Winona. In fact, Marek has already agreed to teach a “Web Series 101” weekend workshop at SMU in early 2015. “[Creating a] web series is a great way to make your own opportunities as an actor, director and writer,” she explained, noting that although making a web series is hard, the work is both worth it and fulfilling. “I got sick of waiting around, so I made my own opportunity — I made a web series.”
If you would like to learn more about “Off-Awful” visit www.offawful.com or follow “Off-Awful” on Twitter at the handle @offawful. For information on “Crew: The Webseries,” visit www.thecrewwebseries.com.