The Austin Chronicle

Wrapped in Plastic

'Once You Leave' web series

By Brandon Watson, September 28, 2012, Screens

Minutes into the first episode of Austin award-winning web series Once You Leave, lead character Kayla Marshall (Kayla Olson) stumbles into a darkly comic set-piece. Her mother (played with Mae West brio by Rae Peterson) has taken in a new lover, and her bedroom has been rented out. Discomfort morphs to confrontation, and Kayla palms the keys to her mother's car. Just as most directors would cue the first chords of road-trip Americana, Nate Locklear literally hits the brakes. The getaway can wait. First, Kayla has to process.

In many respects, Once You Leave ( plays like an On the Road-style travelogue. Kayla rambles through an imaginary Central Texas, encountering Zen ranchers and a particularly manic pixie dream girl along the way. But when Kayla pauses to record a video diary, the series opens up to reveal something more layered. Here is a character who's stuck traversing the moments between possibility and inevitability. She has no idea how to live in the here and now.

To be fair, the plot does not give Kayla a very appealing now. We learn early on that Kayla's best friend Rachel (Jacki Brinker) has died. Rachel acts as the web series' Laura Palmer, haunting the narrative through videos and her blog, but never existing in the present. "That was purposeful," says director Nate Locklear. "I didn't want to have traditional flashbacks ... I wanted to show the digital relationship with the character." That digital remove creates a palpable ache, heightened by Olson's quietly elegant acting. Kayla was in love with Rachel, but the admission of that love led to a seemingly insurmountable rift. Now Kayla can only experience Rachel through the filter of a plastic device.

It is notable that Kayla's yearning is never explicitly defined. The viewer is given clues to her sexual identity, but the series never labels it. This is decidedly not a coming-out story – another deliberate choice. Locklear wanted the series to "create a sense of personal discovery, regardless of orientation." In fact, the tenth episode neatly derails viewers' expectations.

The universality of the story owes a lot to the collaborative process between Locklear and Olson, longtime friends who met at Austin Community College. Olson is quick to assign credit: "Nate wrote the entire thing." Locklear jumps in immediately: "But Kayla wrote her own character background." The pair will be working together once the series wraps up, this time with a feature script penned by Olson. She laughs that "it's even more dramatic than Once, if you can believe it." One wishes the fictional Kayla could get a chance to view it. It is proof positive of the good that can happen in crossing the digital divide.

The final episode of Once You Leave will debut Sunday, Oct. 7, 2:45pm, at the Stateside at the Paramount.

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