Above, Randy Harrison performs for guests at a fundraising reception prior to the performance. (And many thanks to Milo for recording this little piece of history, we all do our part.)
Peering across the great generational divide of those who were weaned on Rowen and Martin’s Laugh-In, a television sketch program that ran from 1968 to 1973, to last night’s workshop production of Found at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, it seems that times have not changed all that much. Everyone likes things that are funny. And people will easily spend an hour or two watching little bits of life that make them laugh. All it takes are odd bits of notes – often embarrassing – in which people can recognize themselves, their friends and family.
For three weeks the artistic company of Found has been encamped in the Berkshires, working on a show that is built from little scraps of paper that were found serendipitously. Last night’s work in progress showing proved that the kids are alright. They are hot on the trail of an innovative work that could signal a new format and direction for contemporary theatre, though it is more likely to stand alone as a sentinel, a marker for theatre’s future.
Part of the fun last night was strictly social, a chance to talk with the producers of this new show – Victoria Lang, Benjamin Salka and Eva Price and its creators including Hunter Bell who is writing the book with Lee Overtree, and Eli Bolin who takes the credit for the music. The Story Pirates, a refreshing, improvisational troupe provide the creative detailing that makes the notes come to life.
And in the audience, cheering them on, was popular actor Randy Harrison, who has appeared in Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) productions over the past seven years, and his many friends who support these new and innovative outings. They all seem to share the wonderfully creative mindset that has been exploring new ways to make people laugh. That artistic director Kate Maguire has made the resources of her organization available to this group of artists literally brings the New York City creative scene to the Berkshires. One of the purposes of last night’s gathering – which included a fundraising preview and public performance – was to provide a safe haven in which to try out new material. And that is why this article is more of a report than a review.
Present at the creation was the BTG’s own “Countess,” Maureen Stanton, who has been instrumental in quietly hosting, supporting and promoting new works for the organization.
If it is cutting edge you may always count on the presence of colleague Charles Giuliano and his wife Astrid Hiemer, who have lent yet another viewpoint to the proceedings which he has just written about in Berkshire Fine Arts. He brought his camera and caught some of color of the evening. I didn’t.
What I can offer is a nugget of information about how these little scraps of paper get to be the cornerstone of a theatrical work as described by the force behind Found magazine, Michgan native and former Bulls ticket scalper Davy Rothbart. The magazine, the show, the whole concept sprang from the moment when he discovered a note that had been mistakenly left on his car’s windshield. Ten years later and he’s become known as a “found object connoisseur.” Bet your resume doesn’t include anything nearly as impressive.
Rothbart points out that there is a difference between notes that are fun to read in a magazine, and those that are funnier when read out loud and acted out. But is that difference obvious we wondered…
“Sometimes it just takes reading something a bunch of times before I even know what the funny parts of them are. A lot of times it has to do with framing it in the right way, how I explain the find beforehand. When people send us finds, they often have some funny thoughts about why it was created or what it means, and I sometimes try to share some of those. You might share a find and then say something afterwards that is funny or unlocks some mystery. So it usually happens through trial and error, and I usually improvise something that gets a response, and I keep saying that stuff.
“I try and read them with the energy and emotion they were written with. I try and inhabit the mind of the person who wrote the note. The more committed I am to the actual intention of the note, the more of an impact it has. It’s why I draw a distinction between laughing at the notes and the person who made them, or laughing with them. If I’m inhabiting the person who actually wrote it, as funny as it might seem it’s deadly serious to that person. It’s important to be respectful and recognize that someone was really struggling enough to put it down on paper. I’m both reading it in the voice of the person who wrote it, and I’m also reacting to it as myself recognizing aspects of myself in the note.” Davey Rothbart interview in Chicagoist.
And that is the fun of it. In talking with the show’s book writer Hunter Bell, he promised to keep us up to date on the progress of this show. Stay tuned. It’s going to be an interesting journey.