The third weekend in April 2019, on Saturday the 20th, SBWC will host a full day of workshops, exploring the writer’s craft through drama and song. In the evening, SBWC hosts its first fundraiser, where local writers and performers, Sally Cragin and Jeff Van Amburgh, will present WCV: Radio for Your eyes. SBWC’s Paula Castner spoke with Sally and Jeff to learn more about how their comedy show evolved.
(PAULA CASTNER) Sally and Jeff, let’s start by you telling us a little bit about your background and how you each got into radio and onstage performing.
(SALLY CRAGIN) Jeff has been acting in community shows for a long time, but I was a child actor who retired at 16, so the prospect of being in a play where I’d have to learn lines wasn’t as appealing. Writing scripts for radio and stage proved to be more ideal.
(JEFF VAN AMBURGH) My stage experiences started after watching my young son perform with abandon in a short play following a summer theater-camp. Thinking, “If he can do this, so can I,” I answered a casting notice for Stratton Players in Fitchburg, got cast and went on to appear in almost a dozen other productions with them and a couple with Fitchburg State’s AmeriCulture Art Festivals.
(PC) You have written and performed for many audiences a show called WCV: Radio for Your Eyes. Could you please share with us the process that brought that about?
(JVA) Sally and I first worked together in 2004, when I was cast in two short plays she wrote for Stratton Summer Shorts. In them, I worked alongside her mother, Janet Cragin, her then-infant son, and her dog! (A bullet point on my resume, I gotta say.)
(SC) This was a show called “Adult Education,” and because the rest of the cast was unpredictable, I got a glimmer of Jeff’s antic improvisational abilities (when you cast a dog and a baby in the same show, anything can, and did happen). Since Jeff and I both love to laugh, writing a comedy show together made sense.
(PC) How does one decide what works best for a comedy show? And what craft elements go into writing an hour long play?
(SC) Comedy is brutal and creating laughter within a theme, within an arc, within a larger structure takes skills blacksmiths use. In essence: heat and hammer, louder and louder.
(JVA) Thank goodness Sally is a quick typist, because the creative process usually starts with a prompt and then a flurry of free association, jokes, memories, observations and references to past and present socio-political events, voices, stream of consciousness, word painting and song lyrics. She captures as much as she can and maps out a story arc and finer dialogue for one of our scripts. Our show, WCV, is a mock radio program. The varied sketches are based on the things you’d typically hear on a morning radio show. So, between news, weather, sports and commercials we fit in feature pieces, a la Good Morning America and The Today Show. Material is always “left on the cutting room floor.”
(SC) The first iteration of “WCV” had fewer pieces, which had more in common with 10- minute plays. Since we’ve been constantly revisiting, honing, and adding, there are many more pieces to reflect every possible blessed thing anyone would hear on radio (real radio, not “podcasts.”). So, we have news bulletins, local news, a weather report, commercials, a selection of pop songs that are hits in Kazakhstan, an emergency broadcast bulletin, more commercials, including commercials for the kinds of businesses you hear on AM, such as sketchy professional schools. Ours is called the Acme Technical Regional Vocational Institute of Higher Clown Studies, which you might attend if you were downsized and needed to find a fast, entrepreneurial occupation, such as entertaining at children’s birthday parties.
(PAULA) Had either of you written short plays before you wrote your comedy show?
(SC) Yes, indeed. We wrote enough for two full evenings of short comedies which we presented at Fitchburg’s first Martini bar, the late-lamented Destaré. Everything from “Shake it up like Shakespeare” (about a couple who put spice in their marriage by taking on characters that could have been written by the Bard) to “Scents and Sensibility” (about two thugs from behind the Iron Curtain who were making a street corner deal in some very precious contraband: perfume).
(PAULA) What aspects of writing plays do you enjoy the most?
(SC)When it’s perfect in the room. That’s really savory. And then when the actors start finding their way (and someone else is directing). Also, when we get to see it onstage and find ourselves laughing at lines we forgot we wrote. We are really just a few ticks away from needing to be put out on the front porch in a couple of rockers with seatbelts attached.
(PC) You will be performing for SBWC on Saturday, April 20th, 2019, as part of a fundraiser event. Why do you think people should plan to attend? What do you think they would most enjoy about your comedy show?
(SC) Our show is enjoyable to anyone who ever gets marooned in their driveway because they were listening to something on the radio, and they didn’t know where it would go. We have music, live sound f/x done before the audience, and lots of fun characters, including our parodies of real people like Katharine Hepburn and Boris Yeltsin, and some characters recur so the audience feels like they get to know the cast, which we are creating in front of them. WCV: Radio for your Eyes is interactive. There are a few places where folks can respond, plus we have the coolest raffle ever.
(JVA) I look forward to performing the very latest version of “WCV, Radio For Your Eyes”, to benefit SBWC and feel that people attending will most enjoy our comedic brilliance and my full head of hair. People can visit “WCV – RADIO FOR YOUR EYES” on Facebook to learn more.