Tales from the Writers’ Room: 1st and 10
Legion Arts CSPS Hall — Friday and Saturday, Sept. 22-23 at 8 p.m.
The 10th season of Tales from the Writers’ Room kicks off, as it were, with 1st and 10, this Friday and Saturday, Sept. 22 and 23, at CSPS Hall. Performances, featuring sketch comedy, music and more, start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door.
Ask Doug Elliott, one of SPT Theatre’s “Core Four” founders (with Gerard Estella, Jane Pini and Janelle Lauer), why the group’s Tales from the Writers’ Room series has lasted for 10 seasons, and he’ll give you a quick and clear answer.
“Quality and entertainment. As producers, those are the two things we won’t relent on.”
Just as writers in a writers’ room often gather around a table to bounce ideas off one another, so, too, did the series itself get its start around a table.
“Like most of our ideas, good or bad, it started around Gerard Estella’s dining room table,” Elliott said. “We had been producing A Modern Salon at Brucemore for a few years, which usually features the original writings and performance of one guest artist, and we’d produced several original full theatre productions in cooperation with TCR, which also featured one playwright. So, we were trying to figure out how to increase that opportunity, how to give more artists more opportunity, exposure and a paying gig, in a format that we were best equipped to support — in combination with acting and live music — and within a workable time frame.”
It’s only fitting, since they were gathered around Estella’s table, that he would land on the workable idea.
“Gerard really needs to be credited for bringing the TV model to the concept,” Elliott said. “That’s how the Tales from the Writers’ Room series is built. Some of us are old enough to remember Rob, Sally and Buddy on The Dick Van Dyke Show. 30 Rock is probably the modern example.”
Adam Witte has been one writers in the room since the very beginning. Witte, a much-loved English teacher at Washington High School, finds something in the writing and performing in the series that is different from the pleasures and challenges of teaching.
“The creative outlet is very important to me,” Witte said. “I’m just egotistical enough to want an outlet that’s just about me being goofy.”
It is, of course, about much more than that, a fact Witte is quick to acknowledge. “A former member of the Writers’ Room said to me, ‘I don’t think you understand how lucky you are to be in a room full of people that are both critical of one another and nurturing of one another.’”
All the writers get feedback — positive and negative — from their peers, but Witte also loves the risk and reward of presenting brand new material to an audience.
“I get immediate feedback,” he said with a laugh. “The audience will let you know if that humor landed or not, and it’s unequivocal.”
Elliott knows that laughter is at the heart of the series’ appeal to audiences.
“People come to Tales from the Writers’ Room to be entertained, to laugh,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes pull at your heartstrings, or pique your political interest, or poke fun at the issues of the day. But we hope not heavy-handedly, and we try to avoid partisanship, though sometimes even invoking politics of the day is seen as such.”
As the series enters its 10th season, Elliott believes those who return again and again have become part of the series in a key way.
“I think the audience has bought into the concept, and more importantly, embraced the mission. It’s always a bit of a mystery to a person purchasing tickets for the first time, but most come to understand that the material they’re seeing was just written, that it’s only been rehearsed for a week, and that after Saturday it’s put away, and the process starts all over again. I think audience members like that their only expectation can be that it will be new and it will be good.”
There is one bit of material that repeats from show to show.
“The only thing they do hear each time,” Elliott said, “is my little speech at intermission about the mission — that our goal is to provide paying opportunities to Corridor creatives, that everyone involved in the series is paid a professional fee and that ticket sales, and public and private support, and their donations make that possible. I truly think our core audience owns a piece of that mission.”
Witte credits the Core Four for maintaining a steadfast commitment to that mission.
“It astounds me that there’s a group of people who have worked really, really hard to make sure writers and performers get paid for what they do, to acknowledge their contributions to the world have financial value,” Witte said.
“It’s something that I feel really lucky part of when I give myself that moment to recognize it,” Witte said.
As many attendees can attest, audiences are awfully lucky, as well.