Tag Archives: brad mcmurran

The year in review, such as it was


PORTSMOUTH, Va. — This blog is a year old.

I’ve enjoyed writing it. Enjoyed interviewing folks for it. Learned about writing and art and some other stuff too while doing it.

Et cetera.

So thanks for reading, especially those of you who stuck with it from early on — and even those who just check in for a particular writer or two. Glad to have you, either through your comments, clicks, subscriptions, or just eyeballs.

This past year, I think I’ve figured out a mix that seems to work for this blog. So here’s what I’ve got planned (loosely, oh so loosely) for the year ahead:

  1. The (and this is so very relatively speaking) popular features — the Belligerent Q&As and Craft Q&As — will remain, especially since that’s why I started the blog in the first place. I’ll try to do Craft Q&As, as time allows, though they generally take a long time to transcribe and edit. I have a couple of people in mind, though.
  2. There will be a second fortune cookie fortune writing contest, most likely to be announced in the very near future and judged in the summertime. I’ll make more of an effort to include visual artists, a shortcoming of last year’s event. There will be prizes to be determined, and a display of winner at a Hampton Roads area venue to be determined. Kerouac Cafe. as locals know, is out.
  3. The HR Arts Events page will stay, and I’ll try to be better about updating it. If you want to post an event, email jhdouc@verizon.net. I’d like to reflect more events at Norfolk State University, Virginia Wesleyan College, and Tidewater Community College. I realize I’ve been a bit Old Dominion University-centric.
  4. I’m full of good intentions, but follow through sometimes eludes me.

Thank you again for reading this blog. I’ve learned a lot about writing through the conversations I’ve transcribed here and you emails and comments. I look forward to the year ahead — and maybe even past the terrible twos.

Here’s a look back at the most popular posts, not counting those involving the contest, including a few you might have missed. The blog had more than 10,000 hits (including oddball WordPressy spam!) this past year. These posts had the biggest share:

  1. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. VIII: Earl Swift, author of The Big Roads
  2. Twelve Journalism Truths by William Ruehlmann
  3. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. V: Three people who have not seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail + one who has
  4. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. VI: Columnist Mike Gruss of The Virginian-Pilot
  5. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XV: C0mmentator and opinion writer Brian Kirwin
  6. Selective Facts in the NPD version of John Kohn’s death
  7. Journalism: Q&A with Frank Batten Sr. biographer Connie Sage
  8. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XVI: Hairspray author and scholar Dana Heller
  9. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XI: Writer and editor Tom Robotham
  10. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. IX: Wanderlust playwrights Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran

So the focus here is local arts, but if anybody knows of a writer who might be good for a feature here, please email jhdouc@verizon.net.

Thanks for reading. Happy holidays. See you soon.

Closing this post, a special shout out to director Peter Jackson, because this exists at my local drug store:

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The year in silly cutlines, such as it was


PORTSMOUTH, Va. — As this blog’s first year comes to a merciful end, I will celebrate in the next couple of posts by recycling content.

I mean, looking back wistfully or some such what have you.

Point being, since the “and humble photography” part of this blog has all but been left behind in massively long interviews, I figured I could at least start out with the photos. Photo cutlines, any way.

So here’s a gallery of silly cutlines. Cutlines should be informative. These were not that.

1. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. VIII: Earl Swift, author of The Big Roads (June 4, 2011)

You are a saucy one, Earl Swift, Norfolk, Va., journalist and author of The Big Roads. Even when I crop out your tiny brass-studded leather novelty fez. Photo by John Doucette.

2. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. VII: Vivian Paige of All Politics is Local (May 18, 2011)

Vivian J. Paige, left center, and members of the Virginia Democratic Intramural Coed Soccer Team form a wall to block a free kick by Commonwealth Republicans United. Boy, these guys get happy when it comes to blocking free kicks. Courtesy photo.

3. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XI: Writer and editor Tom Robotham (Aug. 26, 2011)

Writer and editor Tom Robotham did not realize he would be part of a blog post that would unsuccessfully link 1870s British light opera and 1980s American light rap when he agree to be photographed at the Taphouse yesterday in Norfolk, Va. As it turns out, parents just don't understand that I am the captain of the Pinafore. Photo by John Doucette.

4. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XIII: Comedy writer and actor Sean Devereaux of The Pushers (Sept. 7, 2011)

At left is Sean Devereux, producer and co-head writer of the Hampton Roads improv and sketch comedy group The Pushers. In the foreground at right is a custom Ed Carden-shaped Chia pencil holder. Photo by John Doucette.

5. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XVI: Hairspray author and scholar Dana Heller (Nov. 8, 2011)

Hi John: Look, when you take out this placeholder text and put in the real cutline in don't forget to make it extra funny. For Pete's sake, Dana Heller is chair of the English Department at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., where you are a student. And she's the author of a book about the John Waters film Hairspray, and Waters totally is coming to ODU on Thursday. Don't phone this one in. Bring the funny. Your pal, John. PS: Courtesy photo.

6. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. IX: Wanderlust playwrights Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran (June 12, 2011)

Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran, playwrights of Wanderlust. You'll just have to pretend this cutline is funny. Try harder. Yeah. There you are. Photo by John Doucette.

7. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. IV: Jeff Maisey of Veer Magazine (April 16, 2011)

Despite any impression given by this image's bright lighting, Veer publisher and editor Jeff Maisey is not a being composed of pure energy and power. Yet. Photo by Kathy Keeney.

8. Ted Danson coming to Norfolk for talk with Mike D’Orso (April 9, 2011)

During a recent reading at Borjo Coffeehouse in Norfolk, Va., author Mike D'Orso points out something in a book he is holding. The microphone pretends to understand, but the microphone has a painful secret — illiteracy. Photo by John-Henry Doucette.

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Writing Craft, Vol. III: Playwrights Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran (Part 2)


This is the second and final part of a craft conversation with playwrights Jeremiah Albers, theater critic at AltDaily, and Brad McMurran of The Pushers comedy group.

They have collaborated on Wanderlust, part of the Dog Days Festival at the Generic Theater Down Under Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, Va. It premieres Friday, June 17, at the Generic, 215 St. Pauls Blvd., Norfolk downtown. The run is from June 17-19, 23-26, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $10. For more information call (757) 441-2160 or visit the Generic’s online reservation Interbot thingy.

This has been edited for length, clarity, and, in cases that should be fairly apparent, language. This part of the talk discusses comedy writing, criticism, playwriting, and stereotypes in comedy. And some links and a video in this post contain adult language and probably are not safe for work.

Additionally, there is some discussion below of a local theater production that was given a negative review by Albers at AltDaily last year. As I mentioned in the recent Belligerent Q&A with Albers and McMurran, the director, Philip Odango, rebuts Albers review in the comments section at that link. There is some back and forth between Albers and Odango. It is lively, to be sure.

The first question, again, is to Albers.

Q: You’ve done theater criticism, and I think it’s been good criticism. This is bias, but sometimes I have an expectation that local theater criticism is a little soft.

Albers: Yes.

Q: I think you’ve said some tough things about friends. Can you talk a little bit about what that process of working as a critic has been?

Albers: When I decided that I wanted to start taking that on, the reason I did it really was we need to create a dialogue about the quality of the theater in this area if the theater in this area is ever going to really matter to this area. Part of doing that is having someone there who is willing to call BS. And it wasn’t easy, and I probably made a lot of enemies, I’m sure.

McMurran: I don’t think you need the word probably.

Albers: Okay. We’ll omit the word probably. I think it’s important. We need a dialogue. I think that whatever happened after that one review I wrote –

Q: Which review?

Albers: Equus.

Q: It was a tough review.

Albers: Yeah, but it was also a tough show to sit through.

McMurran: I never saw the show, but it was the most seething review I ever read.

Q: You reviewed one of the director’s later plays and gave it a much more positive review.

Albers: Yeah. His production of Agnes of God was outstanding. And Philip’s great. I have no beef with Philip. Part of the reason I did that is I think Philip has genuine talent. … Art is an educational process. You never stop growing and you never stop evolving. It’s never done. This work is never done. It’s important to create this dialogue, and, I think, in some ways it has had an impact. You are finding the theaters being a little more careful about the shows that they are choosing. LTN (Little Theater of Norfolk), I have to give them props. Under Brendan Hoyle, this new guy they have as artistic director, the professionalism and quality of that place has gone up a hundred fold. I can’t take credit for that, but I think that dialogue, that little growing pain the local theater community had as a result of that, was how I did (help). … I really do go in there and try to be objective. … It’s not personal. If you don’t want to be a public spectacle, get off the stage.

McMurran: After he’s written these reviews, we’ve got a big target on our head. (Laughs.)

Q: Who is going to review it for AltDaily?

Albers: I don’t know.

Q: Not you?

Albers: No. Not me.

McMurran: That would be awesome.

Albers: I would just be like, “It stinks.” (Laughs.)

Q: Did the process of really having a look at what other people are doing and thinking critically about it … did that help you in the writing process?

Albers: Yes, it helps me in every process. I had a college professor and one of his big mantras we used to laugh at because we were kids and we didn’t really understand, but he used to say, “Theater is important, but bad theater is more important.” And we were like, “Whatever, that play sucked.” … Watching theater, I learn all the time. I see stuff in shows that I know I’ve probably stolen and, you know, taken my own way. Or I’ve seen stuff and said, “Okay, there’s a million things wrong with that. What’s wrong with that? Well the pace is wrong with that. Well, the joke isn’t funny.” … It helps you understand the mechanics of structure and of technique. Because there really is a craft to writing. … There really is a craft to directing plays. It’s not something everyone can do well even though they think that they can. The more you look at things that way the stronger it’s going to make you.

McMurran: I’m just glad we’ve had so many big words.

Q: I saw that Hump N’ New York video. (For The Pushers.)

McMurran: Yes. It’s one everybody goes back to.

Q: Would you talk about how it came about?

McMurran: There was what we call a skeleton. There was one objective – he couldn’t find his girl. Tracy. The fact that he runs the streets of New York on New Year’s Eve, that just was his obstacle. My favorite thing that ended up happening in that video is the girl behind us … that would help us with mikes and stuff, she was from New York. She said she had never seen more New Yorkers smile. I stayed in character (almost) the entire day. I can’t tell you how many people followed us into the subway.

Q: There are a couple of times where there are jokes, but it’s about somebody who can’t get what he wants.

McMurran: Never does.

Q: And he goes to the big city and he’s looking, and there’s all this spectacle, and he compares it to his hometown and then there’s the part I love with Morgan Freeman (or a likeness), where everybody’s crowded around him (or it). Was that just kind of found?

McMurran: It was literally a found moment. And the only thing that came into Hump’s mind that day was the movie Seven where he kept asking “What’s in the box?” (Laughs.)

Q: Which actually, thematically, is a pretty great line.

McMurran: (Laughs.) “What’s in the box?” When I first started chanting it, it was like, what’s this guy in an egg suit and his tighty whiteys doing? But then it began a chant all the way down the street. (Laughs.)

Q: Was (Freeman) whisked away by security?

McMurran: The funny part is I didn’t know it was him. … It was either Morgan Freeman or the best wax museum guy that ever existed.

Q: I remember I saw Hump about five years ago.

Albers: It was the first sketch that came in.

McMurran: It was a mistake. I used to do standup and … the Zoloft commercial. To me I thought it was an egg that would walk into these parties and no one would talk to him. I was like, “Of course they won’t talk to you, you’re a freaking egg.” And he was all about depression. I did this in stand up and had this voice and character. It wasn’t until I got off stage that night that someone said, “You know, those are tears in the Zoloft commercial. That’s not an egg at all.” I’m like, “Oh (numero dos).” (Laughter.)

Q: (Hump) is a really sad character.

McMurran: Absolutely. His father’s very mean to him.

Q: What do you think when you’re writing a sketch where the character is very sad and people are supposed to laugh at it? Or you’re writing a sketch where there’s a dad who wants his son to be gay? … What do you want to happen from that sketch?

McMurran: Well, that’s two different questions. On one end, it can do a lot of things. … (H)e became this underdog that the audience really rooted for, even when they shouldn’t have rooted for him, when Hump would go to some extremes. … As far as your other question … The one thing I learned in the last three years that I did not know when I first started doing comedy is just how when an actor would come in and say, “How do you want me to play this? Comedically or dramatically?” And we’d be like, “Next. I don’t want you at all.” Because there is no difference in how you play it. That’s all in writing. … I think that’s what made that scene funny. I still use the word think because you never know, but as far as having a dad that wants you to be something else, you nailed it. The dad wants you to be something else, it’s just ridiculous in the fact that he wants you to be something that’s not a social norm, necessarily – I don’t want to say being gay is not a social norm. You know, it can be perceived that way.

Albers: Wanting your child to be gay is certainly not a social norm.

Q: Right. Well, that’s interesting. And I’ll try to ask this as artfully as I can. Sketch comedy can be misogynistic. And it can be homophobic sometimes –

McMurran: Well, you guys come to a show. You’re right.

Q: Do you worry about putting out that kind of comedy?

McMurran: Not at all. And I can answer that very … We had every race, creed in this show at one point in time. Homosexual, not homosexual. One thing we believe – we’re in a PC world now. And that there’s nothing more cathartic than being able to go in and laugh at things you’re not supposed to laugh at. I think that actually is, and this is one time I’ll actually get serious about this, is I think that’s such a release.  To be able to go in, you know: “You can’t say that, you can’t do that. Laughing at somebody that falls down is bad, especially if they’re old.” Well what if it does make you laugh? Are we supposed to repress that? I don’t believe we should.

Albers: There will be people who get touchy. There will be people who, when you go there, will get up and walk out of the theater. And, you know, okay, fine. … You can’t please all of the people all the time. You shouldn’t censor yourself for fear of offending.

Q: I guess that’s not what I’m saying. I mean, do you think about what you’re putting out when you’re writing it?

McMurran: Yes.

Albers: Yeah.

Q: I’m not saying that you’re misogynistic … When you talk about that material, I mean, that’s something people might think about.

McMurran: They do. I think it’s a great question if you want to know the truth. You’re hitting on something that’s much deeper than – Really, I actually love the question. There is a line, and when you find it, it’s very dangerous because you have to straddle it, and when you straddle it poorly audiences will tell you.

Albers: And you can do that but it is –

McMurran: You have to do that.

Albers: It is having the taste and the basic decency to not put your toe too far over the line. You’ve got to know where the danger zone is, and how to stay out of it. And you don’t always know that. …

McMurran: After doing 200, 150 shows, however many shows we’ve done over the years, if we have 10, two are going to be flirting with that. If not, in every one there might be one that flirts with that. … I will be a little arrogant here. In the last three years, craft has become a much more important thing, where it’s not just about shock. And I don’t like shock any more. If you want to know the truth, if we get a script or a sketch in that’s scatological or blue … we won’t put it in now where back then we put it in.

Q: I just wonder how do you negotiate that kind of line between being Pushers, and pushing the edge and the envelope, or just going for, “Hey, we just need to have something that at its core is funny and relatable.”

McMurran: I’m more about what I find funny. … If it’s funny, it goes in. If it’s funny and it has a social message, it’s definitely going in. If it’s crossing a line and it’s borderline funny, it still may go in depending upon what the statement is. Sometimes it’s – We’re not a political group, by any means, I think, on paper. But I think behind the scenes if you scratched us you’d find something. I love the question because I can’t honestly give you a full answer.

Albers: You find it as you’re doing it. I mean, really, it’s a trial and error kind of thing, and in sketch comedy you don’t have a lot of time to correct it. In a play, you’ve got five weeks, six weeks, so you know you can tweak this, change that, and maybe that needs to get cut. … You find it through doing it.

Q: Anything I should have asked but didn’t?

McMurran: I want people to come out, see this and honestly give what they feel about it. I know that everybody says that, but – It’s sexy. One thing we haven’t talked about in this is it’s a really sexy show. We have an incredibly sexy cast.

Albers: And we did that on purpose.

McMurran: This is the sexiest cast that has ever been cast in this area.

Albers: I will back you up on that.

Q: Other than the pretend cast I have in my head.

Albers: Exactly. But this is kind of our idea to kind of reinvent the local theater for Hampton Roads rather than the Hampton Roads theater serving itself.

McMurran: Love it.

Albers: Because that’s what it kind of has been for years. … We need to get some new ideas and some new work.

McMurran: Why aren’t there more local writers doing things like this?

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Writing Craft, Vol. III: Playwrights Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran (Part 1)


This conversation in two parts deals with comedy writing, reading, inspiration, criticism, and making an audience laugh.

And a new play. Can’t forget that.

Wanderlust, premiering Friday as part of the Dog Days Festival at the Generic Theater Down Under Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, Va. is the first play written and by the team of Jeremiah Albers, theater critic for AltDaily, and Brad McMurran, one of the leaders of The Pushers comedy group. Albers, too, did his time with The Pushers.

Readers of the blog probably caught the recent Belligerent Q&A with them. If not, give it a try. They bring the funny.

Albers and McMurran also directed the play. Again, it opens Friday, June 17, at the Generic, 215 St. Pauls Blvd., Norfolk downtown. The run is from June 17-19, 23-26, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $10. For more information call (757) 441-2160 or visit the Generic’s online reservation Interbot thingy. Patron under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a “responsible” adult.

This is Generic’s standard, not mine.

The playwrights met while studying in the Old Dominion University theater department before working together in The Pushers.

We spoke at the Colley Cantina in Norfolk for about an hour, and I had to make some hard choices about what to keep in these posts. I leaned toward questions about writing, as this is the supposed thrust of the blog. Point being: thas been edited for length, clarity, and, in cases that should be fairly apparent, language.

One link to/embedded video below contains adult language and probably is not safe for work.

This starts with a question to Albers about joining The Pushers.

Q: You had a dramatic background, but had you done improv?

Albers: No. No improv.

Q: So why did you want to do comedy?

Albers: It just seemed like an interesting thing to do. It was something I hadn’t done before.

McMurran: He turned in probably … in my opinion, one of the finest scripts we had the first season. What we’re doing now, compared to then, is a lot different, because we didn’t know what we were doing. He turned in a beautiful parody of The Vagina Monologues. … It was written by somebody who certainly knew that play. You know, it plays every ten minutes in Hampton Roads.

Q: I think people hear improv and think you get up on stage and make up whatever you want. When I went to my first Pushers show – One of my favorite skits, as I told Sean (Devereux, head writer and producer of The Pushers), was “Justice Crusaders.” It’s just great. It’s written –

McMurran: That was certainly a sketch. It wasn’t until the second year of The Pushers that I went up to Upright Citizens Brigade and went through the whole program up there, and came back and started implementing that into shows. We also used that for writing. Still are. … We found something in New York that I think we instinctually knew, but to put vocabulary to it, “game.” (Finding “the game of the scene,” for example; Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre defines “the game as the single, specific comedic idea that makes a scene funny.”) … I started to notice the pattern of a game. It makes your scene so much better. That’s something that’s gotten a lot better about writing and doing improv.

Q: There’s a really clear pattern of reversals, and not just reversing the expectations of the characters but what the audience expects, and that makes it funny.

McMurran: One of the first things you learn about comedy is one of the funniest things you can do is the unexpected. That’s game. If you’re leading an audience down a pathway to where they think it’s going somewhere and then you – (claps) – flip it on them? They love it.

Q: Particularly the sketch where (Albers) plays Aquaman trying to join the supergroup in the kid’s bedroom or basement or whatever –

Albers: Yeah. It’s kids with a superhero club.

Q: But you play it straight. It’s a tragedy for Aquaman. … Did you have a part in writing it or did Sean write it?

Albers: Sean wrote that one, and he brought that. The key to really successfully acting in comedy is you have to believe it. You have to play it straight.

McMurran: If you don’t play it straight, it’s not funny.

Albers: If you don’t believe it, nobody else will either.

Q: (Albers) left the group. You’ve done some plays. You did a play with CORE Theatre Ensemble.

Albers: A few actually.

Q: And then you’re doing reviews as well. What was it that made you want to write a play?

Albers: It’s something that we’ve been talking about doing since probably the beginning of The Pushers.

McMurran: Believe it or not, this is our fifth idea. We have four other ideas that we want to do. The original idea that we had … is we wanted to write a comedy around Elizabeth and Bloody Mary as sisters, where what that would have been like growing up in that household between the two, but done as a pure comedy. We, ah – we bailed on that project. (Laughs.)

Q: When did you start writing this project?

Albers: March.

McMurran: A little before that.

Albers: February? February.

Q: And when did you have a script?

McMurran: Yesterday. (Laughs.)

Albers: Ask me on the 17th. (Laughs.) No, we actually had a second draft of the script by the beginning of May. We had a rehearsal-ready script. And, of course, we’ve been revising and changing and rewriting as we’ve been going through rehearsals.

Q: What was your process? I haven’t seen the play or read the script. I made the assumption that it’s based (after its inspiration, Arthur Schnitzler’s play La Ronde) on a circular –

Albers: It is. One character from each scene moving to –

McMurran: Yes and no. We have an argument about this.

Albers: It is the same model.

McMurran: I learned La Ronde as an improvisation. It’s actually one of my least favorite improvisational games. However, the crowds love it. It’s something we’ve implemented in The Pushers. The crowds love it. I thought this would actually be genius to write this as opposed to improvising it.

Albers: It was a likely first play for us to write because, I mean, we have experience working together in sketch comedy and so here we have this fully integrated complex play but it’s still done in manageable chunks. From a writer’s perspective, it’s easy to handle that. We have these two characters. Each character has a two-scene arc. Everything is very contained in this model. It’s very compartmentalized, and that has made it very easy us to find our feet as (writers) because it’s not like we were trying to write some complex farce where if we find out we have a problem the whole second act collapsed.

McMurran: I think some of the coolest moments we had were how many natural patterns showed up. Some we intended. Some we didn’t.

Q: One of the things that can happen when you have characters who aren’t on stage for a long time, and have a very limited arc, is they can become types. Is that something that you fought against or embraced?

Albers: Every character in the play is identified by their job. You have a housewife and a newscaster and a squid and a waitress, and the idea is you introduce them as these labels, and you peel that label away.

McMurran: It also becomes our thesis in the play, at the end of the show.

Albers: Yeah. It’s really the main thesis of the play.

McMurran: Are we our jobs?

Q: Why did you set it in Hampton Roads?

McMurran: Write what you know.

Albers: I really philosophically believe that theater has to exist for community that it’s in, and what better way to do theater for your community than to do theater about your community. People are more likely to respond to this than they are to, you know, Twelfth Night. That’s just true.

McMurran: We hope. (Laughs.)

Albers: Although I like Twelfth Night. (Laughs.)

McMurran: I like Eleventh Night better.

Q: There might be expectations for fans of The Pushers that the play will be a certain kind of (humor). What do you think their experience will be?

McMurran: You’re not going to get a play by (us) where comedy is not involved. He tried to fight against me on that a lot. “Brad, this is not a sketch show.”  I’m like, “It should be.” (Laughs.)

Albers: The idea is kind of a play for people who don’t see plays. I’m hoping to get that audience because I think they will be surprised by what they get, but hopefully they’ll like what they see.

McMurran: This might be controversial. I’m so tired of going to plays where it’s people playing for their friends. I would love to get a different group coming in, much like we do with The Pushers. … We went away from the theater crowd. It was one of the best moves that we made, when The Pushers left theaters and went into bars.

Q: Can you describe the change for you?

McMurran: When you go out and play for people who are in the business or in this local Hampton Roads area – and I have a lot of respect for actors in this area, please don’t confuse that, and groups such as CORE; I love CORE – but it becomes more of Our Gang, where we’re going to put up our play, and they put up their play. I had guys who have never seen any live theater come up to me after a show and say, “I never knew it could be this fun.”

Q: One of the interviews I read, you had talked about Tim Conway. Can you talk about him, and … some of the writers, either comedy or dramatic, who influenced you?

McMurran: When I grew up there were two names in my household, Tim Conway and Bill Murray. Tim Conway … I never heard my parents having such fun. They would be losing it, you know? … I didn’t understand the concept, of just watching this little guy get so carried away in these scenes. Just thinking about him in any sketch just makes me laugh. Certainly, probably the first sketch that comes to mind is the one where he’s the old man. No, I take that back. It’s the dentist. The dentist, where he keeps hitting himself with the Novocaine. It’s all physical comedy. … Bill Murray, I think everybody at this table knows I have an unnatural man crush on him.

Q: What they might have in common is there’s pain in their comedy. Especially Bill Murray, there’s a sadness.

McMurran: He’s a very subtle actor. There’s so much more behind the eyes than the normal comedian.

Q: What kind of writers did you emulate or study?

McMurran: I’m a classics guy. When I got put on restriction … I was on restriction every day. I went to Episcopal church in Portsmouth and every Sunday I would do a pratfall after communion. … I’d be put on restriction. My restriction at the McMurran household was you had to go and read classics. … Herman Hess’ Siddhatha is a book I read two or three times a year. And I know I’ll get dogged on this, but I do love The Old Man and the Sea. It’s one of those books that I go back to. And the last one I will have to put on there is The Razor’s Edge.

Albers: I read a lot of plays. Plays are easy to read and it’s kind of an occupational necessity to be familiar with a lot of them. I love all kinds of stuff. Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. More modern stuff, I love David Mamet, sometimes. (Laughs.) I will add that caveat: sometimes. Sondheim. I’ve always been really interested in playwriting as a craft because really when you’re acting in a play, which I have a lot of experience doing, you are given this information in front of you and it’s your job to kind of unravel it and get the information out of it that you need to do what you need to do. So I’ve always kind of been fascinated with word choice. I think the best person writing in the theater today, although he’s not really writing anymore, is Sondheim. Even though he’s a music guy, you look at his lyrics and how compact they are, and they’re so clever and they have these crazy rhyme schemes to them, but they’re also brilliant dramatic writing. If you you unfurl them and put them as lines in a play, you could play them as a scene. And I’ve always been really enamored with that idea.

McMurran: One of the writers who has influenced my life is in this play – John Keats. … “La Belle Dame sans Merci” is the (poem) in this play. I’ve never fallen in love with a poet more than I did him. My father turned me on to him. He said, “Hey you ought to read this guy.” I said, “I don’t want to read this flowery guy.” And next thing you know I read that specific poem.

To be continued in part two, which should be posted by early Friday morning.

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Belligerent Q&A, Vol. IX: Wanderlust playwrights Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran


Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran, playwrights of Wanderlust. You'll just have to pretend this cutline is funny. Try harder. Yeah. There you are. Photo by John Doucette.

This edition of Belligerent Q&A, to a point, deals with the new play Wanderlust, premiering Friday as part of the Dog Days Festival at the Generic Theater Down Under Chrysler Hall.

Wanderlust is the first play written by the team of Jeremiah Albers of AltDaily and Brad McMurran of The Pushers comedy group. Albers, too, did his time with The Pushers. No surprise then that it’s billed as funny. Word is it’s a bit sexy, too.

Before we get going here, please know that there are some adult exchanges to follow. This Belligerent Q&A is the first sit-down interview I’ve done for this feature. It has been edited for length, clarity and, in spots that should be apparent, language.

Additionally, there is a reference below to a Hampton Roads theater production that was given a negative review by Albers at AltDaily last year. The director of the play rebuts Albers review in the comments section at that link, if you are interested in such things.

Anyway, on with the show …

THE PLAYERS

JEREMIAH ALBERS: A playwright, 33, of Virginia Beach.

BRAD MCMURRAN: Also a playwright, 35, of Portsmouth.

Q: A hapless belligerent interviewer, 37, of Portsmouth, who hoped to author a concise blog post before things went a bit off the rails, let’s say, after the second question.

SCENE ONE

(The Colley Cantina, an eatery and watering hole in Norfolk, jewel of Commonwealth of Virginia’s crown. Q, ALBERS, and MCMURRAN sit down for a Belligerent Q&A, a very disreputable sort of interview. Q aims to supply the Qs. ALBERS and MCMURRAN aim to provide the As.)

Q: Just who do you think you are? Please use three examples in your response.

MCMURRAN: I’m the King of Portsmouth. I have close-knit ties with hipsters on Granby Street. And I think it’s safe to say that I am a lovemaker.

ALBERS: I guess that makes me the Archduke of Virginia Beach.  I am somebody who really doesn’t like tourists very much. And I am an excellent ballet dancer.

Q: You have written something called a play. Is that the one where it’s just like TV, but you have to put on clothes, go somewhere, and once it starts you can’t pause it?

ALBERS: Yes, but you don’t have to wear any clothes.

MCMURRAN: And actually this play, you can pause it. We added a TiVo feature. Only during the naked scenes, like when you were 13. It’s kind of like Trading Places, when Jamie Lee Curtis took off her shirt.

ALBERS: It’s like the old VHS tape where you even put in that part where the movie looks worn from having been paused so many times.

Q: How difficult was it for you to bring to the boards a star-crossed tale of a Christian broadcaster who, through charitable activities, faith, and an association with the 22nd president of Liberia, falls in love with mining African diamonds?

ALBERS: I’m going to say it was pretty easy. That play writes itself.

Q: The venue is the Generic Theatre Down Under Chrysler Hall. Is it on the same level as the (Norfolk Mayor) Paul Fraim clones?

MCMURRAN: Yes. I saw them yesterday, and I made out with one of them. … And I’ll be quite honest with you, Paul Fraim is a big part of this show because, if it weren’t for Paul Fraim, we wouldn’t have really good jokes that are mentioned, I think, one time in the show. … Well, we having dancing Paul Fraims that come out.

ALBERS: That’s true.

MCMURRAN: He comes out and is like, “I’ll take your money and spend it on useless (stuff).” One of my favorite parts of the show. Please come out and see that.

ALBERS: I would just like to add that does turn in to a pas de deux with a mermaid.

Q: (Wanderlust is inspired by “La Ronde” by Arthur Schnitzler.) Presumably using scenes in which a revolving combination of characters interact, with one character’s placement in the following scene creating the thread with which you stitch a circular mosaic of love, longing and humor, you explore the secrets of humanity through the local lens of Hampton Roads. What does that thing I just told you mean?

MCMURRAN: I think it’s better than what we wrote. It’s definitely more well thought out.

ALBERS: I think it means somebody read their CliffsNotes, and maybe actually pasted them verbatim into that question.

Q: How does Portsmouth come off in this thing? We’ve been hurt before.

MCMURRAN: I will speak to this, knowing that I am the King of Portsmouth. It comes off swimmingly. There’s never a punch line about crime. There’s never a punch line about being stuck in Portsmouth. I think Portsmouth has always painted itself in a light it should be painted in. It’s pretty much the King of Hampton Roads, don’t you think?

ALBERS: Yeah. They’re number one.

MCMURRAN: I am from Portsmouth. I am going to say that. So if anybody comes in here and jokes Portsmouth besides us, I’m probably going to put a cap in their (caboose).

ALBERS: But Portsmouth is crime free.

MCMURRAN: Watch yourself.

Q: Did the Chamber of Commerce have any notes?

ALBERS: Well, they did blockade us out of the theater that one time.

MCMURRAN: They know we’re going to be a big money maker for them. … I feel we’ve really gotten a little more support than you’re giving them credit for. Wanderlust is pretty much like the new Elizabeth River Ferry. You know, something you ride back and forth.

Q: I saw the publicity photo of the sailor character. Did you know the Navy gives you a whole bunch of shirts?

ALBERS: Yes. Yes we did. But, you know. Who needs it?

Q: Wanderlust promises theatre patrons “a voyeuristic peek inside the bedroom of your neighbors.” Some kind of furniture thing, I assume. Who has the most tasteful nightstand. Look at the storage capacity of that armoire. That sort of thing?

ALBERS: Yes. Pretty much. The whole thing is being sponsored by Haynes. We’re really excited.

MCMURRAN: And Posturepedic.

ALBERS: Yes. Sealy Posturepedic. It’s been really great for us. Every room is like a showroom at Haynes. And at the end of the show we’re having a silent auction, so you can bid on the furniture.

MCMURRAN: You can bid on the used bed.

ALBERS: Yeah. But it is a Craftmatic. Old people will be comfortable.

Q: Regarding a “voyeuristic peek inside the bedroom of your neighbors,” the scene on my street is a little played out. Could you please help me get a peek inside the bedroom of someone else’s neighbors?

MCMURRAN: It depends on what neighborhood you’re in. Say if you’re down in Virginia Beach it’s going to be a … more heavy neighborhood. I don’t know if you’ve seen how spread out in that area it is, but the only thing there is to do is to go to Wendy’s and go to the beach in a Speedo. If you go to Portsmouth, you’ll probably have to duck from the bullets whizzing overhead. And as far as Norfolk, well you’ve just to get some of those big glasses and fit in with the hipster scene I guess.

Q: What I like is that you’re not trading in stereotypes.

MCMURRAN: Come see this play. There are none in it.

Q: Anything to add?

ALBERS: No. I think he hit it. I don’t want to see my neighbors, either.

MCMURRAN: Plus I think there is a law against being a peeping tom.

Q: That’s good. We’ve learned something.

ALBERS: Knowledge is power.

Q: In a cast photo, two members of the company are locked in a passionate embrace outside the Scope, while a quartet of fellow thespians looks on. What did the four spectators do wrong? And what did the other two do right?

MCMURRAN: That’s pretty presumptuous of you to think that two people did something right to be making love right in the middle of Scope. So I think the four that were in the back did something right to not have to make love in front of the fountain – in front of that wonderful architecture called Scope.

ALBERS: Which is aging so well.

MCMURRAN: To answer your question, they probably – I’m not going to say that. I was going to say they could probably lose a few pounds. They’d be fine with that.

Q: And you kind of, in a back-handed way, did.

MCMURRAN: Yes. Of course, I’m very skinny so I can get away with it.

ALBERS: What they did right, I would say, is that they took a pretty decent picture. What they did wrong is that they auditioned for this play.

Q: Brad, you’ve been teaching improv classes for teens through The Muse. How do you get impressionable young people on the right path? By that I mean, how do you get them to avoid mime and popular musicals?

MCMURRAN: I teach them the essentials of life – to live hard, and party fast. I find that that’s sort of the pathway to religious freedom.

Q: The Muse is going to love that.

MCMURRAN: They’ll be fine with that. I’d love to see if I get fired over this interview.

Q: Jeremiah, you’ve done some fine theater criticism for AltDaily. How much better is your play than the dreck you usually have to review around here?

MCMURRAN: This is my favorite question. This is where we get the bad review.

ALBERS: Yes, well, it’s worse, actually, and we did that on purpose. But the sex in our show isn’t done by two dudes playing horses.

MCMURRAN: Although there’s one scene we’re thinking about adding that. We’re having some issues with one scene. That might be the ending we’re looking for. Who knew this … would give us the ending. Equus II: The Return of Love. We’re going to be popular folks. “Come see Wanderlust; they’re haters.”

Q: You both are known for your work with The Pushers. Will Donald Trump’s decision not to run for president put comics and improvisational troupes out of work in 2012?

MCMURRAN: That’s an easy improvisation. Yes. And that is the end.

Q: Anything to add?

ALBERS: I couldn’t have said it better myself. Although I think that some wig companies might be a little sad.

Q: We’ve covered so much ground here. What else would you like to say?

MCMURRAN: Before Wanderlust, I wasn’t a man. This is sort of my turning into a – It’s sort of like Perseus, when he had to go and find his fate. This was that time.

Q: Is that what he did? Found his fate?

MCMURRAN: It depends which way you look at it. Fate sort of found him I guess. Wanderlust sort of found me, too. Although I’m still digging this Equus idea.

ALBERS: Sandy Duncan for president, 2012. Her glass eye will rule them all.

(According to IMBD, Sandy Duncan does not really have a glass eye.)

END SCENE

A (somewhat) more serious craft talk will follow in the near future.

Wanderlust premiers on Friday, June 17, at the Generic, 215 St. Pauls Blvd., Norfolk downtown. The run is from June 17-19, 23-26, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $10. For more information call (757) 441-2160 or visit the Generic’s online reservation Interbot thingy. Patrons under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a “responsible” adult.

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