Two actors, over 20 characters and one scathing-but-affectionate satire come together as “Greater Tuna” takes the stage at McPherson College next week.
“‘Greater Tuna’ is like ‘Hee-Haw’ meets ‘Saturday Night Live.’ It’s a collection of short, loosely-connected skits giving us a glimpse at a day in the lives of Tuna, Texas. The laughs are quick and surprisingly still relevant, even 34 years after it was written,” said Jd. Bowman, director and associate professor of theater. “I wasn’t expecting how current the jokes would be…The show reminds me that each of us are a little crazy and we’re all here doing the best we can.”
The play, written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, follows members of the “third-smallest town in Texas” in a series of short scenes. The catch? Two actors play all the roles: senior Logan J. P. Schrag of McPherson and sophomore Tanner Trigg from Texas.
“Our students are handling the challenge like pros. Their work is going to leave the audience in stitches,” Bowman said. “Mac College produced this show in the late 1980s and its sequel “A Tuna Christmas” in the early 2000s. But both times, the director chose to cast individual actors for each character in the script. The script is still funny this way, but I’m excited for the added humor in producing the show as it was originally intended.”
“Greater Tuna” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14, 15 and 16 in Mingenback Theater at the college. Reservations are required and can be done by email email@example.com or by calling the box office at 620-242-0444. Tickets are $3.50 for students and seniors and $5 for adults.
As this season is the 40th anniversary of the college’s First Nighter program, Bowman wanted to pick something special for season ticket holders in the program who attend dinners served before the show.
“When we hit markers like that, I like to produce shows that allow our audience to laugh a little harder than normal. ‘Greater Tuna’ is one of the funniest shows I read when I was younger. It’s been on my “to do” list for years,” Bowman said. “I finally found the right time and the right students to highlight this great work.”
Characters include the owner of a used weapons store, the vice president of the Smut-Snatchers of the New Order and Yippie the dog. To pull the jokes off, the script calls for actors who can handle diversity of roles in quick succession.
“It’s challenging to figure out how to bring so many characters to life in their own unique way, but if it’s done correctly, it’ll be hilarious,” Schrag said. “I’m excited to share this with an audience, but I don’t want it to end… I’m having the time of my life!”
Though memorizing half a script each is a challenge for any actor, the McPherson College students are performing this show only weeks into the school year.
“It seems like we are producing a difficult show quickly, but in truth, if this show were at the end of our season, I’d still only rehearse it this long,” Bowman explained. “Comedy needs to stay fresh to stay fun. If we tell the same jokes over and over again in rehearsals, we’ll be bored before the audience even gets a chance to see it! This way, we get to enjoy the process and enjoy the audience’s reactions, too.”
The show was cast in May last year and the actors began memorizing lines halfway through the summer.
“We’ve also watched a lot of YouTube clips of famous comedic skits through the years: Saturday Night Live, MadTV, Laugh-in, etc. The students pick what they want to copy, what they want to modify and what they want to highlight,” Bowman explained. “No matter what, this is still their own work and it’s hilarious.”
Challenges like these both give students a taste of a professional theater atmosphere, but also push them to reach new heights.
“In the classroom or on the stage, I believe that students will work to meet you at your expectations. So, I set the bar high and these students rise to the challenge,” Bowman said. “Our theatre program is modeled after professional theatre settings. Those places don’t have the funds for long rehearsal times, so we tend to copy that. We are working on a new show every four to five weeks. In fact, we’re already working on our October show, Charley’s Aunt.”
Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MacSentinel.