When Jennifer Childs — the co-founding producing artistic director of 1812 Productions — says that the comedic troupe’s seasonal, headline-driven, sketch-comic revue “This Is The Week That Is” is a group effort, believe it.
Written and performed by the entire team (including music director Rob Tucker), 1812’s annual political comedy, now in its 12th year, takes surprising turns when it comes to essaying what might be this century’s most bizarre presidency. Aiding and abetting in the writing and production of “This Is The Week That Is” are three gay men who all have a saucy, stately sense of humor: the aforementioned Tucker, assistant director Dan O’Neil and cast member Jenson Titus Lavallee, who will poke fun at our current political climate through Dec. 24 at Plays & Players Theatre.
PGN: How scary and outrageously funny is the news at present?
RT: I think the country has been living in a state of fear for quite some time. I personally try to stay away from the “fear place.” I make a conscious effort to not let the news put me there. Of course, there are events, policies and legislation — or the lack thereof — that bother and concern me. I suppose that is some version of fear. I try to use those concerns as spurs for my own awareness and quiet action. On its face, the news, beyond Trump, isn’t really funny at all. However, I do think that a show like “This Is The Week …” can help make these stories funny. That’s the beauty of satire. It makes these things much easier to grapple with. When one can laugh at the “smoke,” it makes us a bit more willing to deal/cope with the “fire.”
JTL: The news is … a lot, as we all know. There’s a great moment in the show when Susie gets a CNN alert and we all say, “Don’t look at it” and then she says, “Oh, I can’t help it.” It’s a lot like that. Every time I open my news feed, I know that I’m going to encounter something that will infuriate me. It’s stressful. I think all you can do is laugh, though, when you can.
DO: The comment we get the most this year is, “You have so much material!” And that’s true. But I think that’s made it both easier and harder to write the show this year. There is a lot of news to talk about, and it seems like people are more aware of what’s going on politically this year than before; I don’t think I could have picked the FBI director or secretary of education out of a lineup before 2017, and now we can write jokes about them that everyone will get. But the other side of that coin is that so much is happening and the 2017 media disperses it to us so quickly that it’s hard to write anything that will last. I have a feeling we’ll be rewriting jokes and revising sketches more this year than before because the news changes so often.
PGN: How are LGBT issues tackled during the show, if at all?
RT: Unless there is a major LGBT issue dominating the news cycle, I don’t feel the need for individual issues to be tackled. However, in the same way people of color need to be represented in some way, it is paramount for there to be an LGBT presence on stage, especially if there isn’t a way to tackle an issue directly. We definitely have both of those in a very big way.
JTL: LGBT issues, when brought to the surface, were definitely accounted for, but this show does an amazing job of responding to what’s in the moment and right now that’s this ridiculous presidency and all of the women coming forth about sexual harassment. Those were the major themes for us.
DO: I remember a few years ago, before I was involved, seeing “This Is The Week That Is” and there was a joke about how legalized gay marriage changed gay activists’ chants: “We’re here! We’re queer! We’re registered at Crate & Barrel!” The show has always tackled LGBTQ issues when they’re in the news, because the show is built to reflect and comment on what’s going on. Without giving too much away, there’s a really fun, gay, shady news segment in the show this year. And it’s there because of what’s in the pop-culture zeitgeist and who’s in the cast. Jenson, Rob, and I wrote the sketch together; it’s not something that Jen Childs would have written for the show because it’s not “in her voice” and it’s not her worldview.
PGN: So, what’s the trickiest part about satire when it comes to 1812?
RT: The tricky thing about satire, for me, is getting the tone just right. “You can make fun of the smoke, but not the fire.” Making fun of the circumstances surrounding an issue keeps the audience on your side. This is especially important with 1812’s productions because their audience members tend to be from across the political spectrum. Get the tone wrong and you can run the risk of alienating them.
For more information about “This Is The Week That Is,” visit http://www.1812productions.org.