A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Jun 9, 2010
Look in nearly any direction in Madison and you'll find someone doing something new, something creative, something that makes you wonder, how the heck did they think of that?
When I heard about Television! (The Play), the latest production at Broom Street Theater, opening this Friday, I had to find out the story behind it.
The play explores the wide world of television—and humankind’s co-dependent relationship with it—by letting the audience “channel surf” and choose scenarios to play out on the stage.
Writer and director Amanda Jones recently shared how she came up with the concept for Television! (The Play). I’ll let her take it from here:
It all started in the shower. For some reason, my brain seems to work overtime when I’m in there, coming up with all sorts of ideas. Maybe it’s the psychological effect of washing away the dirt and happenings of the day, but my head always seems to go into hyper drive whenever it’s under the spigot.
On the evening in question, I had just watched the famous Monty Python dead parrot sketch. Wouldn’t it be hilarious, I thought as the warm water poured over me, if someone were to do a spoof about a customer at a grocery store who had been sold a dead carrot?
I conveyed this idea to my boyfriend the next time I saw him. “A friend of mine and I came up with an idea for a sketch,” he said. “We'd always watch these poker tournaments on TV, and listen to the snarky commentary that goes along with them. One day we came up with the idea of doing our own commentary … for a solitaire tournament.” While I thought our ideas had merit, I simply ferreted them away into the dark recesses of my mind, lamenting that there seemed to be no opportunity in which to showcase them.
Fortunately, I’ve always been a firm believer in creating opportunities for myself.
At that time, I had been involved with Broom Street Theater for two years, observing and gaining insight into the play writing and production process from those who could be considered regulars there. I was itching to write and direct a show of my own, I just didn’t have an idea of what to do. Until one day—in the shower—I remembered the conversation my boyfriend and I had had.
I sat down and wrote out a list of every type of event, program or showcase I could think of that’s regularly viewed on the tube. Ultimately, I came up with a list of thirty, from telethons to westerns to Spanish soap operas to medical PSAs. I wrote a few of the scenes right away, and submitted them to Broom Street’s artistic director Callen Harty. Eventually, I was picked up for the 2010 season, which absolutely thrilled me—until I realized I still had ninety percent of the scenes left to write.
And write them, I did. I endeavored to incorporate as much history of the medium as I could into the script, referencing or alluding to shows and characters now only seen on TV Land or Nick at Nite. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop me from also referencing a few modern events, such as Roman Polanski’s sexual assault charges and Sarah Palin resigning as Alaska governor.
Scenes are selected by the audience via a screen projected against a wall, which contains the channel selections, and audience members use their voice as the remote control, calling out which scene they want to see next. Of all the scenes that are written, about twenty or so will actually be performed each night, and many of the scenes are gratuitous in their use of improvisation, so it’s safe to say that anyone who comes to see Television! (The Play) more than once will see a completely different show every time.
As first-time writer and director, I can’t wait until opening night to see everything come to fruition. What I’m looking forward to most of all, however, comes after curtain call, after the cast party, after I'm already home: hopping into the shower, processing the events of the evening and seeing what my brain comes up with next.
Television! (The Play) runs June 11 through July 18 at Broom Street Theater. For more information, visit broomstreet.org.
Photos courtesy of Amanda Jones.