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Home » Theater » “EXCELSIOR” a play about JEAN SHEPHERD maybe with Kevin Spacey or who?! [A]

“EXCELSIOR” a play about JEAN SHEPHERD maybe with Kevin Spacey or who?! [A]

play cover 2

March 16, the sixth anniversary of its originally scheduled opening night.

In addition to my other writings about Jean Shepherd, early on I began thinking independently about how the essence of Shepherd might be done as a play.  The following, Excelsior!—A Play About Jean Shepherd gives an impression of his creative life, beginning in New York City, the “Great Burgeoning” phase, in 1956.  There are four scenes. 

Such a play might be done as it is (somewhat like the nearly-one-man play about Richard Feynman, QED, by Peter Parnell, staring Alan Alda several years ago), or in some expanded fashion form the basis for a film or television series.  One might remember the popular sitcom about a radio station, WKRP in Cincinnati, originally broadcast in 1978-1982. 

Those who, in my dreamer’s world, might play Shepherd: Kevin Spacey, Bill Irwin, Nicolas Cage, Dustin Hoffman, William Hurt, Tom Hanks, Alan Alda, Stephen Wright.

authorsplayhouse signI’ve only submitted the play to a couple of outlets so far.  (“Over the transom” submission of a play—lots o’ luck!)  The premiere production, without media hoopla or the arrival of famous glitterati, was at “Authors Playhouse,” a very small theater in Bay Shore, Long Island, New York.  Actor Jack West did a good job portraying Shep.  David Hinckley, entertainment columnist of the New York Daily News, gave it a notice, and Jim Clavin gave it prominent spots on his www.flicklives.com site.

As far as the triumphant occasion?  My wife, two sons, and my cousin attended a performance, joining me in my moment of theatrical glory.  Among those I met in the audience were several Shep enthusiasts and radio producers including Laurie Squire and her husband Herb Squire, Shep’s favorite engineer.  The tiny theater was nearly filled to capacity—my remuneration consisted of two free admission tickets.  The scheduled performances were for March 16, 17, 18, 2007, and as was the case for other productions, a couple of shorter plays were also on the bill.  A snow and ice storm cancelled opening night.  Regarding the total run, you do the math.  Yet, the frozen fist raised out of that snow and ice still holds high my Excelsior! banner.  Maybe highly perceptive Broadway producers were there!  Some day I’ll get the call—The Great White Way!  Alert your important friends in show biz.  I’ll favorably consider offers for whatever level of production comes along—I’m easy.

I designed the art you see at the top of this post. In hopes of it someday appearing on a Broadway Playbill. [Figure with banner from the 1959 record album “Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles,” cover art and liner notes by Jean Shepherd’s best buddy, Shel Silverstein.]

____________________________________

“Video Killed the Radio Star,” by the British group, Buggles is a 1979 one-hit-wonder pop song.  (It’s credited with being the first music video shown on MTV.) It has a catchy sound and a strong and simple beat, with lyrics that could form an ironic background to accompany audience members as they enter the theater  for a play about Shepherd, and subsequently leave  :

 

I heard you on the wireless back in Fifty-Two

Lying awake intent at tuning in on you.

If I was young it didn’t stop you coming through.

Oh-a oh

They took the credit for your second symphony.

Rewritten by machine and new technology,

and now I understand the problems you can see.

Oh-a oh

I met your children

Oh-a oh

What did you tell them?

Video killed the radio star.

Video killed the radio star.

Pictures came and broke your heart.

Oh-a-a-a oh

And now we meet in an abandoned studio.

We hear the playback and it seems so long ago.

And you remember the jingles used to go.

Oh-a oh

You were the first one.

Oh-a oh

You were the last one.

Video killed the radio star.

Video killed the radio star.

In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far

Oh-a-aho oh,

Oh-a-aho oh

Video killed the radio star.

Video killed the radio star.

In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far.

Pictures came and broke your heart, put the blame on VTR.

You are a radio star.

You are a radio star.

Video killed the radio star.

Video killed the radio star.

Video killed the radio star.

Video killed the radio star.

Video killed the radio star. (You are a radio star.)

__________________________________________

EXCELSIOR, A ONE-MAN PLAY ABOUT JEAN SHEPHERD

CAST:    JEAN SHEPHERD                             A performer/creator on radio and other media.  In Scene One he is in his thirties, and by Scene Four he appears much older.

(SHEPHERD HEARD ON TAPE)                   (Tapes of the character’s radio broadcasts.)

Time:  The play takes place in the 1950-1990s

Place:  A radio studio and a TV or film set

Length:  One act in four scenes, about an hour

The play is for one male performer, who is on stage throughout the performance except as the scenes change.  Besides a minimal set, there are titles hung from the ceiling, all but one of which are cut down at a designated time during the play.  There are some lighting changes, and audio tapes with words and music.

When the stage lights come on one sees a large framed window—behind which the engineers would sit—dark behind it, so it acts like a mirror.  It is tilted a bit so the top is closer to the audience—this allows Shepherd, when seated at a table in front, to be seen reflected in it.  Some of the audience can also be seen reflected.  [No, the large framed window did not appear in the original production.]

At the top edge of the window is an electric sign about 4” high and about 12” long that reads ON THE AIR.  When it goes on, it is bright red. [The one I created for this production is artwork on cardboard. It does not electronically glow. It stands on the table, visible to the audience.  As he begins broadcasting, “Shepherd” picks up the three-sided sign and flips it over so that it reads “on the air,” and turns a blank side facing out for time off the air.]

on the air

At stage front is a long, white, formica-top table holding  large earphones and a microphone, its cord going across the floor under the window.  Also on the table is a pitcher  of water, an empty glass, and a maroon plastic Zenith AM/FM radio with a big simulated gold dial.  There is an upright reel-to-reel tape player, a small pile of 7” reel tape boxes, and a black dial-style telephone.  A comfortable desk chair is centered in front of the desk, on the audience side, facing the audience.  To one side next to the table is a small pile of objects.

An open box-work construction with four horizontal sides (about 9” high by about 4’ long), is suspended about eight feet from the floor.  On the white background is large black lettering, each side representing a scene of the play.  On the side facing the front at the start it says HIGH ON A MOUNTAINTOP.  The side to the right, a bit of which is visible on that side says HIT THE MONEY BUTTON.  On the back side it says I’M AN ENTERTAINER.  On the last side, seen a bit from the left side, it says DREAM COLLECTION DAY.  [Although I made those signs, the director cut them from the production.]

In addition to appropriate Shep-music on a CD, I provided the props: microphone, radio matching the one on which I’d originally listened to and recorded Shep, tape player and tape boxes, director’s chair I bought, Shepherd’s name in self-stick vinyl letters on the back I bought and stuck on, megaphone bought for the occasion.  I contributed more than one kazoo to the grand production. [ The back of the set and some furniture remained on stage all evening, no matter what the play in progress–note flowered drape in the photo–mentally blank that out as best you can. This can be accomplished as easily as following the directive, “Don’t think about a pink elephant.”]

play scenery

Part of the stage set for “Excelsior.”

Megaphone on directors chair,

tape player and tape boxes on table.

_______________________________

As you enter the theater and take your seats, enjoy the haunting strains of “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

Stay tuned for Scene One]

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1 Comment

  1. gene says:

    seltzer botttle- just say’n

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