1812 Productions’ wildly-popular political satire, ‘This Is The Week That Is,’ officially returns to the stage this week.
What makes this production so compelling is the way it changes based on what’s happening in the world. It’s Philadelphia’s own ‘Saturday Night Live‘ with a sprinkle of ‘The Daily Show’ and ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ in a way—and the performers match the caliber of what people can expect when headed to a sketch comedy show of this degree.
“It’s something more akin to a devised show rather than a stage play where you get the script on the first day of rehearsal. And we, as an ensemble of writers and performers, write the piece together,” explains Sean Close, who has been performing in the show for years. Close also notes that the ideas for this original work start long before rehearsals with a brainstorming dinner.
“We use this dinner to discuss what’s going on, what is being thought about and talked about and wrestled with these days… And what it feels like to be living right now, in this moment, in this city of ours,” he explains. “The creative team takes this conversation and creates a bare bones outline as a proposal of sorts, and then we flesh it out—which sometimes can mean taking things in totally different directions from what was on that first outline.”
Close also goes in to explain that the minds behind the production write as a group and improvise to see what comes out. We see similar formats on television, but the term “live” hits another note when it comes to theater and being on stage.
“What we have that those shows don’t have is that this is live theater rather than a show made for television, so we tap into our musical theater roots and rock out on some extravagant musical numbers. We’re never afraid of spectacle, especially when that spectacle is stupid fun,” says Close. “In the first act, we launch into the show from a place of checking in with the audience and then go from sketch to sketch. In the second, I’m at the news desk, with many breakout sketches. Expect dancing, singing, some recognizable characters, some characters you didn’t know you needed in your life until now, some impressions and plenty of silly.”
As audiences can imagine, the lightness of the show is not lost on the performers (“[We] have so many moments where we stop ourselves and go, ‘We’re at work right now and you’re dressed as Chris Christie doing the hula,” remarks Close,) and it’s meant to be that way. Close himself has to shape-shift to fit each scene—from Jeff Beezos, to Mitch McConnell, to a leotard-clad dancer in a chorus line. And while the first act features sketch after sketch at “breakneck speed,” the second act shines in a different way with Close as the anchor at the TW news desk, where he gets to tell jokes in the style of ‘SNL’s’ Weekend Update or ‘The Daily Show.’ And audience members become involved.
“I really live for all of the audience interaction then. I get to play around with the audience and respond to whatever they give me. It feels like the sort of interplay that a stand up comic gets to do. I get to poke fun, provoke them, celebrate them, deal with hecklers, all of the above,” Close explains. “It’s a sort of [a] conversation between us that changes every night. When we did our streaming TW at the height of the pandemic, I still got to do the news. But I did it from my home office, delivering jokes to a computer screen. Let’s just say I’m relieved to be looking at faces this time, even if they have masks on.”
The lightness of the show also adds to an overwhelming news cycle, which can be hard to escape in this day and age.
“I feel like the challenge to creating this show comes with finding the joy and the laughs when so much of the news feels so bleak. 1812’s Artistic Director and fellow ensemble member, Jen Childs, has passed along a lesson in writing satire that I think about every time we make a TW,” continues Close. “She’s said that you can write jokes about the smoke but not the fire. So when something is too heavy or too terrifying or maybe just too immediate, it’s a fool’s errand to try to make comedy out of it. So you have to look at the smoke around it to see where you can find your ‘in.’ It’s not as easy as it looks.”
‘This Is The Week That Is’ has long evolved since its first show, and Close himself has been with the production since 2015. He’s seen the ins and outs of some major social shifts in this country alone, and it adds to how 1812’s production has grown over time.
“There was an air of levity doing political comedy back then. Like, what’s the worst that can happen? And then with the election of He Who Shall Not Be Named, everything felt so much heavier, like we all felt so weighed down and disgusted by the news and things felt so serious,” says Close. “It was absolutely hard to find the joy and hard to find our way to skewering an administration that felt like a complete self-parody unto itself, all while holding space for all that collective fear and anxiety. And then on top of that, make it funny?”
Luckily, ‘This Is The Week That Is’ prevailed, despite elections, a pandemic and everything else life has thrown at us.
Close himself, as a veteran with the production for seven years, quips that this year feels especially original, with previous cast member and first time director of the show Tanaquil Marquez at the helm, and with several first time cast members. It’s also the youngest and most diverse cast they’ve had. And the dance numbers? Well, they’ve “leveled up” according to the actor, with much thanks to choreographer and assistant director, Mel Cotton.
2022’s ‘This Is The Week That Is’ will run April 28 through May 22 at Plays & Players Theatre (1714 Delancey Place). Those who are curious about what will unfold, those who are looking to laugh, and for those who are just looking for a break— Close and the rest of the performers hope to provide all of that and more.
“I hope that audiences walk away from our show feeling some sense of catharsis. I know we find some in the making of TW. I hope they feel like it’s okay to come out from pandemic hiding (safely and with some consideration, of course) and be in community again. We can come together and consider what we’ve been through and still laugh. That’s a feat. It’s amazing how resilient we all are,” Close finishes. “We can celebrate that fact, [and] it feels so sweetly human to go through hardship and still need to just be in a room with each other and laugh at the absurdity and extremity of it all. I know I have a tendency, like so many of us, to cocoon away when the world feels like it’s too much. This show is just such a fantastic reminder that our way out of the darkness is through each other. Okay, now that that’s over, where do I put this soap box?”
For information on 1812 Productions’ ‘This Is The Week That Is,’ visit 1812productions.org