The original Blueprint
Betty Burns puts Late Nights back on the Blue Room schedule
Imagine, if you will, turning on your local 11 o’clock news and finding talk show psychiatrist Dr. Phil being interviewed by a young white female correspondent who thinks her “Black Irish” ancestry makes her African American. In response to the incessant chattering about her hero Oprah and being a “proud black woman,” the good doctor, in his incredulous Southern drawl, gives it to her straight: “You ain’t black, bitch. There’s more black in the Crazy Horse on a Friday night than there is in you.”
This is obviously the dimension of imagination—an area known as The Twilight Zone or, by its other name, Late Nights at the Blue Room.
The scene above is from the fake-news portion of the upcoming Late Night Twilight Zone “broadcast” and points to the fun and irreverent nature of a Late Night tradition that will once again be happening on a regular basis. These are generally low-overhead productions—bite-size chunks of original snacks in the form of sketch comedy, Grand Guignol bloodfests and of course royalty-free renditions of the classic The Twilight Zone episodes.
In an atmosphere that is much looser than the hushed, tennis match quality of the typical theater-going experience, the flow of Pale Ale really starts to warm the blood at that 11 o’clock hour, making for a fairly interactive night of performance fun.
“I like that ‘gorilla theater’ feel,” shared Betty Burns, the newly christened Late Night maven. “I think we have that with the Late Nights.”
Burns has the credentials too, having acted, directed and written scripts at the Blue Room since the mid-'90s, and she’s especially adept at being, well, really funny. The first impression of her deadpan and nearly monotone demeanor serves her comic timing beautifully—you never know when she’s going to say something funny, and when she does, it comes at exactly the right time.
“No one fucks with my art!” joked Burns in response to an actress suggesting the addition of an “s” to the end of a song lyric at recent rehearsal for the upcoming holiday late show.
The writer (Burns) and director, the very friendly and focused Martin Chavira, fleshed out the aforementioned fake-news program and spoof-commercial skits for local businesses that precede the main attraction. This Twilight Zone is a retelling of the famous “Night of the Meek” Christmas episode that originally starred the recently deceased Art Carney.
Navigating the oft re-painted kitchen chairs of the “wood room” (the props/tech/rehearsal room of the theater), the actors worked out their blocking and pacing as they went, fleshing out jokes and making suggestions and comments as they felt their way through scenes.
“Is she gonna hit me?” wondered actress Michelle Smith, playing a dude tattooist in a Burns/Jeremy Votava-penned commercial for Victory Tattoo. “I just wanna know where.”
It’s in these homegrown commercials where you’ll find the secret to the recent resurgence in of the Late Night program.
“I’ve basically been able to fund this myself,” explained Burns. “We use the commercials to build a budget, so we’ll have money to invest in each of the shows, and when we do a show that doesn’t have commercials it will still have a budget.”
This is also where you find that spontaneous and creative spirit that gets the locals revved up, and as Burns noted, “People are a little more into it because of that ‘Old School’ [Blue Room] element.”
“We wanna see how far they’ll let us go,” Burns admitted, referring to the local businesses that buy the ads. “Before we get paid we’ve been taking them in for approval … and every place has liked what we’ve offered.”
Without giving away the mini-plots of what were all fun send-ups, those that have purchased commercials include Peet’s Coffee, Thunder 107FM and the new downtown men’s fashion boutique Trucker.
The most hilarious of the bunch at this rehearsal was the Christmas version of “The party’s over” Halloween ad campaign the city produced. Let’s just say that, without the P.C. restrictions of the paid ads, they get significant satirical mileage out of an Irish-cop stereotype and liberal F-bomb disbursements.
The Blue Room’s fall season is still being worked out, but when completed it will include three new Late Night features. “There will be another Twilight Zone—'The Howling Man’ [starring Satan!],” said Burns, “a sketch comedy show called ‘The Sketchy the Clown Show’ … and hopefully something with audience participation, like a variety show or a game show type of thing.”
If you’re hankering for a warm and fun connection with community theater at its spirited (and possibly rowdy) best, or if you just want to experience something new and different while laughing your ass off, don’t miss this or any future Late Nights at the little theater above the hardware store.