TEXT & IMAGES BY DANIELLE COHEN ('18), STAFF WRITER
On a humid New York Sunday in July, I headed over to Union Square to meet up with a few members of Laugh Track, an upcoming Fringe NYC production directed, written and starring Wesleyan Alums. After watching them rehearse in their open, sunny studio on the 5th floor of an otherwise nondescript building, I followed the cast to a children’s bookstore-slash-cafe downstairs, where they joked about how this paragraph of the article would sound. (We were sitting at a bizarre table supported by a tree stump under some fake clouds made of cotton balls.)
Their sense of humor in conversation is quick and fun, rebounding each other’s jokes with further elaborations in rapid succession. You can tell they were college friends. This bodes well for their show, which they say is strictly a comedy.
Co-written by director Sarah Esocoff ’15 and producer Keelin Ryan ’14, Laugh Track follows the filming of a sitcom called “He’s a Dad!” Most of the actors play two characters: one being the actor, the other their TV character. Each sitcom character is the polar opposite of the actor allowing the show to distinguish between when the cameras are rolling and when they’re not.
“By the end of the show,” Sarah explains, “the actors’ personal lives are becoming so messed up that it starts to impact their performance on the stage.”]
Beanie Feldstein ’15, who recently appeared on an episode of Orange is the New Black’s third season, plays Brianne/Emily in the show. “Brianne [who is an actress] grew up on the show, she’s super angsty, and very much your typical teen,” she explains. “Texting, into the boys, that whole shit…and then Emily, who’s her sitcom character, is the good girl of the family. She’s kind of wide-eyed and sweet.”
Laugh Track began at Wesleyan. Keelin and Sarah, who worked together on the Ampersand (among other comedy-writing groups), wrote their first draft over winter break and continued to edit it throughout the 2014 spring semester in the middle of downstairs Usdan. This led to a multitude of Wescams to Keelin asking if she was dating “that girl in a ponytail and button down.”
They did several table reads, after which they would often completely rewrite the script, and finally the show went up in May of 2014 through Second Stage. The script was always a work-in-progress, the directors cutting a scene a mere four days before opening night.
“We did a full rewrite after the show in case we wanted to put it up again,” Sarah recalls, “and surprise! We did.” She says that the first time they started rewriting was when Keelin graduated and moved in with Sarah (“For one week, okay?!” Keelin interjects defensively). One day, as the two waited in an empty field for Keelin’s new car to be fixed, Sarah whipped out their binder and they got to work. Their main priority in rewriting was to put more emphasis on aspects that hadn’t been clear enough in the Wesleyan production.
But the biggest way the show has changed since its initial Wesleyan manifestation is in the casting. This time around, it’s age-appropriate: Eighty-year-olds play eighty-year-olds, instead of college-age actors for every role. For Beanie, the age-appropriate casting added another dimension to her transition from the Wesleyan show to the current one – she switched roles. “At Wesleyan I played Nebraska, but since they wanted to cast it age-appropriately, and she’s a 40-year-old woman, I let that one go,” she explains.
As I watch her do a scene with the character she used to play, she remarks, “The girl who played the part I have now at Wesleyan is so funny, and a lot of the scenes happen between those two characters, so I can hear her in my head. I’ve had to kind of keep her voice out of it and try to start as fresh as possible.”
Performing in Fringe has also had some impact on the show. Any sets in the festival must be taken down and put up within a span of 15 minutes, forcing a change of set. They also will be acting in the biggest space Fringe has to offer, complete with a 200-seat audience. “We should start, like, an aggressive social media campaign to get Sandra Bullock to come to our show,“ Keelin jokes semi-seriously.
And while there’s a lot of overlap with the original Wesleyan cast and crew, there are also new faces and a changeover in positions. Keelin, who works “cray hours,” now functions as more of a producer than a director, dealing with e-mails and logistics as well as communication with Fringe, while Sarah directs. “I’m the logistics overlord and Sarah’s the creative overlord,” Keelin summarizes.
“Overlady? “Coordinator,” Paul McCallion ‘14, their Stage Manager, calmly and logically suggests. Even some new members of the Laugh Track team are familiar faces. Actress Anna Drezen works with Sarah, and Natalie Margolin is Beanie’s best friend from high school. Beanie and Natalie have loved getting to act together again, especially since they now play twins. All the actors, however, even ones from the Wesleyan production, went through the show’s audition process before being cast in the show.
What’s next for the Laugh Track team? “Well, the Broadway transfer is tentative,” Paul jokes. Sarah says that only about 20 of the upwards of 100 shows in Fringe even get a second round, and while she did jokingly command that I “write about our awesome chemistry, even off set,” I honestly believe the group has a unique and admirable dynamic - one can only hope they collaborate again at some point in the future.
“I’m really stoked to be able to work with Wesleyan people again,” Keelin enthuses. “There are so many of our good friends that we’ve done theater with at Wesleyan, and it’s been awesome to have the gang back together after graduating.” She then chuckles as her fellow cast members make fun of her use of the words “stoked” and “gang.”