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Pineapples are Funny!

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TNL: Origins
Pineapple-Shaped Lamps
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
9/2-3, 8 p.m. • $10-$15
www.pineappleshapedlamps.org

FEMALE BONDS: (l. to r.) Deb Bowen, Melissa Stanley, Anna Gamel, Amanda Young and Emily Young in ‘Steel Magnolias.’ Photo by Shea Carver

They united as a shadow cast team at UNCW only a year and a half ago. Wesley Brown and crew would deck out in “Rocky Horror Picture Show” costumes and mimic the movie screening behind them. Before long, artistic director of Browncoat Pub and Theatre, Richard Davis, came a knocking.

“[Richard approached us] about starting a monthly version of the shadow cast downtown,” Brown, president of Pineapple-Shaped Lamps theatre troupe, says. “I knew, in order to pull it off, I’d need a team. So I spent 12 hours on the phone, calling everyone I knew.”

Thus began the inner workings of “Thursday Night Live,” which makes its season three debut September 15th.

Yes, the name implies all that it is: a sketch comedy group that flourishes off of devising mini-stories around the wicked, the odd, the far-fetched and the obscure. Much like the grandfather of sketch comedy shows, “Saturday Night Live,” Pineapple-Shaped Lamps produces “TNL” with fresh concepts weekly.

“No two episodes are the same,” Brown promises. “No two sketches in the same episode are the same. In 15 minutes, we can go from interpretive mime to a superhero parody to a couple of guys in drag as little old British ladies.”

Some of his favorite episodes thus far have been Rachel Helms’ “Magician OB-GYN,” which has the shock factor evolving into wildly over-the-top antics into endearing charm. “All of these props and hats and a chain of scarves [are] pulled from . . . well, it’s an OB-GYN, so you can imagine from where,” Brown explains. “But then it takes this turn, and suddenly it’s sweet and touching.”

Like “SNL,” they’ve also created characters who make multiple appearances throughout a season. One of the most memorable came from a racially exposed show, which divulged tensions that still surround our humanity today. “Jeremy” was written by Brett J. Young and “rather than just throwing rude words around,” as Brown explains, the show conceptualized recurring characters, like Mr. Meaner and his class of misfit children. “It’s a very dense sketch—there are a lot of elements and characters running through it, and you get to sit back and enjoy the ride.”

The process to devise their eight-show season remains an intense creative process born of ideas that scuttle through many stages of perfection. So far the crew have put together 130 sketches in their first two seasons, one of which was their debut last September and the other which started last February. Brown says, the breadth of the sketch has intensified in scope as they attempt to streamline the show’s efficiency.

First, the sketch writer must pitch the idea at Pineapple-Shaped Lamps’ production meetings, which include a huge staff of techies, actors and writers. After submitting a draft, which is read by the executive board—including the president, Brown; VP, Jake Steward; head writer, Alex Marden; secretary, Jen Trepper; and treasurer, Holly Cole—the writer receives a red-penned version with logistical notes.

“We start thinking about how we would produce this sketch,” Brown explains, “what costumes we already have on hand, what props we’ll need to organize, etc. The writer then revises the submitted sketch to accommodate these issues.”
When the second draft hits the newly instituted “Writers’ Room,” as a group, the sketch is edited for clarity. “These notes get very technical,” Brown says, “sometimes hinging upon whether or not to delete a single word.”

The perfection and eye to detail eventually leads to a polished script, wherein table reads showcase the minutiae of dialogue, pacing and energy. “It also gives the writer a chance to select a cast for their sketch,” Brown confirms.
From there, it’s rehearsal time—for technicalities, a proper run-through and the final dress rehearsal. “We complain about the number of props, how complicated it is to get them all on and off stage, but I think it’s important for us to test our limits,” the president admits. In the end, the audience is left with a few hems and haws, not to mention local talent producing original comedy.

It takes dedication to endure the Pineapple-Shaped Lamps vision. Much of the cast has the zest and zeal of newly graduated students. The “rag-tag group of champions,” as Brown calls them, come from UNCW and Cape Fear Community College. Likewise, others are mere Wilmingtonians who have a penchant for theater and comedy. “And then there’s John Wolfe,” Brown quips, “who has no home, no interest in any of these things, but we can’t get rid of him, so we let him hang around.”

The flexibility afforded to them allows exploration of so many formats and topics. “It really feels as though we can do anything, tell any joke, or even get away with murder,” he jokes—“not actual murder. Funny murders, where we bludgeon people with whoopee cushions and French ticklers.”

Though they aren’t completely shadowing the big Saturday show airing nationwide, courtesy of one Lorne Micheals, Brown has considered the addition of music. It wouldn’t be an intermission of songs. “We don’t have plans for the immediate future,” he claims, “but we like the idea of inviting our audience to stick around after the show to hear some music, buy a drink. It’d be another way to build our fan base.”

They’ve had great success in their short infancy, especially thanks to Devin DiMattia’s “Literal Drug Commercial,” featuring the “TNL” cast, which has reached over 50,000 views on YouTube. Brown admits wanting to do more videos. “It’s another way for us to avoid becoming formulaic,” he says, “to keep our format surprising.”

Before their new season begins, “TNL” will have a two-night reprisal of their favorite sketches from their first two seasons on September 2nd and 3rd at Browncoat, 111 Grace Street. Billed “Thursday Night Live: Origins,” they’ll put on 15 sketches each night, all of which will differ. Tickets are available online for $10 or $15 for both. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., with showtime at 8 p.m.

They’ll be selling discounted passes to season three, which include special offers for Pineapple-Shaped Lamps’ other shows. Their shadow cast of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” continues on the second Thursday of every month, and they’ll be adding a shadow cast of “Clue,” based on the feature film. In October, they will present “Cannibal! The Musical.” Folks can follow them online at www.pineappleshapedlamps.org, and they’re also on Facebook and Twitter.

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