Playwright Walt McGough

Playwright Walt McGough

November 2, 2016

On Monday, November 14th at 7:30pm SpeakEasy’s friends and family will gather at the Calderwood Pavilion for our entertaining and hilarious third-annual fall benefit performance!  This year’s show, The SpeakEasy Traveling Road Show Spectacular, pairs some of Boston’s favorite artists with SpeakEasy supporters in a wild night of vaudevillian-style twists and turns where absolutely anything can happen!

We spent some time catching up with SpeakEasy Artistic Associate and Traveling Road Show playwright Walt McGough, who gave us a sneak peek of what to expect on this evening of madcap fun! Check it out what Walt had to say below.

How long have you been a playwright?
I wrote my first play in high school, but didn’t really start thinking of myself as a playwright until my senior year of college. I’d spent a lot of time in between doing everything I could within theatre– acting, directing, hanging lights, being an active impediment to the scene shop– but at the end of the day I felt most comfortable sitting in a rehearsal room as a writer. After that I graduated, moved to Chicago and didn’t really look back.

What draws you to creating a vaudeville-style show? Why did you want to put this event in the trunk show format?

I think people would say that I’m a bit of an old soul, which is a polite way of saying that I wear a lot of baggy sweaters and maybe love Butter Pecan ice cream too much. I also tend to be really interested by different forms and genres of storytelling, so I tend to geek out pretty heavily over theatrical styles from long ago. Vaudeville is interesting to me because it’s so alien to audiences today, even though we’re all familiar with the tropes that it worked with. Theatre now is so tied up in creating a fully-realized world on stage, and immersing the audience, but vaudeville was being done in noisy, crowded and boisterous halls, some of which were huge and some of which were tiny, and so it tended to be much more about rapid-fire delivery of as many distracting and broad things as possible. Sort of an entertainment-by-blunt-force-trauma kind of model. That’s a fun playground to be in, and a neat one to visit for an audience.

What can we expect to see that’s different from last year’s show, Swelltime Variety Hour?
SwellTime was a radio-play style performance (again: old soul), so all of the performers were standing at microphones the whole time. With this year’s Road Show, we still have some stationary stuff, but overall there’s the potential for much more movement and dynamism in the different acts. There’s also a very light narrative thread this year, which we’ve been having a lot of fun cobbling together and which the performers have been wonderfully game for.

What trunk shows, vaudeville acts, or other sources of inspiration did you draw upon when creating The Traveling Road Show?
I didn’t pull from too many specific performances or bits, since a lot of them haven’t aged particularly well (if you want to spend some time not laughing, read the transcripts of almost any vaudeville patter routine that isn’t ‘Who’s on First’). Instead, I tried to draw from the general presentational style, and the types of songs, dancing and performances that were occupying vaudeville stages at that time. That’s part of the fun of the style: it can include so many different kinds of acts. Then I took it all and ran it through a blender in my brain, and what came out is a pastiche of all sorts of stuff that, while absurd and crazy at times, is still meant to feel a bit recognizable and familiar. 
We have physical comedy and slapstick, we have some patter-style back-and-forth bantering, and we even have some over the top melodrama-style performance, so one thing’s for sure: you won’t be bored.

Which portion of The Traveling Road Show Spectacular was the most fun to write?
I’ve had the privilege to work with Greg Maraio, the host, on a few different projects in a few different ways, and getting to write for him was a blast because he has such a distinctive presence on stage, and he’s so good that I knew he could tackle whatever I threw at him. Knowing that he was the glue of the evening was a big confidence boost. Second to that, though, the melodrama segments were a delight, because I just got to let my imagination go wild and embrace every pearl-clutching, ridiculous notion that entered my head.

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