SONJA: …I just wanted to say that I’m sorry that I wasn’t around when your dad died.
AJ: Don’t worry about it….Sometimes…no, forget it.
SONJA: No, what is it?
AJ: Well, it sounds crazy, but sometimes it’s like I…I still see him, you know?
SONJA: No, that’s not crazy.
AJ: And he says “feckle the barnstrum.” And I say, “what?” And he puts his hand on my shoulder and he says again, “feckle the barnstrum.” Then he takes one of his legs off and tries to hit me with it, but he loses his balance and turns into a bunch of owls…
That’s just a sample of Aaron Baker and Frank Padellaro’s 3800 Elizabeth, a dry and irreverent new stage sitcom that follows the everyday trevails of three thirtysomethings in New York City. The Welding Club presents their 6-episode comedy in weekly installments at The Battle Ranch in Williamsburg starting on Sunday, February 3rd. Co-writer and director Aaron Baker (pictured above) answers some questions about the production, which stars Peter Handy, Iracel Rivero, and yours truly.
Let’s start by talking about what this show actually is. Because it isn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill theater production, is it?
It’s a sitcom for the stage. We want it to be as much like a television sitcom as possible, but to have that immediacy and interaction between performer and audience that one can only get from live theatre.
Why did you decide to do the show in an episodic serial format instead of the usual full-length, one-time-only format?
Well, that’s the way sitcoms are. I was thinking about the old action serials, when people would go out to the movie theatres regularly to catch the next episode, and I was wishing that one could still do that. And the closest thing we have to that now is what people call appointment television. So I wanted to bring those two concepts together.
Why a sitcom instead of a drama?
Because I’m better at it.
Okay, let’s get more specific: what is 3800 Elizabeth about and who are the main characters?
It’s not – at least in terms of plot – really about anything. It’s just three people who happen to be very funny interacting with each other and sometimes other people in ways that I think are funny. You have AJ, the Germanophile bartender, his hypochondriac ex-girlfriend Sonja, and his childhood friend Mike, who has just moved to the big city from a slightly smaller city.
What does the title refer to, by the way?
It could be the address where Sonja and Mike (and formerly AJ) live; it could be the address of the bar where AJ works and they all hang out; it could be the name of the bar. I leave it up to the audience to draw its own conclusions. Really we just took the name from the title of the theme song, so you’d have to ask Luke Cavagnac, who wrote it.
Do you have any favorite sitcoms?
There was a show called Lookwell that ran once, I believe, that starred Adam West and was written by Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel; that was brilliant. The first season of What I Like about You (I love Amanda). Sports Night.
So, what are the logistics of producing a show like this? Is each episode standard sitcom length? And will there be a new episode every week?
They are theoretically standard sitcom length (22 minutes, 30 with commercials), but I haven’t timed them at all, and I’m not terribly concerned about making them come out to exactly the right length. There will be new episodes almost every week. I decided to do one rerun for two reasons: A) That’s what TV sitcoms do, and B) I thought that people who missed the pilot might feel like they had missed some important plot element, so we’re doing a rerun of the pilot episode in week four – February 24 – so people can see that they didn’t really miss anything.
Dare I ask if other sitcom conventions – like commercials or opening credits – will be observed?
Yes, all of those things and more. Some of it is probably better as a surprise, so I won’t go into any more detail, but if it’s
something that TV sitcoms do, there’s a good chance that we do as well.
Do people need to come see 3800 Elizabeth from the very first episode to enjoy it fully, or can they drop in at any time?
No. Drop in any time.
What other projects have you got on the horizon after this one?
As a writer-director-producer, I’m trying to focus on 3800 Elizabeth, but I do have some acting gigs, including the next couple of episodes of Third Lows’ Penny Dreadful and Piper McKenzie‘s upcoming Babylon Babylon, both at The Brick.