HAMMOND -- “It’s not the movies,” a drunken George Hay said on stage, “and it’s not television.”
That it was — with plenty of laughs throughout.
For three nights, alumni of Southeastern Louisiana University’s theatre department returned to their college roots to put their own humorous spin on Ken Ludwig’s side-splitting farce, “Moon Over Buffalo.”
The three-show production, which ran June 27-29 in the Vonnie Borden Theatre in Hammond, marked the first-ever show put on solely by Southeastern alumni, said Associate Professor of Acting and Directing Jim Winter. The play featured nine actors, a 10-person artistic team, and a 13-person production team who all got their start in the SLU theatre department.
Winter, who came to Southeastern in 2005 and served as the play’s director, said he hopes it was the first of many alumni productions to come.
“We want to make this an annual thing again and again and again,” he said. “As long as alums want to do it, we’ll do it.”
The production — which featured more than 25 years of SLU theatre alumni — was a long-time coming.
Winter said he began exploring the idea of an all-alumni show about two years ago. After getting a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the project, Winter said he reached out to more than 100 graduates, and about 80 expressed interest in joining.
After settling on dates and determining who’d be available, the group of alums had its first read-through of the script 12 days before opening night. During the ensuing rehearsals, Winter said he could tell the team had “something special” in store for audiences, even though they had little time to prepare.
“It was different in that you have all these different generations in one room,” Winter said. “Normally, everyone is the same age in the plays we do, but here, we have all kinds of people from different times. We had 25 years of history working on and off that stage, but they came in ready to go.
“I know all of these people, so I was like, ‘If they want to do it in their hearts, then we’ll pull it off.’”
Shane Stewart, a 2001 SLU graduate who hadn’t “touched the stage” in 15 years, said it “wasn’t your average Southeastern show.”
“We weren’t dealing with a bunch of college kids who have other things going on,” said Stewart, who played the lead male role of the theatre-loving George Hay. “We came in and everyone was ready to work. We had lines, we were sword fighting three hours a day, and not one person on this stage ever slacked off in 12 days.
“Even though it was 12 days, we probably did a month’s worth of work.”
And given Ludwig’s slapstick script, that equated to a month’s worth of laughs, something Winter said was “a must” for this first alumni production.
“I really liked the script [for ‘Moon Over Buffalo’],” he said. “It’s about theater people, and it’s light and it’s funny. I thought if we’re gonna come together for two weeks, let’s not do some morbid depressing play — let’s have fun together.”
There was plenty of fun to be had in “Moon Over Buffalo,” which follows George and Charlotte Hay, two down-on-their-luck actors in the 1950s who have one final shot of making the big time. Unfortunately for George and Charlotte, everything that can go wrong does go wrong, leading to one laugh-out-loud moment after another for the audience watching the craziness unfold.
Cast in lead role alongside Stewart was Kace Parker of Covington as Charlotte. Additional cast members included Olivia Waguespack and Ben Norman of Covington, Lindsey Ehricht of Hammond, Chelsea Krause of Gonzales, Trey Lagan of Ponchatoula, Karista Filopoulous of Mandeville, and Jeff Polito of Lake Charles.
A packed house roared with laughter on opening night, whether it was at the constant bickering between George and Charlotte, the budding romance between Ethel and Paul (played by Ehricht and Lagan, respectively), the ramblings of a deaf grandmother (Waguespack), or the confused antics of a local weatherman (Normand).
Getting all the timing down in Ludwig’s dizzying play was a trying task for the performers, but having an audience certainly helped, they said.
“We ran it so often that the people who were directing us thought it was okay in rehearsals, so we weren’t really getting any feedback,” Waguespack said. “So to have an audience really helps us keep up the timing, and it lets us know that our jokes are funny.”
Along with the laughs and thrill of being back on stage, the production offered the cast and crew a trip down memory lane.
Following the final rehearsal before opening night, actors and backstage crew gathered on the loading dock outside the D Vickers Hall on Southeastern’s campus, a tradition carried out by SLU theatre departments throughout the years.
It was different, but it was also the same, Polito said.
“The faces were different, the cell phones were different,” said Polito, a 1996 SLU graduate, “but sitting back there together after a rehearsal and hanging out was exactly what it felt like back in the day. It’s like nothing changed.”
Some things never do, including a beam backstage that Stewart said had the signatures of SLU theatre alumni and their plays from over the years, including some that he wrote himself.
“Once we started rehearsing, it was like I was back in college,” Stewart said. “A great feeling for a 41-year-old guy.”