Two writers and a director whose resumes on both coasts include the New York Times, the Tonight Show and Seinfeld are about to unveil a new play making its world premiere this week in Kansas City, Kansas.
Kansas City, Mo. – Called "The Salt Beat," it's a dark comedy set at a down-on-its-heels community newspaper and taps as a source one of its co-author's 6-year stint working for The Kansas City Kansan.
The Salt Beat, March 10 - 13, KCKCC Performing Arts Center, 7250 State Avenue, Kansas City, KS
During his 15 years in Hollywood, Roy Teicher wrote for The Tonight Show in the Johnny Carson era and helped steer the sit-coms "Newhart" and "Mad About You" to their success. Despite this glitzy environment, another career path began to attract him. He says he wasn't unhappy with what show business afforded him, but he decided he'd rather be a journalist.
"I wouldn't say I was disillusioned but for me it was time. I had I think some nice success there, had done well, liked the people a great deal. I just had a real desire to be involved in real life," says Teicher. "So I had this transition period, where I wrote a humor column for L.A. Times, but still I wanted to be out there. It ran counter to what you saw in Hollywood, where the greatest fear was to have to return to "out there", whatever out there would represent. To me, out there had a clear and strong appeal."
Teicher ended up in Kansas City, where his initial job at The Kansas City Kansan as education reporter led to him becoming editor.
He says the switch came from a need for a grittier environment, and it fit like a tailored suit. He loved the work and never felt it was just a way-station between TV projects.
"When I came out here, I never told anybody about my past. It was important to be taken seriously as a journalist," says Teicher. "I was not looking at my experience with The Kansan as some raw material for a script I was going to write. Years later, I said, there's a story here, a world here that's an interesting one. There were dynamics here going on and I thought this is what people should write; these are stories to be shared. But I never thought about it as a blank script. This was an incredibly rich 6 years for me - whether it was the paper, the city. The collective struggles, the insecurities, the inferiority complex - whatever it is. You don't shake that."
The play is set in a fictional town where the local paper, the Hillard Beacon, has a circulation a tad over 3,000.
One of its reporters is named Pound and, as played by Brandon Durkes, is having a crisis of conscience: "After ten years of pancake suppers...after 3,000 by-lines, I see your name...they are using me and they don't even know me."
Volleying right back is his editor, played by Craig Boyd: "This all a cue ball off the cushion of what they decide to do that day?your opinion, Pound, is more sad than any man..."
Teicher co-wrote the play with New York Times editor Alan Mattingly and enlisted a colleague from Los Angeles to direct the play. Tom Cherones - whose credits include 81 episodes of "Seinfeld" and 56 "News Radio"s - says he's enjoying working with this cast, a mix of community theater veterans and Kansas City Kansas Community College students, and adapting to directing for the stage, which to this point, he hadn't done.
"Not much different, so I did multi-camera sitcom, which are like stage plays. Didn't frighten me," says Cherones. "I talked to some stage directors before I came here and they clued me in to things I didn't know, so it's all right...The last 10 years I've been teaching at University of Alabama, a filmmaking class, so we had the same kind of casting here. You get to bring these kids along, show them something, and they learn a great deal. Plenty of my former students are working in Hollywood, and are doing well."
Teicher hopes that audiences get the show as he calls it: as a fairly cynical valentine to those in a noble profession.
Download recent arts stories or subscribe to the KCUR Arts Podcast