Interview with the Cast and Director of 'Call on Mister Blue'

I haven't been doing this for very long. I don't know all the players in the scene. I don't yet know all the venues or the history or the nuances of Philadelphia comedy—sketch, improv, stand-up, or otherwise. But I'm learning. One of the things I've noticed thus far is just how friendly and supportive it can be. Everyone seems to have a lot of faith in each other and want general success for the entire scene. This is what I was thinking about as Tara Demmy, experienced improvisor and lead actress in a new play by Nile Arena and Harry Watermeier Call On Mister Blue, generously stood with me after the play ended and briefed me on all the comedy credits and history of the cast in preparation for my interview with them.

Meanwhile, SHANNON HOUSE hasn't been doing this for very long. In fact, as I was to learn, this is the company's first production. SHANNON HOUSE is a collection of comedians, actors, directors and general theater-y type folks in its infancy. The thing that struck me most about SHANNON HOUSE is how they seemed to have that same faith in and enthusiasm for the Philadelphia comedy scene that I had observed elsewhere. The play itself was an example of faith rewarded, for the cast (Tara Demmy, Luke Field, Bryan Kerr, Brent Knobloch, and Craig Lamm) all delivered wonderfully.

Call On Mister Blue was set in apparently-modern Indianapolis, narrated charmingly and, at times, hilariously by a characterization of Southern Renaissance writer William Faulkner for reasons which aren't immediately (or, arguably, are only intermediately) apparent. It focuses on the evolving lives and relationship of a young couple and how their lives and relationship interact. Additionally, how these things interact with the transforming sense of self and life goals that come with early adulthood. The themes run much deeper and the dialogue is rich, being both realistic and clever simultaneously. An entertaining play from start to finish, it was very thoughtful and sincere, with moments of sadness as well as some serious laughs.

After the show, the members of the cast who were available and director Harry Watermeier sat down and let me ask them a few questions.

Matt Aukamp: So how did you all get involved in this production?

Bryan Kerr: I did the Arden Professional Apprenticeship at the Arden Theater Company in Old City. Harry, Tara, and I were in the same year two years ago and so we got to know each other. Harry first asked me about nine months ago if I wanted to direct this, and I never responded to his email. I read the play and was like, "I don't know what's going on," and then just didn't respond and didn't respond and didn't respond... And then Harry moved to Philadelphia and so I couldn't avoid him anymore.  He said, "I know you're busy, Bryan, so maybe you can just be in it and be William Faulkner." So I said "sure" because I knew Harry and Tara and I support them.

Craig Lamm: I got involved because my girlfriend is now in the same apprentice program with the playwright [Nile Arena.] So I met them through my girlfriend and we got to talking about the show and they asked if I wanted to do it so I joined the team.

Tara Demmy: No auditions, just, "Hey, do you wanna be in this thing?"

MA: And Harry, you directed the show; how did you come across it?

Harry Watermeier: So Nile Arena wrote the show. We're both from Indiana—we went to Indiana University—so we've known each other for awhile. He was living in Chicago and he was kind of looking for his next thing to do. I completed the Arden apprenticeship and I [told him about it]. He applied, and he got the apprenticeship and he moved out to Philly. I knew he was a playwright,  and I knew he was working on something.  I had come back to Philly from Indiana to sort of capitalize on some of the weight that the APA program carries, so I was looking to get into something and I liked the script a lot. I was hoping to act in it at first. I was hoping to play Russell, the male lead.  That was the idea but then I thought it was probably best for me—in order to get it on its feet— to direct it. And I offered it to Bryan and I'm so glad he acted in it. I thought Bryan was fantastic.

MA: Had you directed before?

HW: No, not really. I mean, I directed some scenes in school. This is my first full-length thing that I've directed.

MA: So, I get the connection to Arden, but there's a lot of Philadelphia sketch and improv people in the play. How did they come in?

HW: Well, Tara does a lot of improv. You know Tara is a FIXTURE of the improv community, I would say...

TD: Oh, shut up!

HW: And because of that, most people  [in Philly comedy] just know me as "Tara's Boyfriend," which is WONDERFUL, and she knew Lizzie [Spellman, who opened the show] and I was lucky enough to do a show with  [sketch group] The Flat Earth for the Fringe Festival, so that's how I met Brent [Knobloch] and Luke [Field], and I knew how great they were.

MA: And were you worried at all about, coming from improv and sketch comedy, that the acting would be any different? That it might be a challenge for people stepping into dramatic theater?

HW: I wasn't worried. That actually made me more confident in their abilities. You know, I hate auditioning, as an actor.

MA: That seems to be what you hear from every actor all the time.

HW: I just wish I could talk to the director and say "Look, I can do it, I promise I can do it." So you know, I didn't audition them. Luke and Brent, they're both razor sharp. Everyone involved in the show is, and I was so confident in their abilities. You know, someone coming from a comedy background and an improv background, they're very generous to their audience in ways that often dramatic or classically-trained actors are not. Improvisers are super aware of the audience and what the audience needs and how to play certain beats for the audience. That, I hoped—and I think did—bring the play into brighter lights. They really knocked it out of the park and they exceeded all my expectations.

MA: So do you have any other future productions planned with this group of people?

HW: I'd like to do more. I mean, we're working on just a small thing. Nile and I are writing something...

CL: Name-drop the title. It's great!

HW: Grime and Punishment. It's an adaptation of Crime and Punishment. But I feel like I got really lucky with this cast. Just really really talented people. So I would jump at the chance to work with them again.

TD: We're starting a thing called SHANNON HOUSE. That's sort of the company. But I'd really like that name to still be on whatever Nile does, Harry does, Bryan does, Craig does...

MA: Was SHANNON HOUSE put together to be the production company for this?

HW: [Yes, and] the idea was that Shannon House would be the name of the sort of collective thing that we're trying to work on. And we wanted Call on Mister Blue to be sort of a soft open for us.

TD: Before we're on Broadway!

HW: Just something we could put together quickly and put up and just sort of get us started. So hopefully the next project we'll take a little more time with.

TD: Goosebumps!

[Then everyone started sighing and clapping their hands together and saying “goosebumps.” I have no idea why it was happening. I started to worry I'd stumbled into a murder cult.]

TD: I want to direct an adaptation of Goosebumps. But it will probably be with mostly improvisers. I really think improvisers make really great actors. And especially if they don't have a theater background, just improv and comedy. I'd like to create a show that's improvised, and then put to script. And it's about Goosebumps! I don't know where that's going to go. But hopefully [it will debut] in the spring.

HW: Yeah, hopefully in the Spring. I don't know how copyright laws work?

TD: It's satire! You can do whatever you want!

If you're a comedian interested in being part of  SHANNON HOUSE's next production, contact Tara Demmy at

Matt Aukamp is a writer, performer, and occasional improviser (The Win Show). You can usually find him bothering the world on Twitter at @mattaukamp.

The Renaissance Faire and Japanese Bathhouses – Interview with Lizzie Spellman, Funny Person and Opening Act for 'Call on Mister Blue'

Call on Mister Blue, a new play directed by Harry Watermeier and performed by Tara Demmy, Luke Field, Bryan Kerr, Brent Knobloch and Craig Lamm will show this Thursday, January 31st and Saturday, February 2nd at The Arts Parlor. The show will also feature the comedic ukulele songs of Lizzie Spellman as an opening act.  Lizzie put her ukulele down to talk about her comedic influences, musical background, and her parents hating her.

Dave Metter: What is your comedy background? Is musical comedy your first foray into comedy writing? Is your real name something garishly Eastern European and Lizzie Spellman’s your stage name?

Lizzie Spellman: Well I basically started in comedy through musical theatre. So I was always really into music and singing. I didn't really know people sang comedy songs until my dad started playing me old comedic singers he used to listen to like Allen Sherman and Tom Lehrer. Lizzie Spellman is in fact my real name. Although my full name is Elizabeth Esther Spellman. Because my parents hate me.

DM: When and how did you end up learning to play the ukulele?

LS: I actually didn't start 'til much, much, later in life. I was never that motivated to learn, but after I worked at the PA Renaissance Faire (I know, I know), where a lot of people played instruments, I thought I'd try to teach myself guitar. I was also unemployed and living with my parents so I had a lot of free time. I picked up the ukulele my second year at the Faire (I know, I know), in 2011.

DM: Do you ever perform sans-uke? (Note: Sansuke is the name of the help staff at a Japanese bathhouse.)

LS: I work as an actress (when I have work) in the Philadelphia area. I'm also an improv performer with the PHIT team Hey Rube and the indie team Apocalips. The Japanese bathhouse may account for those two years of my life that to this day I still can't recollect.

DM: What was your first gig like?

LS: Frightening actually. When I first started writing songs I was so scared that they were terrible. It took me like two years to perform them. I was asked this past summer by Mike Marbach to perform in The Sideshow. I agreed and it actually went over really great but the whole time I was shitting my pants...not literally...I think.

DM: What led you to musical comedy?

LS: I had originally attempted to write "serious" music which only lasted a hot second 'cause it was awful. They were so cheesy, I might as well have written about rainbows and meadow frolicking. The first comedy song I wrote ("The Money's on the Table") was written as a joke that I had with a friend.  After that I wrote a song for another friend ("The Text Message Song") and I realized writing comedy songs was just a lot easier.

DM: Who are some of your musical comedy and…atonal comedy influences?

LS: There are a lot of girls out there now writing comedy music, especially on ukuleles. I particularly like the NYC band Summer & Eve. But my favorite comedy duo is probably Flight of the Conchords. My big non-musical influences are Carol Burnett and Gilda Radner. They're not afraid to make fools out of themselves for the sake of comedy.

DM: What comes first, the melody or the lyric? Or the joke?

LS: The joke definitely. The way I write songs, I always need the topic first before I can start writing the lyrics. A lot of my songs are just based on weird things I've heard other people say. Hopefully those people haven't figured that out yet...oops.

DM: What is your dream gig?

LS: As a comedian, I have no idea. I've never really been in the category of stand-up before, so I'm still figuring things out. I figure if it’s a gig that pays, that's freaking awesome!

DM: How did you end up as the opening act for Call on Mister Blue? Have you worked with any of the performers before?

LS: I was asked by my friends Tara Demmy (who is also my roommate and teammate on Hey Rube) and Harry Watermeier who is directing. They're big supporters of my music so I was very flattered to be asked to open for their show. It's gonna be a fun night!


'Call on Mister Blue' is TONIGHT, Thursday, January 31st and Saturday, February 2nd at 8pm at the Arts Parlor (1170 S. Broad Street). Admission is $5.

Dave Metter is a comedy writer from the Philly burbs. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.