Sometimes the best ideas happen at the very last minute. Read on…
Prior to COViD, we had been doing tapings “On The Road” about once a year. The tradition started with a trip not far from home - at Penobscot Theatre Company’s Bangor Opera House. Since then, we’ve also taken our show On the Road to Houlton, Westbrook, and Sanford. We are planning another trip to Sanford later this year, but the pandemic will dictate whether or not that actually happens.
When we go on the road, we make a special effort to localize our sketches and monologues. As such, during one of our trips to Westbrook, we thought it would be fun to spend some time at FunTown in nearby Saco. The catch was that we would be shooting this off-season, so we’d be enjoying the park in the snow and cold.
And, by “we,” I mean myself and longtime Maine news anchor/reporter (and good friend of mine), Kara Matuszewski. She had been out of news for a little while at that point, and we knew viewers we appreciate seeing her back on TV. Along with Kara, we enlisted then-recently retired weather forecaster Kevin Mannix for a brief cameo, and friend of the show/Portland radio guy Jeremy Mixer who would be playing the part of Kara’s husband.
On the drive from Bangor to Saco, I was thinking about the upcoming Westbrook taping. It was exciting. We had a very funny comic from New York, Eddie Brill flying in to do the show. Former Governor John Baldacci was returning to the show for the first time in more than 7 years. And we had a sketch that was a mock news conference eplanned, with a number of former and current journalists participating. There were lots of moving parts, and a lot to keep straight.
But…the other guest joining us that night brought on some added pressure. The great Paula Cole was to be making her first appearance on the show.
The Grammy-winning singer/songwriter had been a dream guest of ours for some time. Her music made up much of the fabric of the soundtrack of my early college years. Her hit “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone” was the first song played on my hometown radio station when it flipped from a 70s station to Top 40. “I Don’t Want To Wait” continues to bring back memories of college gatherings – at least…it brings back whatever memories I can actually remember. Paula is from an area of Massachusetts where I have family. She attended - and instructed at - the Berklee College of Music in Boston, which is where I thought I would end up going to school for a few years. (spoiler alert: I didn’t.) She - like me - is a lover of jazz music. She - unlike me - is a master at performing it. And, the aforementioned “I Don’t Want to Wait” was the theme song to Dawson’s Creek.
Through much of college and my first few years after graduating, there wasn’t a week when I wasn’t plopped in front of the TV watching Dawson, Joey, Pacey and Jen navigate the high school/college years in the northeast for our entertainment on the WB. It was appointment viewing for me. And I always thought that part of the intro video looked like it was recorded on Old Orchard Beach. I mean, I knew it wasn’t actually filmed there. But I think it added to my fantasy that I would someday bump into Katie Holmes on the coast of Maine. That never happened, although, as a small consolation, when I worked in radio I was told - rather sternly - to never call her home again. (Maybe I’ll tell that story another time.)
Anyway, back to Paula. A number of questions circulated in my head about interview topics. I had so much I wanted to ask her about. So much genuine curiosity about her life, her songwriting, her successes…so many things. Eventually, I had to put it out of my mind and started thinking about the sketch I was driving south to shoot.
The sketch at FunTown was what I call a “fly sketch,” meaning, there will be some scripted moments, but essentially we would fly by the seat of our pants. It had been years since I had visited FunTown, so I couldn’t remember the layout all that well, and I certainly couldn’t remember all of the attractions. So, we would fly a bit.
I was thinking through the scripted parts, and eventually had a light bulb moment. I’m pretty sure it happened in Brunswick. Paula Cole was guesting on the same show the FunTown sketch would be on. And we would be shooting the FunTown sketch one town away from Old Orchard Beach…which is the place I had always had this fantasy of the intro to Dawson’s Creek being filmed in…and…could we? Would we? Would it make sense? Who cares. Time to act.
I picked up Jeremy, and immediately called up a YouTube video of the Dawson’s Creek intro on my phone to see if we could recreate it. After watching it quickly, I believed we could.
“Hey, Jeremy. In addition to playing Kara’s husband, would you also like to play Pacey from Dawson’s Creek in this sketch?” I don’t remember his answer. It might have been no. Didn’t matter. We were moving forward.
We got to FunTown. I floated the idea by Kara. She was on board with anything we wanted to do…including face painting. So she was game.
I also floated the idea by the videographer for the day, Dan. I don’t remember his answer either…but he shot it, so I’m guessing he said yes at some point.
The wild card for me was Kevin Mannix. We had only spoken a few times at that point. He seemed to have a good sense of humor on the NewsCenter Morning Report. But…would he go along with something so…odd?
“Hey, Kevin. Any chance you’d like to play the part of Jen from Dawson’s Creek for this sketch?” Is that how I should ask? Should I go into more detail? Would he know what Dawson’s Creek was? Would anyone?
I don’t remember HOW I asked. But I remember how quickly he said yes, with a hearty laugh about the idea.
SO, after filming Kevin’s cameo at FunTown, off we went to Old Orchard Beach.
It was cold. It was windy. It was perfect. I had a specific vision for how the whole thing would play out, and Dan shot it brilliantly, with Kara, Jeremy, and Kevin playing along with a lot of trust. I happened to be wearing something that - with a few modifications - looked like something Dawson Leary might have worn in 1998. And, while shooting, a guy came up to me and asked if we were filming something for the show. It was nice to meet a viewer so far from “home” on a beach with maybe six other people on it. He ended up coming to the taping in Westbrook, found me after, and told me we nailed the Dawson’s Creek sketch. He’s been to Bangor twice since then to see us at The Gracie.
SO, we shot the Dawson’s Creek parts. Said farewell to Kevin, and went back to FunTown to tape the rest of the sketch.
I was proud of how that all came together. I liked the sketch, but I really liked that it was the result of an idea that came to mind about an hour before we all gathered.
And it was agreed to about 5 minutes before we hopped in our cars to put it into action.
And now you know…the rest of the story.