Sunday, October 7, 2018
Any longtime fan of the Northwest Arkansas Gridiron Show surely expects to see Donald Trump in the first sketch -- and the second -- and probably the third, fourth, 10th and 26th.
But this year's writers -- journalists who have been parodying local and regional news for this production for the past 15 years -- decided they'd seen enough of POTUS.
NWA Gridiron Show:
WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12-13
WHERE — Arkansas Public Theatre at the Victory in Rogers
COST — $25 at 631-8988 or arkansaspublictheatre.org
INFO — nwagridiron.com
"Sure, we're going to talk about him," says stage director Rusty Turner, who is editor of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as his day job. "And you'll see him in ways you might not expect. Or you might. It is Gridiron."
The show -- set for Oct. 12 and 13 at Arkansas Public Theatre in Rogers -- does open in the White House ... where it's a "beautiful day in the briefing room." Act I skits also look at women running for office, to the tune of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'"; the Russian problem, sung to "Those Were the Days"; and how Stormy Daniels became a "hurricane force," to the tune of "Sunny."
But don't think local and regional issues have been neglected. Gridiron will comment on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette decision to give readers in the northern part of the state iPads instead of throwing them papers -- at least they don't end up on the roof -- Walmart wine, and the rush to win roles in "True Detective." And at the end of Act I, the big song and dance number involves Jeff Long, Bret Bielema and the old song "Hit the Road, Jack."
"They'll walk out singing it," promises Emily Kaitz, who has been the Gridiron pianist throughout this incarnation of the show.
Like so many others involved in the production, she was recruited by Katherine Shurlds, former journalism professor and one of the show's founders.
"Katherine and I are both Scrabble players," says Kaitz, who performs regularly in Northwest Arkansas, both solo and as part of the trio Outside the Lines. "We were driving somewhere together, and she said she needed to find a piano player for Gridiron. I said I played piano. The rest is history."
"She used to say she'd do it forever," Shurlds puts in. "But she's leaving us."
Kaitz admits this will be her last Gridiron. She moved from Austin, Texas, to Fayetteville for its small-town feel, she remembers, and now she's moving to Cotter for the same reason.
"I'll still do some gigs here," she promises. But she says she can't stay for six weeks of rehearsals.
Shurlds is letting go of some of the responsibilities, too.
"I've turned almost everything over to three producers," Sarah Warnock, Britt Graves and David Conrads, she says. "But you'll have to pry the writing from my cold, dead hands."
"I was recruited in 2004, the first year of the show's return (after a 14-year hiatus)," says Warnock. Then a freshman journalism student at the University of Arkansas, Warnock says when Shurlds handed out fliers for the show, "I never questioned going to the casting call -- and 14 years later, I'm still here.
"My favorite part of the show this year is our parody of 'We Are the World,'" she says. "But my favorite of all Gridirons is Elmer and Titty. Ain't that right? That's right."
The brainchild of longtime political reporter Brenda Blagg, Leticia Mae Stufflebeam -- "Aunt Titty" -- is always a favorite with audiences. Portraying a hill woman with a stoic and silent husband, Blagg puts politics into her own terms. And this year, that takes Elmer (played by Steve Voorhies) to the White House.
Act II also includes the ever-popular "Timely News Update" with Dave Edmark; Voorhies' Dr. Red Neck; a new look at "Seven Dirty Words" with Charlie Alison as George Carlin; the future of medical marijuana in Arkansas; and as the finale, "The Kim and I," sung to the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic "The King and I."
The best moment? Stacey Roberts, another veteran of the show, has the perfect smart-aleck answer:
"Now, it's over, that's the end of this year's Gridiron show..."
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