“It was definitely a learning curve for all parties involved and it wasn’t without its stresses, but I think we’ve come out with something really special and it’s quite a celebration of the community of people that came together to make the show happen,” Justin Jain told me. The director is lit up with excitement about this year’s production of This Is The Week That Is. Jain was a long-time cast member of This Is The Week That Is, and a longtime fan before that, prior to transitioning to his current role as the show’s director.
1812 Production’s widely-acclaimed Philadelphia-based comedy satire show has become iconic for its creative and dynamic brand of humor. This Is The Week That Is manages to make politics and current events humorous.
This year, they had their work cut out for them. 2020 has been disastrous. And to say that it’s been politically-charged would be an understatement. I couldn’t have imagined that the performance would salvage laughter from pain. Yet, my skepticism evaporated within the first few seconds of the show. I was alone, in my apartment, laughing out loud.
Often, when performances go virtual, it can feel as if the online offering is a poor substitute for the original. That was not the case with the virtual version of This Is The Week That Is. The cast and crew brought all the best elements of the usual in-person performance while incorporating new, innovative elements, such as the audience chat feature and distance cameos from previous cast members.
This is the 15th year that This Is The Week That Is is bringing joy to the city of Philadelphia, and, because of the virtual platform, the laughter can extend to anyone, anywhere. And I hope it does. After seeing the show, I’ve already told several friends and family members who live outside of the city that This Is The Week That Is is a must-watch.
I’ve seen the show on stage four or five times and I look forward to its in-person return but the virtual version was outstanding!
The cast has an incredible ability to utilize a variety of different skills, from writing to acting, to singing, to at-home choreography. I thought it was especially impressive that they were able to parlay their skills to a zoom platform, which can be daunting under any circumstances but even more so when combining various theatrical elements in an online performance.
Jain concurred wholeheartedly. “This has been a time for theater artists where we are not only performers but we’ve had to become producers, film directors, lighting designers, sound engineers, and video editors. It’s a testament to these theater artists’ adaptability to the current moment that this particular group of people that has been tasked with some massive challenges has more than risen to the occasion. The people involved in this production are superheroes.”
Superheroes, indeed! This year’s core cast includes six performers: Pax Ressler, Annie Fang, Brett Robinson, Brenson Thomas, Sean Close, and Dave Jadico. These incredible actors, musicians, and vocalists play a wide range of innovative characters and somehow manage to make even the un-funniest of political happenings funny.
A true ensemble creation, the cast innovates as they go, utilizing a combination of evergreen content and improvisation. And those who appear the most on-screen are heavily bolstered and often led by those whose behind-the-scenes endeavors quite literally bring the work to life. The majority of the nightly content that was not created by the cast was written by the show’s Head News Writer, Don Montrey, with additional material from humorist R. Eric Thomas and comedian Darryl Charles. As well as Thomas E. Shotkin, writer and stage manager, and Jennifer Childs. Childs is the mind behind the show and a widely-acclaimed comedian, writer, actor, director and producer.
It’s important to note that Pax Ressler served as both an ensemble member and the show’s musical director. Briana Gause is the show’s Assistant Director and Jain made a point of stressing how important the contributions of those behind the scenes have been.
“The things that we set out to do were wildly ambitious,” the director told me. “We have leaned heavily, as we always do every year but more so this year, on those who craft the experience that the audience is receiving.”
Who are those people?
Thomas E. Shotkin, the show’s Stage Manager. Lance Kniskern, Scenic and Props Design. Jorge Cousineau, Video Design. Jillian Keys, Costume Design. Emily Kleimo, Choreographer. The aforementioned Briana Gause, Assistant Director, and Ben Levan who is both the Production Manager and Studio Producer for each performance. It falls to Ben to manage the nightly broadcast and live-stream.
The virtual performance will run for a month and is, in many ways, an anchor in the storm. Jain describes the show itself as a “radically political act” centered around two This Is The Week mainstays: unapologetic joy and community.
I attended Opening Night, Wednesday, December 9th, and I pretty much laughed for an hour and a half. You don’t want to miss it. If you live in the city of Philadelphia, seeing This Is The Week That Is is essential entertainment. And, if you don’t live here, this may be the only year you can experience the magic of what this Philly-based cast and crew has to offer.
Tickets range from $28 to $50 and are available at 215-592-9560 or at www.1812productions.org. On Tuesday, December 29th, the performance will feature live-captioning in Spanish. On Wednesday, December 30th, the show will feature live-captioning in English. CaptionAccess will provide this service for both performances.