Triple Espresso’s 20th

Highly-Caffeinated Memories

Triple Espresso

Michael Pearce Donley, Bill Arnold & Bob Stromberg

Twenty years ago tomorrow, Bill Partlan, Artistic Director of Cricket Theatre, came into our office and declared that he had just seen the “funniest show ever” the night before. He told us that people were literally falling out of their chairs with laughter. And he said that he was going to put the play on our season next year.

Where had he seen this show? In a church basement? Seriously? You want to put a church basement show on at The Cricket??

“We are naked, and we dance!”

A couple of days later, I saw the script. I was completely baffled. The script was about 19 pages long, mostly clunky dialog and stage directions with occasional notes like, “Bill does his magic act,” or “We do the paper dance.” There was nothing funny about the script. Few jokes, just weird exposition and big gaps where something inscrutable would happen. I was very worried.

Then I met Bill Arnold, Bob Stromberg and Michael Pearce Donley, and all my worries evaporated! They’re the smartest, funniest, sharpest group of people you could ever meet, and they knew what they needed to do to take their show to the next level.

We spent hours and hours over a few weeks that summer brainstorming, laughing, writing, laughing some more, and fretting over crazy details to make the show work on a stage. If you’ve ever seen The Dick Van Dyke Show, you know what those days were like.

Freak Out!

One day, I was feeling very tired because someone in my apartment building had decided to throw a loud party in the middle of the week, and I couldn’t get any sleep. I mentioned that one particular song that had kept me up was something I hadn’t heard in decades—Freak Out! Mike started to play it on the piano, and we had a little disco party in the rehearsal room. We happened to be trying to work out the start of Act II at the time, and somehow the awful song that had haunted my dreams the night before became the bridge that we were looking for! (The hand gestures came later)

The whole process had the same air of serendipity and discovery. I remember one day early on in the process, I wasn’t in the rehearsal room. I actually had to do my job that day (Operations Manager of the theatre). But there was this gawdawful caterwauling coming from across the hall, and I had to go check it out. Mike was demonstrating how he could play the piano and sing a song in different keys at the same time. “Over the Rainbow” was born.

Mokoko marries Cassandra

My contributions to the script were minor, but I love it whenever I hear people laughing at one of the jokes I wrote. Or even better, people who don’t know of my association with the show telling me how they just saw “the funniest show in the world!”

Little did I know that the show, and the people involved would become such a huge part of my life for years to come! And the many stories, friends, colleagues and experiences that I gained with the show have stuck with me for the time since I left the show in 2002.

“Defecatingly Funny!”

A few of my favorite memories:

  • Securing the Music Box Theatre for the first Cricket production. The Music Box had been The Cricket’s former home, and this was a fabulous homecoming for us!
  • Setting producer Dennis Babcock’s 50th birthday cake on fire in his basement trying to get all of the candles lit
  • Getting word from the house staff at the Marcus Center in Milwaukee that someone laughed so hard they crapped their pants! The fact that the patron didn’t want to leave even after that because they were having too much fun is just so wrong. (I think there’s still a biohazard warning on that seat in Vogel Hall.)
  • Driving the Triple Espresso set from Minneapolis to Sarasota being chased by tornadoes through Nashville and Atlanta
  • Learning that one of the “big kids around the corner” who loved to terrorize me and the neighborhood kids when we were growing up was Bill Arnold!
  • Winning an “Achievement in Radio” award in San Diego for a very silly spot that I wrote to promote the show.
  • Meeting life-long friends Hector, JT, Rosalie, Dane and so many more

And Hugh Butternut Forget It! (That one was mine. Many apologies.)

I haven’t worked for Triple Espresso Company since 2002, when I left to lead SteppingStone Theatre’s capital campaign, but the show has never left me. To think it started 20 years ago. I can’t wait for the show tonight!

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