Tuesday, April 14, 2015

My Weekend In Vermont

After the untimely death of Richard Sher, I wasn't sure my favorite radio program Says You! would be doing any more new episodes.  Would one of the panelists take over his duties?  Would it be a rotating position?  Would anybody be able to match his ability to make terrible puns and draw the most obscure guesses from the panelists?  

Glancing through their website a few weeks ago, I noticed two shows were announced.  One was a "memorial" show in Bennington, Vermont, and the other was happening the next day down in Dorset.   The second was simply being advertised as a standard show.

For weeks I mulled over whether or not I should attend.  As a fan, I wasn't sure I'd ever get another chance to see the show again.  I also wanted to be there to show solidarity for the program, and show that I, like many others, would miss Richard.

On the other hand, it wasn't going to be cheap.  There were tickets to buy, a hotel room to book, gas for the car, dinner to get, and other, unknown expenses.  I pondered this a lot up until I glanced online two weekends ago and saw that the tickets to the first performance were sold out.  Well, I decided, that settled that.

...or did it?  On a whim, I sent an email to the show asking if any more tickets might be released.  I said I'd be willing to sit anywhere, be it in a balcony, off to the side, or in a folding chair just outside the auditorium so I can listen.  The next day I received notice that there were two tickets available.  I sought out anybody interested in going with me, but since it was such short notice for a radio program most of my friends have never listened to (thanks, MPBN), I soon found myself replying that I would love one ticket if they still had it.

I purchased a ticket for the second show, booked a hotel room, and planned out what to pack.

On Friday, I left work early, climbed into my car, and headed off into the wild green yonder.  I went to somewhere that still has patches where I can best describe the quality of my cell phone signal as "Ha-ha, no."

For the remainder of this week, I'm going to be doing some observations from my trip, starting with something a bit more personal than the others.

First, I want to talk about the unique structure of a program like Says You!  I listen to a lot of radio programs, and there are quite a few recurring ones that have things in common with Says You!  The program Wait, Wait! Don't Tell Me is also a trivia-based game (focused on the news, naturally) with a regularly rotating panel of celebrities.  However, the show primarily focuses on the games, the callers who answer questions, and special celebrity appearances to answer questions about really inane things.  There's also A Prairie Home Companion, which is more narrative based.  Programs like The Moth or This American Life touch on personal lives of people, but only for short segments.  Half the time I'm not even really aware of what the person talking even looks like, or what their name is.

Says You! is unique in that it is a game show, yes, but answers are often pulled up from the knowledge the panelists have acquired through their lives.  I can describe keen personal details regarding the lives of a lot of the panelists.  I know which ones live on Martha's Vineyard, which ones worked in publishing or television, which ones have families and which ones have a dog.  I know detailed facts about one panelist's life growing up, as his father was a blacklisted director in Hollywood and had to flee to Mexico with his family.  I know about how one panelist's daughter was in the middle east recently working but returned home early due to tensions out there.  

The crew of this program are more like a family than just "panelists," and I've described the feeling of listening to the show like sitting in at a fun dinner party where someone brought out a party game.  You're sitting on the couch watching, laughing, and being comfortable with these people, and the whole show was Richard's home that he would invite anybody in to.

Driving to Vermont, I had the same excitement I'd have if I was driving to see old friends.  This wasn't like seeing a show like A Prairie Home Companion where everybody is an actor playing characters and you know nothing about the names behind the faces (or, in this case, voices), these were people I spent many days listening to.  These were people I knew intimately, and I was going to see them at an intimate setting, a memorial show for their dear friend and my favorite host.

Now, having feelings like that can be dangerous, and let me tell you why.

Not too long ago, I listened to a program about the "real" fans of Elvis.  The ones who camped outside the gates of Graceland every night, the ones who followed him on tours.  These were people who would break into his hotel room just to try to find scraps of food he ate so they could eat from them.  They were the ones Elvis would sometimes take with him when he rented out movie theaters, or would follow Elvis around town when he just wanted to go out and have fun.  They were connected to him like many other fans weren't, and some became good friends of his.  When he hurt, they hurt.  When he died, they were devastated.

I've also followed stories in the news about stalkers who feel like there's a real connection between them and a celebrity, fixating on it to unhealthy levels.  I knew, intellectually, that there was a clear difference between me, a fan, and the cast and crew of the radio show I enjoyed so much.  However, it didn't really sink in until after I arrived and was sitting at my seat.  There, reality stepped in and snapped me out of my delusions of connection to these people.  I was still just a face in a crowd, one of many fans of the radio show, but still just a fan.  I might know information about them, but there was no chance any of them knew my name (well, except one, but we'll get to that later).

It was that that moment that I suddenly realized that I was in Vermont, alone, watching a show starring people I knew a lot about but didn't know me.  It was extremely humbling, and the feeling that comes with that kind of emotional...I don't want to say "crash" but for a good part of the evening it was a bit like an anchor holding me back from really being outgoing.  I wasn't laughing as hard (or booing as hard) as I normally would.  

It eventually passed, but it really put some things in perspective, and made me really wish I had brought a friend with me.  I've always felt that watching movies, television shows, or live performances are better when they're a shared experience together, and something I love to do is glance over at a friend or family member's face to see their reaction to something that happens.  It's been hard watching some things I love to watch when I'm alone because I miss that feeling.

Should the show keep going, next time I'm definitely bringing friends along.

Now, I suppose I should address my "except one" comment from before.  Remember that email communication I had?  It turns out, I think, that the person I was speaking to was Richard Sher's widow.  When I showed up to claim my ticket (an hour and a half early, but that's another story for later), when I was finally able to pay for it and claim it, she immediately knew who I was when the volunteer usher explained the situation to her.  She even knew my name.

At the second show, I actually got to speak to her face to face, and she remembered my name there, as well.  Before I could even introduce myself, she said, "Erik, right?"  It was a brief connection, but I think it was something that I had been hoping for the entire journey.  Someone involved with the show (at quite a high level, as a matter of fact) was aware I had been there and appreciated my being there.  I wasn't immediately part of the family, but I wasn't simply Faceless Audience Member #208.

More details about the show itself tomorrow, and I share a rather amazing musical talent I met at the second recording.

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