With a fully reserved first performance of the “Water’s Edge Radio Hour” at Wolffer Estate Winery on Saturday, clearly an audience exists for a home-grown version of “A Prairie Home Companion,” the popular public radio staple.
According to its Web site, “A Prairie Home Companion” had an initial live audience of 12 people. The show now has 4 million listeners. It remains to be seen whether “Water’s Edge Radio Hour” catches on to the same extent, but the enthusiasm is there, both in the current sold-out show and a well-received test performance in April.
The variety show is the brainchild of John Landes, Joshua Perl, and Peter Zablotsky. Mr. Landes is the owner of Bay Burger in Sag Harbor and the sponsor of the Jam Sessions of live music there; Mr. Perl and Mr. Zablotsky are partners in HITFest, the Hamptons Independent Theater Festival.
Mr. Landes came up with the idea three years ago, Mr. Perl said last week, adding, “I always wanted to do a radio show.” For the Naked Stage, another theatrical project of Mr. Perl’s where actors read scripts aloud before an audience, he once produced an evening of 1930s radio plays and thoroughly enjoyed it. It dawned on him that the stage readings were basically “radio theater without the broadcast venue and original work.” Since he had access to new plays and an entire performing community here, it didn’t seem like an overwhelming endeavor, given the resources. “I gave [Mr. Landes] a very enthusiastic ‘yes!’ ”
When the April “trial balloon went very well,” the partners decided to take the next steps, securing sponsors, a broadcast home, and gathering and refining material. All have fallen into place, with Wolffer serving as the venue, 88.3 WPPB as the broadcaster, and several community sponsors.
Then it came time to figure out the show. “It’s not the same as ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ although the format is remotely the same,” Mr. Perl said. “There will be music, a host, sketches, editorials — local writers saying what it’s like to live out here.”
The music will be provided by Hopefully Forgiven, the harmonizing duo of Telly Karoussos and Brad Penuel, who describe their sound as similar to Gram Parsons, early Rolling Stones, and “country brother bands” such as the Stanley Brothers. “It’s two guys on acoustic guitars with a very accessible melody, like Crosby, Stills and Nash harmonizing,” Mr. Perl said.
They have a total of four initial performances scheduled for Wolffer. The first show is all set “and we have enough material for all four shows. I think evolution will be our best teacher. We’ll listen and see if we need a different mix, but we’re basically scripted and ready to go. I’m willing to adjust it as it goes.”
The evening planned for Saturday will include sketches primarily written by Mr. Zablotsky, who has had his plays produced off-Broadway, and a few by Mr. Perl. The next performances will showcase work by a few other sources. “We’ll have recurring sketches and some wild cards,” said Mr. Perl. The idea is to display the general while doing the specific, with characters such as Max and Charlie, “a prototypical Hamptons couple looking for the sine qua non restaurant experience, who also go through a corn maze to comic effect. The work they do and the lives they lead are woven into the sketches” to draw a wider appeal, but they are “Hamptons people.”
Another recurring series revolves around characters who are ticks. The tick couple’s “idyllic life here is interrupted by bedbugs, their daughter brings home a flea, the father decides to run for mayor.” It’s specific to the East End, but the concerns are general: “NIMBYism, feeling uncomfortable with ‘the other,’ status seeking.” It is the universalism of the storylines that Mr. Perl said will help the partners attain their long-term goal: syndication.
Another component, born from Mr. Perl’s work as a creative writing teacher at Suffolk Community College, is a series of narrative essays written by his students. The actors for the first evening are Molly McKenna, Kathryn Lerner, Rachel Feldman, Lucas Beck, J. Kelly Caldwell, and Mr. Perl.
Additional shows will be presented on Nov. 23 and Dec. 14. The fourth performance date has not been set but should be finalized shortly. The first broadcast will take place on Nov. 18. It will also be available as a podcast through the radio station Web site after each performance has been aired.