January 2014

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January 2014

News & Notices

Greater Tuna Star Keynote Speaker

Janet Gramza Communications Associate

Jaston Williams

Jaston Williams

Comic actor-writer Jaston Williams of Greater Tuna fame will be the keynote speaker at USITT’s 2014 Annual Conference & Stage Expo March 26 to 29 in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Texas funnyman put the fictional town of Tuna, Texas, on the map with four plays in the Greater Tuna series, which he wrote and performed with Joe Sears over 30 years in theatres across the nation. The two men each played over a dozen crazy Tuna residents -- from town snob Vera Carp to used-gun shop owner Didi Snavely, to KKK leader Elmer Watkins to Yippy the dog – requiring many rapid costume changes and all the backstage help that implies.

“We did a little, two-man show, and we made it look very simple, and we got all the credit,” Mr. Williams said. “But it was extremely complicated, and we were aided by a team of extraordinarily brilliant artists and technicians.”

At the Conference, Mr. Williams will entertain about 5,000 members of the theatre technology industry with his own tales from the stage.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I have lots of friends who are going to be there, so it’s going to be a little bit of a reunion for me.”

Besides touring Tuna from 1981 through 2009, Mr. Williams has satirized the real Texas towns of Valentine, population 187, and Lubbock, population 290,000, with his shows Blame it On Valentine, Texas and Life After Lubbock. His other one-man shows based on autobiographical adventures include Camping with Gasoline and Maid Marian in a Stolen Car, which is slated to run at Austin’s ZACH Theatre next summer.

He said costumers and dressers, lighting and sound designers, and scenic and props people are his unsung heroes, and he has plenty of stories to share at the Conference.

“I’ve been at this 40 years, so it’s mainly a matter of deciding which stories to go with,” he said. “I’ve been in more than a couple of explosions going back to my college days.”

He credited costume designer Linda Fisher with helping develop some of his characters by the way she clothed them. “She had one character wear all plastic,” he said. “One day I said, ‘Linda, why does Didi Snavely wear only plastic?’ She said, ‘I don’t know.’ So I determined that Didi wore plastic because it’s easy to clean. She owns a used weapons store, and she doesn’t shoot blanks.”

He said it took three dressers to get him and Mr. Sears in and out of costumes during Tuna shows, and one once stepped in as a bodyguard.

“This one dresser was a tiny little thing – I mean, I’m not big and she was a foot shorter than me,” he recalled. “During a show in LA, a drunk got in off the street and walked up the aisle yelling and screaming. People thought it was part of the show. He walked up onstage and this little woman whispered to him from backstage. He came to her, and she grabbed him by the collar with one hand, opened the stage door with the other, and threw him out. Later I asked her how she did it, and she said, ‘You always whisper to a drunk.’”

Although the Tuna shows remain their trademark, Mr. Williams said he and Mr. Sears won’t be performing them again anytime soon. He and his partner are busy caring for their 16-year-old adopted son, who faces several major surgeries to repair a cleft palate.

“With this going on, it’s not an easy thing for me to go out on the road,” he said – so he’s glad that his next big gig, March 26 in Fort Worth, isn’t far from home.