Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Interview: Joe Sears of A Tuna Christmas
Sears: "The only changes in the show have been my waistline."
If you're a fan of the Greater Tuna series and its stars, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, you may want to make a special effort to catch them performing A Tuna Christmas at Casa Manana Theatre in Fort Worth (running November 10-20) for one reason: It may be the last time you're able to do so.
2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the premiere of Greater Tuna. Sears and Williams, along with co-writer/director Ed Howard, have brought characters like Vera Carp, Phinas Blye, Bertha Bumiller, and Pearl Burras (aka Aunt Pearl) to life on stage in four different Tuna plays, with the latest, Tuna Does Vegas, premiering in 2008. A Tuna Christmas has been a holiday staple since 1989.
In the abridged Q-and-A below, Sears (who's also a painter, adjunct professor, and substitute teacher) talks about how he's been able to stick with the series for so long, who his favorite character to play is, and why this may be his final tour with the show.
Pegasus News: You've been putting on the Greater Tuna series for 30 years now. What keeps you going after all this time?
Sears: I think the best part is making people laugh and enjoying doing that. The job is still a lot of fun – you couldn't do something for 30 years if you weren't really enjoying it. Acting can be very stressful – along with just performing comes so much other stuff with just putting on the show. So to put up with all that, laughter and all the good things that come from that, make it worthwhile.
Is this the same Tuna Christmas that audiences are used to, or will there be any updates?
No, there's no changes to the show – we keep it the same show that appeared on Broadway. We're kind of famous for that.
This run here in Fort Worth opens and closes before Thanksgiving – do you think it will be difficult to get audiences in the Christmas spirit that early?
No, God, no – Walgreen's does that for us. You go in any store now and they've got Christmas up, so people are ready. ... For the most part, Texans don't mind the show coming in early. We generally quit the show right around New Year's. This year we're ending the show just before Christmas and we're not doing any New Year's shows, and I like that.
Do you have a favorite character in the play?
I do – I think Aunt Pearl is my favorite character. She's just kind of taken off on her own entity. I do one-man shows with Aunt Pearl, I do stand-up with Aunt Pearl, I do lots of benefits with Aunt Pearl. Aunt Pearl did a Scout fundraiser – she's done everything. I just did a benefit this summer for a children's musical theater. I'm working on a one-woman show with Aunt Pearl called A Life of a Character. It's pretty funny – it's a lot of satirical humor from Aunt Pearl. My set consists of a chair and a table with some tea, so I kind of have tea with the audience. I'm getting ready to do more of that. It's something different, and still a Tuna-type thing, people still love that. She's just so popular – she's runs her own show now.
What is about her that you like so much or what do you think makes her so popular?
Well, I'm not quite sure – I think it's just the fact that everybody probably had an Aunt Pearl in their lives somewhere, a grandmother, an aunt, somebody they know, someone they admire but kind of kept their distance from her because they didn't know if she'd bite their head off or not. Aunt Pearl is kind of an independent – she's not a Rick Perry fan, but she's not an Obama fan, either. ... Aunt Pearl's always on the edge, she's always on a line, she doesn't cross the line. I like that, the fact that she stays uncommitted and she just kind of satirizes everybody – the liberals, right-wingers, Christians, non-Christians, Muslims. The fun part about our Tuna characters is that they remain satire.
Can you envision a day when you stop doing Tuna shows?
Well, yes. This may be my last tour for Tuna Christmas. I'm making some plans to go off and teach. So I don't know if I'm going to be doing the Tuna plays anymore after this – it's really up in the air for me. I have so many other things that I'm wanting to do, but as long as someone out there who wants to see the show, you're going to have a producer.
You added Tuna Does Vegas three years ago. Do you think that's going to be the last installment of the series?
With my participation, yes – I don't plan to write any more Tuna plays. That's my last one.
Do you think that it would be appropriate for anybody else to pick it up after you?
I don't think that anyone can do that – I don't think that's possible. We've had people try and copy our work, people who've tried to duplicate the type of humor, and they've had some success, but it's not the same. So, no, I don't think that's going to happen. I think our Tuna plays, the four of them, will go down in theatrical history and that's just the way it should be. Someone may be able to perform my show better than me, but I don't think anyone can write the shows better than us – I think that's impossible. They'll have to come up with their own brand of humor.
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