In their new musical A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet, Alex Wyse and Ben Fankhauser serve up a humorous and witty show with a nice sprinkle of nostalgia. Both Alex and Ben are veteran performers and in Regina Comet they showcase their talent for writing as well. Packed with hilarious Jewish and pop culture references that are inspired by their real life experiences, the show is sure to make you laugh.
The show has a lot of references to summer camp, Jewish holidays and other little tidbits that give it color. How much did you draw on your personal experiences?
Alex & Ben: We both went to theater summer camps and Jewish Sunday school as children, and at certain points, we attended together! And while the references in our musical are fictional, we tried to reflect the quirky and silly nature of that insular world. And the more our characters take for granted that everyone knows such references, the sillier they become. It’s one thing to have written a musical as children called “Sukkot, Mama, Sukkot,” and it’s another thing to assume that everyone remembers it. We also wanted to capture that nostalgia of childhood friendship. It was a fertile place to write from because those memories are so fond, and they really shaped us into the adults we are today.
Did either of you ever struggle with writing like the characters in the show? How do you overcome writer’s block?
We have certainly struggled creatively. The whole show was born out of our frustration with not being able to exercise our creativity. When we got to writing, we had many unanswered questions and discoveries yet to make in our process. And the mere act of us writing together helped us overcome any creative block we were formerly going through. If one of us didn’t feel like we had the answers on a certain day, we would put our trust in the other. Sometimes we’d free-write just to find the small seed of an idea that we’d then build upon, and it’s through teamwork that we got through!
Alex’s character is constantly quoting his grandmother. Is she based on a real person?
She is based on a real person! Lois Wyse, who was a writer and advertising executive for years. She created a lot of famous slogans still used today, like, “With a name like Smucker’s it has to be good.” And she was a lover of the arts, a fantastic grandmother, and a tough Upper East Sider.
Are there people in your life similar to the grandmother who have influenced or encouraged you?
I think we’re both lucky and grateful to have very supportive parents who encouraged us to follow our dreams at a young age. Of course there were theater teachers, directors, and mentors along the way who inspired and validated us, challenged us, and helped us see a path forward into the professional world.
What is it like seeing masks in the audience instead of full faces? Does it affect your performance or how you perceive the reactions?
First off, we’re so thankful that the audience is staying masked, because safety is such a huge priority for us. And we want our audiences to feel safe, too. But even though they’re masked, we can still hear the laughter or see a twinkle in their eyes, and that gives us a lot of joy. Our show is all about making people feel even a little bit happier than when they walked in. So even though we can’t see their faces, we’re hopeful that we’re still giving our audiences a respite from the day. Come laugh with us!!