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Merging Stage and Screen Made Easy

Rock ‘n’ roll, I Love Lucy, and James Dean are just a few of the most iconic aspects of the ’50s. But wise-cracking 12-year-old Rudy Pazinski who often finds himself questioning traditional family values and the Roman Catholic Church? Yes, it looks like there is room for him, too. Well, at least in the world of  playwright Tom Dudzick’s semi-autobiographical series  Over the Tavern. And now in Over the Tavern: The TV Show, Dudzick revisits his favorite family in two one-act plays.

Were you involved with theatre as a high school student?

My high school didn’t have a theatre department.  It was one of those Catholic all boys schools. Their extracurricular budget only covered football, basketball and saving our souls; there was nothing left over for the arts. One English teacher felt sorry for us, I guess, because he took a few of us and had us read Pygmalion aloud up in front of the classroom

What was the genesis of Over the Tavern: the TV Show?

High schools kept contacting me, asking if they could cut down the original Over the Tavern script into a length suitable for performing in statewide competitions. So it occurred to me that I might be filling a need if I came up with an OTT one-act play. It could be done in competitions without needing to be chopped up. And if there were two plays they could be done back to back as the annual high school play. Two separate Pazinski Family stories separated by an intermission.

How did the TV angle emerge?

Years ago, I wrote an Over the Tavern TV pilot script on spec. (“On spec” – that’s Latin for “no pay.”) It always seemed to me that OTT would make a good TV sitcom. All the elements are there – a family with colorful characters, a unique setting, a strong recurring theme of 12-year-old Rudy vs. Organized Religion (in the form of Sister Clarissa). And since I am a complete unknown in the TV world, the script went nowhere. But last year, when this new idea of the one-act plays hit me, I dug out that old script and read it again. And I thought, “What fools those TV people are! This is great!”

What do you think high schools will enjoy most about producing these one-acts?

I think they’ll appreciate the opportunity for embellishment. They can be done as traditional one-act plays, or they can be performed as TV episodes, as if they were being filmed before a live audience (without the cameras of course). There are built-in spots for commercials where an announcer says, “And now, a word from our sponsor…” Students can create their own commercials for local businesses. I’m imagining some local hardware store having a live commercial being done on stage, which the kids have written themselves. The kids could also do parodies of current commercials, or recreate commercials from the 1950s. There are opportunities for the school’s music department to get involved, if they want to create the TV show’s theme song and “between scenes” music.

But aside from high schools, I could see regional and community theatres doing these OTT one-acts.

So could I. They would be ideal for theatres that have already done the original Over the Tavern. “The Pazinskis are back!” – that kind of thing. In a regional or community theatre they could be performed without the TV elements and done strictly as one-act plays. If a third one-act comedy were to be sandwiched in the middle, it would be quite a full evening of theatre.

Okay, level with us, is Rudy based on you?

Right down to the Ed Sullivan impression and the ruler marks on the hand. I was the class clown and always in trouble for making wisecracks, doing impressions and bringing things like whoopee cushions to class.

Did you approach your nuns with burning theological questions the way Rudy does?

No, they scared me too much. Writing Over the Tavern was wish fulfillment for me – my way of going back in time to ask things like, “Why would God care if I ate a hot dog on Friday?”

–Tom Dudzick

Tom Dudzick had his first play, Greetings! produced off-Broadway at the John Houseman Theatre, starring Darren McGavin; it is now a holiday favorite all across the country. Mr. Dudzick went on to write a comedic semi-autobiographical series of plays about growing up Catholic in Buffalo called the Over the Tavern Trilogy, which has been one of the biggest grass roots successes in American regional theatre. Mr. Dudzick’s home theatre, Buffalo’s Studio Arena, then commissioned his idea about a parochial school novice who takes religion into her own hands, entitled Hail Mary!. Next up for Studio Arena was Don’t Talk to the Actors, a hilarious semi-autobiographical backstage comedy, which boasted a star-studded cast including Denny Dillon, Richard Kline, and Lewis J. Stadlen. Mr. Dudzick’s newest work, Miracle on South Division Street, is based on a local Buffalo legend wherein the Blessed Virgin Mary materialized in a barbershop in the author’s old neighborhood. The comedy was produced off-Broadway, where it was praised by audiences and the The New York Times. Mr. Dudzick lives in Nyack, New York with his wife and two children.


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