By Tessa Raebeck; photography by Michael Heller
Without lighting effects, set design or elaborate costumes, the audience is transported in time and setting, traveling from the waiting room of a modern day doctor’s office to the whaling docks of 1840’s Sag Harbor in a matter of minutes.
“Language is the most powerful thing we have,” says Josh Perl, co-creator of Water’s Edge Radio Hour, a new variety show on WPPB, 88.3 FM. “Good writing is compelling. We can transport people there with just a few words or sound effects and their imagination follows the rest of it.”
Along with partners John Landes and Peter Zablotsky, Perl proudly unveiled his newest project in the tasting room at Wölffer Estate Winery in Sagaponack last Saturday.
A locally based radio show a la “A Prairie Home Companion,” Water’s Edge promises to capture the unique character of the East End without catering solely to visitors. The hour-long program includes three short plays, three essays, and two full songs, as well as musical interludes. It will be performed before a live audience and recorded for broadcast on WPPB.
Inspired by his own love of radio, Landes came up with the idea for an East End variety show and quickly enlisted the expertise of Zablotsky and Perl, partners in the Naked Stage Theatre Company and HITfest, the Hamptons Independent Theatre Festival. Perl and Zablotsky added theater connections and experience to Landes’ vision. Also contributing acting chops, Perl hosts the show.
While many local artists wait to unveil their projects until the crowded summer months, Landes felt the winter was the perfect time for Water’s Edge to begin regular broadcasting.
“It occurred to me that the Hamptons – the North and the South Fork – in a lot of ways are perfect for a show like this because we have kind of a captive audience in the winter time,” said Landes. “Those of us who live out here year round and love living out here year round, we know each other in the community and there’s so many good, talented people out here – writers, actors and people who love it out here and want to get the message out to others about what it’s like out here.”
In April, Water’s Edge presented a pilot run at Guild Hall. The story centered on the conflict between a well-known group of locals and some unwelcome outsiders, represented by surprisingly talkative deer ticks and bed bugs.
Following positive feedback on the pilot, Landes, Perl and Zablotsky moved forward, crafting enough material for four shows and continuously working on more. The environment could switch from a whaling ship to a corn maze instantly; it is entirely dependent on sound effects made by the actors. In one scene, two dads sit in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, supported by sounds of a receptionist, baby noises, and Velcro ripping.
“The nice thing about radio is you can do anything,” says Perl. “Our tagline is where anything can happen – and it usually does. We’re able to transport people to the Sag Harbor waterfront in 1840 where Herman Melville is seeking work on a whaling ship.”
Although they range in time period and location, all sketches have one common thread: humor.
“He just happens to have a Jewish mother who’s very worried about him being in a boat with 100 men. His mother errs on the side of a little bit over protective, she wants him to be a butcher like his older brother,” Perl says of Herman Melville.
The creators are hopeful this is the start of a long running variety show with locally written pieces and locally based characters, ranging from celebrities to surfers to fishermen. Water’s Edge strives to go beyond the public’s perception of “The Hamptons” and deliver a compelling and authentic narrative that includes the year round community. Composed entirely of original work, the program is wholly inclusive; the creators are consistently looking for new local writers to contribute editorials and plays. According to Perl, although the plays use “Hamptons kinds of archetypes,” the stories are universal. In one scene, a wealthy older couple searching for entertainment during a fall visit find themselves slightly out of place in a corn maze.
“When a friend tells you a story about people you don’t know, if they’re a good storyteller, you’re right there in the moment with them,” he said. While the stage actor acknowledges that costumes and set design add to certain productions, he said that without those elements, radio allows for the text to truly triumph.
To complement the stories, Hopefully Forgiven, comprised of musicians Brad Penuel and Telly Karoussos, will perform several times during the show.
Water’s Edge Radio Show celebrates the East End community in a way “the Hamptons” are not always celebrated – from a local perspective – and it does so with good humor.
“It’s kind of funny,” says Perl of the variety show. “It’s not kind of funny, it’s actually very funny.”
Upcoming live broadcasts of Water’s Edge Radio Hour will take place on November 23 and December 14 at 7 p.m. at the Wölffer Estate Winery Tasting Room, 139 Sagg Road in Sagaponack.