Dave Kelly unplugged in upcoming Calgary readings
Former Breakfast Television host discovers new challenges in writing while mining comedy from childhood memories
By Stephen Hunt, Calgary Herald June 9, 2010
Former CITY TV Breakfast Show host Dave Kelly is working on the scripts he has written to two new plays that will be read in June at Calgary theatres.Photograph by: Lorraine Hjalte, Calgary Herald
Dave Kelly -Unplugged and Undone, reading today at Theatre Calgary. Reservations: 403-294-7440 Ext. 1344 or e-mail email@example.com
Dad’s Piano, by Dave Kelly Reading at Lunchbox Theatre on June 25 at 12:10 Info:403-2654292p.xm.0
One minute Dave Kelly was everyone’s morning smile, as the affable host of Breakfast Television. Then, as 2010 dawned, no more Dave — at least no more Breakfast Television Dave.
Where did he go?
In a nutshell, after spending more than a decade in front of it, Kelly has taken a detour behind the camera to see if he prefers the view from back there.
Part of that involves Kelly Brothers Productions, the video production company he’s running with his brother Rob, doing all sorts of production company-type things — a Big Rock commercial here, a short film there, with lots of other irons in the fire.
The other part is sitting down and writing about his life.
That writing life is taking a public turn this month, when a pair of plays he’s been working on will have readings at Theatre Calgary and the Lunchbox Theatre.
The first, Dave Kelly — Unplugged and Undone — takes place tonight at Theatre Calgary. It’s a one-man show where Kelly explores what it was like growing up in an Edmonton religious family with five brothers, four sisters, and no television.
Religious family in Alberta? That’s not news. Huge family? OK, that has comic potential.
But how, oh how, could a kid survive growing up in Edmonton with no television to block out the view?
That prompts a Dave story that sort of oozes one-man-show material.
“We moved from the north side of Edmonton to the south side of Edmonton when I was in Grade 9,” he says. “And I learned a lesson.
“When I was growing up, I just sort of told people we didn’t have a TV. They all knew there was 10 kids in our family and they knew we all went to church, so I got a fair chunk of abuse.
“When I moved to the south side, I didn’t tell anyone we didn’t have a TV,” he adds. “I would sit on the school bus, and listen to the conversations of everyone on the bus of the shows they watched the night before, so I could fake the conversations at school.”
The genesis of Unplugged and Undone arose out of Kelly doing a few well-received acting roles in town over the past few years. One was The Santaland Diaries (at Lunchbox Theatre), where Kelly played a bummed-out actor working at Macy’s as a Christmas elf; another was a Theatre Calgary production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, in which Kelly played the stage manager, who’s kind of the mayor of the show.
Having Kelly — who regularly topped local lists of most popular television personalities in town — starring in plays proved to be a way to put bums in the seats, which prompted Theatre Calgary artistic director Dennis Garnhum to buy Kelly a beer one day and see if he was up for doing some more stage work.
Kelly replied that he was more interested in creating the script.
He’d already completed a draft and done a workshop of Dad’s Piano with brother Rob (which will be read at the Lunchbox Theatre June 25), but he had something different in mind to pitch to Garnhum.
“What I really love, what I’m really interested in, is to do a one-man show,” he adds, something along the lines of Billy Crystal’s smash hit 700 Sundays, which was a big hit on Broadway a few years back.
So that meant talking about his life. First, Kelly described all the brothers and sisters. Then, religion.
But what brought it all home was the fact that his own mother had never once seen him on TV.
“I’ve been on TV (for 12 years) and she’s never seen me, because she thinks it’s the Devil’s work,” he says. “How the hell does a kid growing up in a crazy religious family end up being the face of morning TV in Calgary?”
Garnhum was hooked.
“We thought, go away, write a bunch of stories, and see if it could take shape (as a play),” Kelly says. “So that’s what we’re doing.”
Of course, mining your childhood for theatrical gold is quite a departure from being a perky morning show host. While Kelly still is a morning person — he’s at the office writing by 6:30 most mornings — he also confesses that part of him, a big part, would rather not write anything at all.
The only relief was discovering that this doesn’t make him a particularly unique writer.
“I was watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” he says, “and when the thing went big and Tom Hanks got involved, she (Nia Vardalos) got to meet a bunch of other writers, and she said, what was so amazing and strangely comforting for her was realizing everybody hated writing. Everybody loved having something written, but nobody loved sitting there and getting something written.”
Kelly doesn’t exactly know where his new life will take him, which is alternately thrilling and nerve-racking.
“On my good days — it’s super. When my head is in the right place, I think, ‘This feels awesome, it’s a transition, it’s not going to feel settled and it’s good, so enjoy the shift,’ ” he says. “On the bad days, it’s, ‘What have I done? How am I going to pay the rent? This is insane!’ ”
If the writing life doesn’t pay off, there is the residual goodwill Kelly has built up over a dozen years of being that welcoming face of morning television in Calgary, which he could parlay into another on-air gig.
And, son of a gun, it’s an election year — we’re shopping for a new mayor. Does Kelly have any interest in becoming the next Mayor Dave?
“I like schmoozing,” he says. “I don’t mind that. And I could be charming enough. But if you’re going to be a serious politician, you have to be a little more than that, you know? You’ve gotta be a guy who likes sitting through long meetings, and a guy who likes to talk about policy.”
Either that or you have to be able to play a guy who looks like he likes talking about policy.
“Can you imagine me sitting there all glassy-eyed, when they talk about some overpass?” he asks. “Holy God.”
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