We all know the types - guys who sit around their garage on a lazy afternoon, drinking beer and talking about women, cars and sports (not necessarily in that order).
But Waite Park's Gene Jurek, 66, is the first one to write a play about those guys. And the joke's on us, because "Deer Camp: The Musical" - featuring music by Hackensack's Doug Spartz - is a bona fide hit.
Performed by The Actor's Playhouse of St. Cloud, "Deer Camp" opened in August 2007, sold out 26 consecutive shows and went statewide this year.
Brainerd will be the musical's last stop (for now, anyway), with a sold-out show Saturday and two shows March 8 at Central Lakes College. Jurek recently talked about why "Deer Camp" is drawing the Minnesota masses.
The only thing safe in the woods are the deer when these four "hunters" get together in "Deer Camp." They are Diesel (Brad Busse, left), Doogskie (Randy Soltis), Moose (Mike Johnson) and Digger (John Theis).
Dispatch: When did you start writing this musical?
Jurek: I started working on it 2003. Before that I worked a few years as the marketing director at the Paramount (Theatre in St. Cloud). You sit there and see what works and what doesn't. People want to be entertained, they want to have a good time - I knew that had to be in the play.
My wife (Edie, who died in 2006) had developed cancer and had a year-and-a-half downhill slide. I was with her 24 hours a day, and I'd be writing 'Deer Camp.' ... It kept my sanity. I would bounce everything I thought was funny off of her. If she laughed, I kept it in. If she didn't, I took it out.
I finished (the first draft) in '04 and had a reading so local theater people could give me their opinion. I was ready for the applause, and got ripped to shreds. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I went back and rewrote it, and now it's the funniest show you'll ever see. I've never hunted, but you'll know these people.
Dispatch: What did you do before writing "Deer Camp?"
Jurek: I'd been in the advertising and marketing field for 45 years. Doug Spartz and I go back to 1962. We played in a band together - the Embers, Doug's first little band. He needed a lousy guitar player and that was me.
Dispatch: Had Doug ever written a musical before?
Jurek: Not a musical. ... Doug has actually done take-off records that are nothing but comedy. They are take-offs on hit songs he's changed. We're both a little off-balance and that's why we work so well together. ... (For "Deer Camp"), I had rough ideas. What the man would come back with was 10 times better than I'd dream.
If you go
What: "Deer Camp: The Musical."
Performed by: The Actor's Playhouse of St. Cloud.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (sold out) and 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 8.
Where: Chalberg Theatre, Central Lakes College, Brainerd.
Tickets: $17 (adults), $15 (youths/seniors), $12 (CLC students).
Web sites: www.clcmn.edu/theatre, www.deercampmusical.com.
Dispatch: All of the songs are comedic?
Jurek: All except one - "Minnesota Love." I got a request last week from a local church choir that wants to do it. The rest are take-offs on bad food, coupon-clipping wives, guys passing gas, mighty hunters, the hardware man.
Dispatch: What are you working on now?
Jurek: I'm writing "Deer Camp 2: The Hunt for Stinky Peterson." It's the same guys, but it takes place inside the Mule Lip Saloon.
Some of the (actors) have already developed somewhat of a cult following. They get called by their stage names. They've really gotten into these characters. Two dozen guys tried out, and these four guys - you knew right away it was the character you were looking for.
After a day or two (of rehearsals), they sat down one night and talked about the (fictional town of Elmwood, Minn.) and they were visualizing their characters in this town. They developed the mindset before they started - that impressed me. Now it's pretty well taken them over.
Dispatch: Do you notice a trend with all these Minnesota-centric shows, like "How to Talk Minnesotan" and "Lumberjacks in Love?"
Jurek: And "Guys on Ice" and "Church Basement Ladies" and "Don't Hug Me." It's not so much a trend, as I think Minnesotans just like to laugh at themselves. At our shows, people will show up in hunting gear, bright orange. We're not appealing to the Shakespeare lover.
Dispatch: Did you always know you had a comedy like this inside you?
Jurek: I've always had a sense of humor; you have to in this day and age. And I think when you're writing ad copy, you have to think like the consumer. What would be funny to this person? At what level do you deliver it?
Once the characters are developed, you start writing stuff to fit that type of person. Diesel is a tank mechanic - he keeps talking about the war, but he's never been outside the United States. Moose works at the local creamery; he's not too smart upstairs. Doogskie, the hardware-store guy, is pretty doggone knowledgeable. Digger, the undertaker in town, is the only one with a college background. He can use bigger words and know what they mean.
Dispatch: You mentioned that first group of theater people ripped into you pretty good. What was wrong with the show at first?
Jurek: It needed a plot, number one. My mistake in first writing it was I had all these funny bits, and then I forced the play to go from bit to bit. It didn't have a smooth flow. It didn't have an ending. Ninety percent of it changed. I just started over.
(The reading) is the only way to do it. Let someone else take it cold, then be open to their critique and suggestions. It lets your ego go right out the window. It deflates you real fast. My ego floated away like a popped balloon.
JOHN HANSEN may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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