Elliot gets the story from Pecos Bill
4th of 5 installments on how the play came to be.
The boys had flushed out their characters, but struggled with how they would connect them. I can’t tell you who came up with the idea for a reporter, because by the time they asked me to read with them, his name and many of his lines had been already been written. I do know that when first presented with the idea, I was skeptical that they had written anything even remotely interesting. Besides, who ever heard of a stage show like this – honestly, was there even an audience?
The first reading for me took place in the saloon sitting around a table, each of us just read the words on the page without comment or criticism. (Boy, would I like that day back!) I read with a closed mind, not expecting much and feeling like I was wasting a good Saturday morning. However, as we read, I realized that the boys had created something unique and entertaining. I wasn’t sure I had the interest committing time to it at that point, because it was still very rough. I told them if we kept working on it and editing, I would continue.
It’s important to understand that while some of us had previous stage or professional acting experience, the majority of our “old tyme” work had been in street theater. Street theater is the kind you see when you visit an old west town and they recreate a gun fight. They are often humorous, include a few jokes, a few fake fights and a few gun shots. The sound systems are often terrible, so much so the crowd is usually straining to hear what is going on.
Theater is a different animal all-together, you need to be polished, accurate, entertaining. You have to connect to an audience and make them care about your character. The audience is there in front of you and they have paid hard-earned money to see you. This is the reason they came, you are not just a side event to something else going on. Be good, or go home.
As we worked we developed our characters further and started doing small snippets of our dialogue for friends, looking for feedback. They kept reaffirming that we had something interesting, encouraging us to keep moving forward.
In 2007, We had been booked to create much of the entertainment for the Traders Jubilee in McGregor Iowa for the 2008 event and had been working all winter with the ladies to create a vaudeville show with multiple acts. “In The Company of Legends” had about 30 minutes of content at that time and decided that if we were going to test the show, the best place was with those who did similar things. If they lost interest, or hated it, they would tell us or show us by bee-lining to the bar.
The show was received well and afterwards we collected ourselves and decided if we were going to do it, it would need to be expanded and much better. (thanks to all our friends back then for your sage advice) We also decided we needed to find our first theater and pitch the idea to see if they would book us, and then if we could sell a single ticket. With that, we started the journey (without Bat Masterson, I’ll get to him last but not least)
There is an old saying, there are two things you should never see being made – sausages and laws – they should add theater contracts to that list. We found a local theater owner willing to take us on – with us carrying the burden of risk. Ok, all of it. We basically advertised, sold tickets, did all the work and entertained and he made 99% of money including all the concessions. (I know what a boxer must feel like) We filled the house to great reviews and the theater owner confessed it was his largest money-making venture to date and he wanted to do again, soon. P.T Barnum would have been proud of his protégée. While it was a painful lesson, it was a lesson that we have not repeated since. The final installment, the addition of Bat Masterson.