From Cold Lake is the latest serialized show from the creative team behind Kapow-i GoGo and Puffs, inspired by radio programs like Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion. With episode 2 premiering on September 12, I sat down with the cast and creative team behind From Cold Lake to talk about small town life and why serialized storytelling is seeing a resurgence.
I continue my conversation with Colin Waitt, and in part 2 of this 3-part interview, we delve more into the world of Cold Lake, Thomas Crawford’s musical score, and what the rehearsal process is like for this unconventional show.
Serialized storytelling of late – this past summer, the big summer movies have been complete flops. They haven’t done well at the box office, but Stranger Things and podcasts and other forms of serialized storytelling have really taken off. Do you think that there’s any particular reason for that?
You know, I think people like living with these characters and with these stories and this series because it feels all the richer when you’ve encountered six months of their life as opposed to an hour and a half, and they’ve been with you this whole time. If you binge watch something, your whole day becomes about these people. You feel like you know them, and you feel like you have a connection with them, and it’s very special. It’s very meaningful. It’s a much richer experience than kind of showing up, leaving, done, that’s it, which I think makes sense. You go online, and you click on something and that’s it, and you click on something and that’s it, and it’s gone, and so to actually have something that stays with you for an extended period of your life, even if that means just a full day, I think people need that. I think people want that because everything else is so fucking disposable.
Yeah, you get to know them so much more, and you get to see them through all these various different events. Even something where you can take your time, like the fishing trip, a day out fishing with these two characters. In something shorter form, you couldn’t take that time.
No, and the fun for me in writing this is that it’s really just a day in the town, every month, right? So things will happen, and we’ll see how things have played out and some months, some of them will be more prominent, and then some of the characters that have a line in the first episode will in episode 4, suddenly their whole life will be fleshed out, or there are some characters that people encounter that only happen once, and they only happen in one episode, and to me, that’s so satisfying. Do you know Robert Altman? Because it’s just like everyone is a supporting role in the story. Someone is going up while someone is going down. Someone is entering while someone is leaving, and it’s the whole, all of the possibilities that exist in that space at that time. I love that. It’s so satisfying. There’s not necessarily a plot, but you just feel like you’ve lived with these people. It’s so satisfying.
Unlike Prairie Home Companion or Welcome to Night Vale which has a primary narrator throughout the whole thing – you have Cecil Baldwin or Garrison Keillor telling you the stories from Lake Wobegon – instead, it opens and closes with narration and has the music interspersed, but you have these short little scenes with these characters. Why did you decide to write it in that way?
So originally, I had a couple of ten-minute plays that I had written, and Stephen was like, you should do something with these, something that is kind of vignette-y that’s kind of nice, and I had talked about how I like Robert Altman and that sort of thing. I like the idea of creating a world where there are always just different people, and there’s not always plot or connecting threads other than the place. So that was kind of the seed of it, and I did a reading in one of my writing groups, and I was talking about how what concerned me was because I had opted not to have a narrator, how it would all tie together and make sense. And someone off-handedly was like, “Maybe they listen to music or is there something that connects them?” And the idea for this radio device, it’s the music hour, even though what happens in it doesn’t necessarily all happen within the span of the half hour or forty-five minutes. It’s something to link them and also to be able to have the potential to comment on or set the tone for what’s happening in their world. And now, it’s also given me these characters that – you’ll see – in episode 2, we learn a bit more about them and they start to have their own story that’s framing the story of these other people.
When you wrote the character of the Mayor, who you play, did you intend to play that character or was it something that just happened?
It just kind of happened. It felt kind of like I should be in it for no other reason than having someone do an accent that other people in the room could start to mimic, and I did it in the first read-through that we did because at that time in the draft, he was the first person who talks. He talks for an extended period of time, right? So anyone in the room who was uncomfortable will at least have a little time to listen to someone that’s relaxed, saying these words with this accent, and then I was like, well, I kind of like this. I want to do this, so that’s when I decided I would do it.
So the rehearsal process on a show like this is really quick.
Yeah, it’s crazy.
They get the scripts a week out, is that right?
Yup, they get the scripts a week out, and Tommy [Crawford] will have already had the scripts, right? Because he will have been planning the music, so the musicians rehearse for a couple of hours before we do our full rehearsal with the cast. That’s on a different day so they can process the music, and then we do a five-hour rehearsal the night before, which includes tech, and then we do it the next day, so it’s crazy. There’s not a lot of lead time, and everyone has so far been really great about just kind of diving in and just going for it.
I think what’s going to be exciting is seeing how they handle the new information that gets revealed about their characters, and some of them, I’ve told them the sorts of things that will be happening to them, and some of them, I don’t necessarily know or it wasn’t necessarily fully clear to me last month when we did the first episode, so it’s definitely a giant trust fall. But I mean, as you’ve seen, everyone, they’re all just so great that it’s – I’m not going to lie, I was nervous for the first episode because it’s like, we had no time to prep, and the band started playing their music, and the whole cast, their jaws were on the floor, and their eyes were just wide with excitement. There was that moment when everyone realized, this is real. We’re going to be okay, and then it made everyone, everyone brought their A-game, which you know, when you’re in a room with people doing really well, it makes you feel like you have to rise as well. So it brought the whole tone of the room up.
So when you started developing this, did you always have this particular band in mind to be doing the music, or how did that relationship start?
Well, when I decided to do the music framing device, I was talking to Stephen and Kristin, asking who should this be, right? And Stephen thought that Tommy would be a good fit because I had talked about in my dream world, the music would function a little bit like it does in the movie Nashville where it evokes a place, and sometimes, it’s okay to just listen to a full song and let the actions stop and then actually makes it all the richer for doing so instead of killing the momentum of the show. I like tight harmonies, old-school country music. We thought Tommy would be a good fit. Tommy used to be in the resident company of the Flea where most of our creative team met, so I pitched it to him. Thank god he said yes.
It’s great music, isn’t it?
It is great music. I mean, that was definitely a highlight for me, seeing the first episode. I have a few questions about if you lived in Cold Lake.
Oh great, love it.
If you lived in Cold Lake, would you rather be the town’s poet laureate, a general with the local war reenactors, or the fisherman who lost his thumb while catching the biggest fish anyone has ever seen?
Oh, man. (laughs) I think I would want to be the local artist because then you get to inject a little culture into the lives of everyone and be a little bit crazy.
Wear lots of scarves.
And wear lots of scarves. Oh, the local artist. Every town has one. There’s something so sweet and so…kind of sad to be the person who is really creative and in a place that doesn’t necessarily appreciate what you have to offer.
That was one of my favorite parts of the first episode, that every time Linda mentioned being the poet laureate, her tearing up…
That meant so much to her. Whitney was like, “Come on, am I too annoying?” And I was like, no, it’s so perfect, and she was like, “I don’t want to walk in and have everyone love to hate this person,” and I’m like, “If you care about everything else so much and feel everything so much, it will be so beautiful and so perfect and so hilarious.” Love it. I love her. She is one of my favorites.
One of mine too, definitely. What would be your secret talent at the Cold Lake open mic night?
I can rotate my arm around all the way. You know, in my dream world, in that moment when Elvina is crocheting and tying knots lasts about five minutes.
That was probably the biggest laugh of the night.
Oh, Elvina. You know, Whitney came up with the idea that she’s slightly deaf, so the first time she read it, she’s yelling at this woman, like she hasn’t heard anything in years, and I said, “That’s so perfect.”
Watch for part 3 of my interview with Colin Waitt and more interviews with the cast and creative team behind From Cold Lake!
Tickets are on sale now for From Cold Lake at the PIT Loft, located at 154 West 29th Street, and can be purchased online at ThePIT-NYC.com. Individual performances are $10 each or $45 for the entire run. For other questions or assistance with ticket purchases, call the PIT at 212-563-7488.