Flanagan’s Wake is putting the fun in funeral home
Audience gets in on comedy held at New Haven parlor
Funeral homes aren’t usually where you want to be, and definitely not to be entertained, but that’s about to change.
Harper’s Community Funeral Home in New Haven is flipping the script this month, hosting the interactive comedy Flanagan’s Wake on March 11-13 and 17-19, with proceeds going to The Shepherd’s House for Veterans.
Shepherd’s House is a long-term residential housing center for men battling addiction. Therapy and programs are offered to educate to help them with recovery.
“I figured, ‘How can you get away with having a play in a funeral home? Oh, make it a fundraiser,’” said David Edwin Rousculp, who is the director of the play and the general manager of the funeral home. “So I picked my favorite one.”
While the show would probably succeed in a more conventional setting, Rousculp sought to make it authentic.
Noting he was inspired by local shows Little Shop of Horrors and Godspell, which were held in a Do it Best greenhouse and an alleyway, respectively.
“People seem to love the concept of seeing a show outside a traditional theater lately,” he said in a press release. “The funeral home had all the props and the environment here. We just needed improv actors, and Fort Wayne is loaded with such talent.”
And while using the funeral home does have everything needed for the show, there could be scheduling complications. However, with the shows beginning at 7:30 p.m., there shouldn’t be any fear of disrupting services.
But if an issue did arise?
“We just tell people we have plans that night, and most people are cool about it,” Rousculp said.
Show Cut Short
Rousculp says he got the idea for the show after seeing a funeral home in Michigan perform Flanagan’s Wake.
However, when it came time for Harper’s to put on the show in 2020 a small stumbling block appeared: COVID-19.
“We scheduled four shows in 2020, but we couldn’t do our final show because it was set for March 17, and the pandemic closed things the day before,” Rousculp said.
“It went really well,” he added about the 2020 shows before the interruption. “At that time, I said we’d do it every other year so people would look forward to it, saying, ‘Oh, Flanagan’s Wake is taking place this year.’”
As it would be, that scheduling idea has come to fruition.
Whisked Away to Emerald Isle
With Rousculp noting, “It’s the longest list for credits for a play I’ve seen,” Flanagan’s Wake was conceived by Jack Bronis with seven others contributing to its creation Acording to Dramatic Publishing, the show is the longest-running show in Chicago theater history.
The story takes place in a fictional village in Ireland where friends of the deceased Flanagan gather to sing songs and tells tales.
“Funerals are a time to reflect and tell stories of one’s life, good or bad,” Rousculp said. “Music, singing, crying, and even laughing out loud is normal. Flanagan’s Wake is no different, except it tends to be more of the laughing-out-loud part with a sprinkle of kooky and crazy in the mix.”
As if the setting wasn’t unique enough, Flanagan’s Wake has a cash bar before the show begins and allows the audience to get involved, even helping move the story along.
“The storyline is set, but an audience member decides how Flanagan dies,” Rousculp said. “From there, another actor builds on it. I play the mayor, and I ask eight different people how the story should go along the way.”
Along with Rousculp, the show features seven other local actors, including Scott McMeen, Rodney Pasko, Robyn Pasko, Nathan Driscoll, Duke Roth, Teresa Rust, and Tommy Saul.
“They’re all local improv actors,” Rousculp said. “They’re all fast and quick-witted. The show is very much like (the improv comedy show) Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
And the actors aren’t just “on” when onstage, they’ll also be mingling with attendees when the doors open at 6:30 p.m.
“The actors have to be fearless and on top of their games with their improv skills,” Rousculp said. “You have to totally believe you are the character and live in this small village in Ireland.”
With a cash bar and audience members encouraged to participate, things are bound to get rowdy at Flanagan’s Wake, especially with a performance taking place on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.
“People want to get into the spirit of Flanagan’s Wake with some Guinness and Jameson,” Rousculp said.
And while he used to enjoy St. Paddy’s Day in a much different way as a younger man, Rousculp says the show is a new kind of way to celebrate.
“My mother was Irish and St. Paddy’s Day was almost a holy day in our house,” he said in the release. “We celebrated with music, food, and spirits within moderation, of course. I’m older now, and it seems the only venue to celebrate being Irish is to drink all day at some Irish tavern and be sick the next day at work. I wanted to find a better way to celebrate the family Irish heritage without alcohol being the focus.”
And with the show running about an hour-and-a-half with a 7:30 p.m. start, folks can still have time for festivities afterwards
Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door, although Rousculp encourages buying in advance by stopping by the funeral home, calling (260) 493-4433, or going toeventbrite.com as the 125-seat venue could fill up fast.