By Megan Gieske, Contributing Writer
Asbury University’s original TV sitcom, “Friends Like You,” is filming its eighth episode with a live studio audience at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 7-9. The show is sold out for the third straight year.
Like many comedies, Asbury University’s Emmy Award-winning TV sitcom “Friends Like You” relies on a certain number of recognizable characters. Professor Doug Smart, who worked in professional television for 22 years, teaches the Sitcom Production Class, which produces an episode he writes.
“Every episode has to be a brand new show; whoever I had in my cast last year won’t be in my cast this year by and large,” Smart said, regarding the difficulties of the sitcom. He said it can be challenging to construct a whole new situation every year as it’s much harder to be funny while explaining the situation as opposed to drawing laughs from characters already developed in long-running series like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” The sitcom usually has a cast of six to ten students, with eight this year.
“This year, it’s a little different,” said junior Allison Acuff, who will play Olivia in the TV sitcom. The episode, titled “Don’t Ever Change,” takes place in a coffee shop, where Olivia, a barista, tries to alleviate her friends’ pre-wedding jitters, while Mary, a coffeehouse manager, lobbies for the re-zoning of the derelict lot across the street. Olivia tries to fix everything, characters misunderstand each other and laughter follows.
The episode that marks the eighth year of “Friends Like You” will also feature its first ethnic character.
Senior Annie Eichelman expressed her excitement for working with the rest of the cast and for playing Anna, the sitcom’s first Hispanic character. Eichelman was previously in “Metamorphoses,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” “Broadway Cameos” and “All in the Timing.”
Smart said Eichelman had him laughing from the audition table. “Your accent is wonderful,” he said “How do you get this grasp?”
Eichelman said, “My family moved to Spain when I was six, so I grew up hearing Spanish speakers trying to speak English all the time.”
Each year, class members function as the crew working cameras, props, staging and serving as assistant directors and associate producers. Students are involved in every aspect of the sitcom, from writing subplots to operating cameras and editing in post-production.
Starring in her third TV sitcom production at Asbury, Acuff has taken a step from behind the stage. Acuff directed November’s mainstage production, “Decision Height,” among other productions during her Asbury years.
“I love to make people laugh,” Acuff said. “If I, as an actress, can pull one tiny chuckle from an audience member or help them forget the stress of their day, then I’ve done at least a portion of my job right.”
Smart said the sitcom class at Asbury is one of only a few such programs in the United States, and the only one outside the greater Los Angeles area. He also said he tries to make the experience of his students at Asbury as similar to the actual Hollywood experience as possible.
Another cast member, sophomore Jacob Jones, said that the nature of the sitcom was the most appealing aspect of this production. “It’s very different from theatre or standard film, so that in itself is a rewarding thing, experiencing something in such a new, fresh way,” Jones said.
“I can’t wait to feel the energy when we have an actual live audience,” said Eichelman.
Before taping began, cast members all shared their excitement to work with Doug Smart, television and film director-in-residence.
Smart has taught at Asbury for the last nine years, and will be retiring from full-time teaching at the end of this academic year. On the future of “Friends Like You,” he said, “I want to hit ten episodes for sure. I wouldn’t mind hitting 15 episodes. 25 may be pushing it.”
Audience seating opens at 6:45 p.m., Wednesday through Friday evening. While it is sold out, stand-by-seating will be available each evening in the Miller Studio.