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October 15, 2010

"John Hughes High": From the People Who Brought You WICF, and Mirth
by WomenInComedy - 2

The eponymous women of the Women in Comedy Festival team don't just spend all of our time providing a showcase for the funny ladies we all know and love — sometimes, we're the ones making the comedy! The WICF blog spoke with festival Co-Producers Elyse Schuerman and Michelle Barbera about their current production, "John Hughes High," which ends its run as an ImprovBoston Showcase show tonight. Elyse directed the whole thing, and Michelle is part of the ensemble cast. Tickets are going fast, I'd recommend going here ( to buy them before you even finish reading this interview.

WICF: How did this show come about?

Elyse: A bunch of factors pushed me to propose this show last spring; John Hughes' death . . . his films touched so many teenagers lives in the '80s and '90s (and today, I think). He was able to play the realities of teenage life with humor and touching moments alike. We did an '80s teen movie-inspired show about 10 years ago that was really fun. I took some inspiration from that show, but focused on John Hughes in particular and changed the format quite a bit.

WICF: How easy/hard has it been to bring the show to the stage?

Elyse: Not too difficult. It's a great cast (which makes my job easy) and I tried to keep the show straight forward for them with a lot of freedom as improvisers.

WICF: How has the cast gelled, and how'd you make the video? And costumes?

Elyse: [The] cast really enjoys each other. Most of them know each other, but not everyone has performed together, which makes it fun. Michelle directed/edited the video and Melissa Carubia wrote and performs the song [and stars in the video]. All shot at Arlington High . . . Costumes were mostly from the Garment District [in Cambridge] and the cast's own collections.

Promo. video for John Hughes High, at ImprovBoston. 

WICF: These movies had such iconic looks about them, how did you find it when translating them to the stage? Which of his movies is the show based on?

Elyse: I wanted as much accuracy for the '80s as I could since it's a style choice and, also, what people expect. It's inspired by "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Pretty in Pink," "Sixteen Candles," and "The Breakfast Club" ("Weird Science" and "Some Kind of Wonderful" contributed some inspiration). We also focused on his iconic characters as inspiration. Each show has a Principal, Secretary, Good Girl, Good Boy, Bad Boy, Bad Girl and an Exchange Student (among other characters).

WICF: Did you prepare by watching every John Hughes movie available (and do you have the same horrified reaction I do to Andie's prom dress?)

Michelle: I didn't need to watch the films again for the show because I know them like the back of my hand. My personal favorite is "Some Kind of Wonderful," because the two underdogs end up together, and because Elias Koteas plays one of the funniest movie tough guys ever.
p.s. I still love you, Eric Stoltz! Don't tell my husband. [ed.: Whoops.]

And yes, I couldn't believe it when Molly Ringwald took Annie Potts's perfectly serviceable prom dress and turned it into that bizarre monstrosity. Why?

Elias Koteas in "Some Kind of Wonderful" (Michelle warns this is NSFW).

WICF: As a seasoned director, do you find it more challenging to do a show based on somebody else's work than one in which the audience/cast/crew might not have had any preconceived notions going into it?

Elyse: In some ways it's easier and in some ways it's difficult. Easy because they have a knowledge base when they come to the show and can figure out what you are trying to do really quickly: "Oh, the guy playing the good guy is going to get the girl, etc." Then our job is to just entertain and have fun with the characters/story. It's difficult to produce shows that are someone else' creation, since some audience members do have high expectations from the material they know. I think heightening his style and conventions made this show easy to do (adults being clueless, teens worrying about their virginity, the melodrama of being a teenager, etc).

WICF: John Hughes had a mix of easily pigeonholed gender roles — the prom queen, the male jock — and characters that could have been played by either gender-the outsider, the weirdo, the brain, the richie. Did you cast for gender? How'd you handle this dichotomy?

Elyse: I did in some ways, but he has equals in all of his movies combined. Molly Ringwald's character in "Pretty in Pink" (outcast, low income) is similar in some ways to Erik Stoltz's character in "Some Kind of Wonderful," etc. I think he does a good job of pointing out that anyone can be an outcast or misunderstood and in fact, most of us feel that way (even Molly Ringwald's character in "The Breakfast Club" is vulnerable). While seven of the actors play the same character throughout one show, three to four others play any character they want (male/female nerds, etc.). Also, we see the kind male/female and the bad boy/bad girl each week, so they play off each other.

WICF: How is it playing a character, and in a setting, that was so seminal in so many of our childhoods?

Michelle: I grew up in the '80s and saw all of the John Hughes high school movies in the theater. Since then, I've re-watched them multiple times. Not only did I respond to the teen angst in the films, but the terrific comedic performances by actors like Edie McClurg (Grace), Jeffrey Jones (Ed Rooney) and Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller) [all from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"]. His movies meant a lot to me and revisiting them really brings back a good feeling for the cast and audience alike.

This is one of the happiest shows I've ever done. It's both nostalgic and funny, and has a feel-good ending every week. Plus I get the job of being the wacky Secretary who does and says whatever comes to mind, and play off the equally wacky Principal (played by John Shaughnessy and alternately by Kevin Harrington).

WICF: Are you one specific character, or a mish mosh?

Michelle: It was twenty years after first seeing "Ferris Bueller's Day" Off that I found out that Edie McClurg (Grace, the secretary) came from improv comedy. I had the pleasure of meeting her when she performed at WICF 2010 with her improv troupe, All Girl Revue. I also drove her to a TV interview at Fox and everyone at the station was just as excited to meet her as I was. Now I'm playing the secretary character in "John Hughes High," which is my homage to her and to Dody Goodman (my character's name is Dody), who played the secretary in "Splash," another great '80s movie (by Ron Howard).

Edie McClurg interview, Fox TV.

WICF: How has the audience response been when you've been on stage?

Michelle: The audience response has been terrific. The Principal and I come out and get them involved right from the start by addressing them as students at morning assembly. We get the character names and traits from the audience's real high school experiences. It's amazing how clear the high school archetypes are in their heads even 10, 20 or 30 years later. We often have typical teen film tropes in the show: montages, the big dramatic speech, the makeover, and the audience gets really enthusiastic to both recognize them and see them pulled off without the benefit of film editing.

"John Hughes High"
ImprovBoston, 90 Prospect St., Cambridge, MA
For tickets:
Last show - TONIGHT, October 15, 2010, 8 p.m.

Cast: Michelle Barbera, John Shaughnessy, Dana Jay Bein, Marcelo Ilarmo, Pete Fenzel, Robert Woo, Kevin Harrington, Shannon Connolly, Katie Leeman,
Hannah Foell and Mosie Senn-McNally.
Director: Elyse Schuerman
Assistant Director: Joanna French

—Interviewed for WICF by Liz McKeon


  1. oh mah gawd. elyse. was Commedia dell'High School really TEN YEARS AGO? how is that possible?

  2. Michelle, is that you laughing in the background in the Edie McClurg Fox morning show clip? I never noticed that before!