Art House Is BU’s Homegrown Sitcom

CFA School of Theatre and COM Department of Film and Television collaborate to get laughs

A comic highlight of Art House was the demented interpretive dances by Summer Sage, played by Michaela Lazarou (CFA’24) and their impact on Candy Baker, played by Katie McRae (CFA’23), and Lil Bub, played by Aidan Close (CFA’23). Photo by Michael D. Spencer

Arts on Campus

CFA School of Theatre and COM Department of Film and Television collaborate to get laughs

Twentysomething Barb returns to her family home after a breakup to find a quartet of artists using it as a studio and crash pad: an interpretive dancer, an obsessive baker, a sculptor, and an inept but enthusiastic rapper. 

“Hop on this beat with me!” the rapper says.

Barb, understandably, pulls out her can of mace: “You have three seconds to back away.”

Welcome to Art House, a sitcom co-produced by the College of Communication Department of Film and Television and the College of Fine Arts School of Theatre (SOT). Student actors, directors, designers, writers, and camera operators from both ends of Comm Ave created the show under the watchful eyes of industry-veteran faculty. 

Hop on this beat with me!”

Rapper Lil’ Bub in Art House

A traditional three-camera sitcom shot before a live audience—like I Love Lucy and All in the FamilyArt House was taped over several nights at the Joan & Edgar Booth Theatre in late April. An elaborate three-room set and a live audience gave it that Hollywood feel.

Halfway between live theater and a single-camera show like The Office, few multi-camera sitcoms have been produced these last few years. But Acsa Welker (CFA’23), who plays Barb, says, “Honestly, it feels like the perfect learning space, because it’s kind of the best marriage of the two forms. I just feel kind of ready to—hopefully—step onto a set in the future. Even if it’s not the same, I still feel like I’ve learned a lot.”

A first-time collaboration

Paul Schneider, COM professor of film and television and department chair, and Susan Mickey, CFA professor of costume design and director of the School of Theatre, started talking about a collaboration two years ago. Work began in earnest in spring 2022. 

“There’s nothing for us to fall back on in terms of what other universities have done or anything else,” Schneider says. “We’re taking a step off into the unknown.”

Photo: People wander and set up cameras and other lighting and recording equipment on the set of Art House. The various crew members wear all black outfits as they work and collaborate on the brightly lit, colorful set.
Art House is the first collaboration between the College of Communication Department of Film and Television and the College of Fine Arts School of Theatre. Photo by Michael D. Spencer

“We were looking for different means of expression in which our students could perform, collaborate, and travel their artistic journeys,” says Mickey. “We’re a natural fit. We’re hoping this will be the impetus for more work together.”

COM Students working on the show could get academic credit through a class created for Art House, while it was one of the scheduled productions at CFA for which students there could get credit. By last fall the writing staff was hard at work, with about 20 students from COM and the School of Theatre undergraduate playwriting program. Eventually there were table reads with the cast. Gags came and went, as did characters, while the best survived to the final shooting script.

When two men in welding masks carry a metal sculpture into the house, Barb glares and asks, “Daft Punk?” (Spoiler: It’s not the headgear-friendly rock duo.)

Adam Lapidus, a COM assistant professor of film and television who has written episodes of everything from The Simpsons to Full House, ran the writing staff with Bill Broadis, also an assistant professor of film and television, whose credits include Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist.

“In the real world, you know, someone has written a pilot somewhere, and the network buys it and turns it over to the staff and says, OK, let’s work on this,” Broadis says. “We started with nothing, so it was tough to wrangle 15 people’s opinions of what should happen.”

Art House director Eli Canter (COM’23) and some writers attended the annual School of Theatre season auditions last September, where acting students demonstrated their talents in hopes of getting cast in productions during the year.

Photo: Director Eli Canter (left) and Paul Schneider, COM professor of film and television and department chair, discuss camera blocking during a rehearsal. A young man wearing glasses and a brown collared shirt points forward and speaks as an older man wearing glasses and a black collared shirt sits to his right. They both sit at a table with multiple mini screens in front of them.
From left, director Eli Canter (COM’23), Paul Schneider, COM professor of film and television and department chair, and Tim Palmer, a COM professor of the practice in cinematography, discussing camera blocking during a rehearsal for Art House at CFA. Photo by Cydney Scott

Schneider had already picked Canter to direct Art House before his student film—coincidentally titled Artboyall but swept the 2023 Redstone Film Festival with top finishes, alone or tied, in almost every major category: best film, best screenplay, best cinematography, best sound design, best editing, and best actor.

“Everything I’ve directed up until this point has been something that I’ve written and come up with myself, so it’s a very different experience,” Canter says.

“At first I thought, I’m gonna have every scene storyboarded, kind of like what I’m used to. And I did that. And I’m happy I had that prep,” he says. “But in the first few rehearsals I realized quickly, oh, wait! I actually don’t know anything that we have to see. And the camera operators have to feel it out, and then we can go from there.”

There were some upsides.

“On my student film sets, I’m the one making sure, are the actors gonna come? What time should we start? And what are we gonna serve them for lunch? I’ve had to worry about all those things myself,” Canter says with a smile. “Versus now, on Art House, the stage manager deals with all that. So that’s been really nice.”

Early rehearsals at CFA looked similar to any SOT production, with tape on the floor representing the boundaries of the set. But in March, when they added three cameras and a “video village” where Canter and his team would watch the feed, the degree of difficulty went up.

There was a lot of Hollywood-style “hurry up and wait” as blocking and camera movements were adjusted under the eagle eye of Tim Palmer, a COM professor of the practice in cinematography whose credits include the hitwoman thriller Killing Eve.

“Don’t chop off his fingers,” Palmer told one camera operator. Presumably he just meant, “Don’t cut them out of the frame.”

An A story and a B story

The artists were invited into the house by Barb’s brother Phil—played by Tyler Statkevicus (CFA’23)—who goes by his “artist name,” Floppy.

Lil Bub, played by audience favorite Aidan Close (CFA’23) is the energetic wannabe rapper who keeps running out of rhymes. The cake artist Candy Baker, played by Katie McRae (CFA’23) displays a disturbingly intense focus on her creations. Metal sculptor Mitchell, played by Samuel Regueros (CFA’23), has a deadpan wit that may be sharper than his tin snips. And the dancing of Summer Sage, played by Michaela Lazarou (CFA’24), brings to mind the anti-rhythmic musical convulsions of Elaine Benes on Seinfeld and got the biggest laughs from the studio audience at the Booth. 

Barb’s best friend also stops by: Percy, a prison guard turned kindergarten teacher (!) played by Tori Van Loon (CFA’23).

Photo: Phil (Right) and Barb Shipley, played by Tyler Statkevicus (CFA’23) and Acsa Welker (CFA’23) look to the right as they chat and smile. Phil stands and leans on the back of a large yellow armchair as Barb sits on an olive green couch and sneers.
The relationship between brother and sister Phil and Barb Shipley, played by Tyler Statkevicus (CFA’23) and Acsa Welker (CFA’23), is the heart of Art House. Photo by Michael D. Spencer

In sitcom parlance, the artists’ comic hijinks are the B story; the main or A story focuses on Barb’s spat with Phil over his new boyfriend, the annoyingly snobbish and pedantic muralist Albert, played by Charley Danger (CFA’23).

“Pronounced Al-bear,” he says. “The t is silent, yet visible.”

“We’ve been running the scenes kind of the same way for the camera for months now,” says Statkevicus. “So to run it the same way and have it be received differently, and have energy in the crowd, people actually laughing at the lines that we’ve heard so many times—it informs the performance a lot.”

“To have some laughter and some reactions,” Welker says, “was really invigorating. And it reminded me how much fun this whole thing is.”

Keeping the audience in the laughing mood between takes was the job of Art House writer, warmup comedian and hype man Jameson Murray (CFA’23).

Soon Barb learns that Phil/Floppy invited the artists in to assuage his loneliness, and she eventually finds they’re not so bad after all. Spoiler alert: Albert gets what’s coming to him. Art House even includes some of the “hugging and learning” that Seinfeld eschewed. Well, hugging anyway.

For students, “it’s an opportunity for them to see how film and television works in the professional world, with a full-scale production,” Schneider says. “It’s a major learning experience to understand that film and television production and theater production are not individual efforts. You have to learn to work with a team who have very distinct, different skill sets.”

Mickey and Schneider expect further collaborations, but haven’t chosen the next project yet. Art House will be edited this fall, and a soundtrack and perhaps a laugh track added. “In December, we’re hoping that we’ll have a screening so everybody can see what we spent two years doing,” Schneider says.

And, they’re hoping, laugh.

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