Saturday, October 18, 2008

Media: Flying the Final Air Farce Flight

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Growing up around Seattle, Washington, my family could watch the Vancouver, British Columbia CBC affiliate on cable television. Mainly viewed during international events like the Olympics when US coverage became tiresome, my primary early impression of Canadian television was that the commercials had much drier humor.

During the 2006 Canadian Federal election, when I was again in Seattle, I discovered the long-running Royal Canadian Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes on Friday nights, and their portrayals of party leaders Stephen Harper, Paul Martin, Jack Layton, and Gilles Duceppe became more prominent in my conscience than actual footage. Along with The Rick Mercer Report, these shows represented what I felt was an amazingly biting slate of satire on a public network, and it could even be stated that they were part of the attraction of moving to Canada--I could get behind my tax dollars supporting such entertainment!

On April Fool's Day, it was announced that fall 2008 would be the final season for the Air Farce, which had been going by the name Air Farce Live since switching to a live taping format in 2007. It wasn't a joke, and the cast seemed to agree that it was appropriate for the show, which features both cultural and political satire, to end. A tradition that had started on the radio in 1973 and moved to television in 1993 (with the radio show ending in 1997) would be no more.

Dubbed the "Air Farce Final Flight," the final series was something I simply couldn't miss, and since it would be taped in Toronto on Thursday nights, I had no excuse. So, for the second show of the season, on 9-October-2008--not coincidentally in the middle of the election campaign--I headed down to CBC headquarters for the early, 6 pm taping.

I was surprised at the sheer number (more than 20) of "audience ambassadors," all wearing black Final Flight t-shirts, used by the show to guide us up to the 10th floor, back through hallways to Studio 42, and into the studio seating. Some were volunteers that simply wanted to see the show each week. The sets were lined up side-by-side in front of us, with a green screen able to be lowered to the left for outdoor or other scenes. Sound and lighting platforms were located behind and to the side of the audience.

Luba Goy, Penelope Corrin (both as bankers), and Don Ferguson (as Jack Layton) remained on stage after the Air Farce taping on 9-October-2008

Before long, the cast came on stage. Amazingly, Roger Abbott, Don Ferguson, and Luba Goy have been with the show since its start on the radio in 1973. Craig Lauzon and Alan Park had been added in 2004, and Penelope Corrin in 2007. Jessica Holmes, a 2003 addition, was on maternity leave during this taping.

As explained by stage manager Pat McDonald, the show is now filmed "as live as possible," meaning that they try not to stop filming, but will if anything goes sufficiently wrong--and, indeed, Ferguson would end up re-starting the Friday Night News skit. The episode opened with "Mr. Harper's Neighborhood", a sketch making fun of the control-freak nature of Prime Minister Stephen Harper--and his Fred Rodgers-like sweater.

Skits ranged from a unsuccessful attempt to rob Wachovia Bank ("You're kidding, right? We don't have any money. Try a Canadian bank!") to an analogy between vote swapping and spouse swapping. My favorites were a segment of "Murphy's Law," making fun of Rex Murphy's commentaries on "The National", and a fake commercial in which Ferguson as NDP leader Jack Layton and Park as an ING Direct spokesperson tried to share the color orange.

During what would be the commercial breaks, sets and cameras were moved around as needed, shots of the audience were taken, and a house band kept the audience occupied. When the show was over, we could wander slowly out through the set.

The audience rose upon completion of the Air Farce taping in studio 42 on 9-October-2008

More photographs from the evening will appear on my photo blog in the future.

Surprisingly, tickets are still available for a number of the remaining seven shows. See the show web site for details on how to experience the Final Flight.

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