WAMEGO — “Hoo Haw” began as a one-time performance to raise money for the Columbian Theatre nine years ago, but since then it has become an annual community favorite.
“It seems to be a big hit,” said Troy Hemphill, director and cast member for the past six years, “so we continue to put it out there.”
Like the once-popular TV show “Hee Haw,” filmed at the Grand Ol’ Opry in Nashville, “Hoo Haw” is a variety show with a country twang. But this version is put on entirely by Wamego community members. At a performance Thursday night that served as both dress rehearsal and sneak peak for the show’s underwriters, audience members laughed at the jokes and clapped their hands along with some good ol’ country and gospel music.
Continuing the tradition started nine years ago, all the proceeds go to the Columbian. Hemphill said last year the show raised about $10,000 for the theater, and he hoped to match that this year. He said the nine cast members and three technical crew members volunteer their time for the show. Their expenses last year totaled $90.
“It’s pretty cheap, and we feel good about turning the money back over to the theater,” Hemphill said.
This year, the band, under the direction of John McQuillen, debuted as the Pott County Posse. McQuillen said the group of local musicians had been playing for the show for a couple of years, and this past spring they decided to start playing as a group at some local venues.
“I was in the first show nine years ago, but the band has kind of morphed over the years,” McQuillen said. “I think I am the only one left from the first performance.”
McQuillen said when they first started, the band only played a couple of tunes for the show, and the rest was “canned” music. Today the band plays all the music for the show.
“As it’s gone on, the band has become more prominent, and the band plays all the music live now,” McQuillen said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
The band includes a percussionist, a fiddler, an acoustic guitarist, steel guitarist, electric guitarist and a bass guitarist. McQuillen plays the electric guitar and sings for the band as well.
He said most of the players also sing, and they rotate the lead among the members. This year McQuillen will also be featured as part of the “Hoo Haw” performance.
In the show, “Hoo Haw” cast members don’t follow scripts from “Hee Haw” or play the characters from the classic show. Rather, they use situations similar to those portrayed in “Hee Haw” while playing versions of themselves.
“We don’t really have roles; we just play ourselves in a countrified fashion, I guess,” Hemphill said. “So we call each other by our own names.”
The skits are also similar to those in “Hee Haw,” complete with cast members hiding in the corn and popping up during set changes to keep the audience laughing.
Although the settings are the same, the jokes are a mix of new and old, but all clean enough to allow the youngest member of any household to attend.
Brad Voth, cast member, said he has been involved in the community theater for several years and was asked to join the show seven years ago. He said he really enjoys putting on the performance because unlike traditional theater, the script for “Hoo Haw” isn’t as rigid. He said often there are places where cast members can ad lib. He said if a joke doesn’t work one night, then they can easily switch it up and tell a different joke the next, making each performance unique.
“These guys, we go through this over and over, and they still crack me up on the last day of rehearsal,” McQuillen said. “It will be a little bit different each night. They’ll throw in different stuff.”
Public performances of the show began on Friday and Saturday, but those wanting to see it still have an opportunity to go next week. “Hoo Haw” will continue next weekend with an encore performance Sunday afternoon. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door. Performances Friday and Saturday begin at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday’s performance begins at 2 p.m.
Attendees can expect one-liners like this one: “Why do men never give women a second thought? Because the first thought was enough!”