When it comes to the Claremore Chamber of Commerce Gridiron, Gina Wilson has seen her fair share.
Unlike most who have attended the annual poke at news-makers from the previous year however, Wilson has seen many of her Gridirons from a most unique perspective — as a cast member.
As Wilson and her fellow castmates ready for Friday and Saturday night’s performances, she pauses to reflect on her years of on-stage shenanigans.
“I honestly don’t remember how many I’ve been in, but I’d say 10 at least,” Wilson said. “Each of them has been unique in their own way — different, because of the other cast members and the skits we’d put together, but there’s one thing all of them have been — fun.”
During Wilson’s earliest Gridirons, she was in the company of former writers/performers/general rabble-rousers Dave Burrows and Ralph Peck.
“Dave and Ralph were hilarious, and Ralph is even returning this year to help us with some of the writing (of skits),” she said. “You never knew what they were going to come up with — there was nothing they wouldn’t do.”
After Burrows and Peck stepped down from Gridiron, Seana Murray took up writing and performing duties, and the format shifted from “Saturday Night Live”-type sketches to that of an old-fashioned radio show.
“These days, sketch and songs are more a of a group effort,” she said.
Another difference Wilson has noted from her earlier days of Gridiron is its tone, as shows in recent years have “softened” somewhat into a “kinder, gentler” Gridiron.
“We like to have fun with people who have been in the news, but in the earliest days of Gridiron, sometimes the jokes could be a little more scathing,” she said. “We’re certainly going to make jokes about people and things that have been in the paper, but we want them to be laughing too. We don’t want to make fun of people, we want to have fun with them.”
Joining Wilson on stage this year will be other veterans and some new faces, among them, Anthony Wolfe, Bryan Bradley, Emily Mahan, Ben Neikirk and Kenny DeLozier.
One notable absence from this year’s Gridiron will be Paul Bickford, who passed in April 2013.
“Paul was such a great cast member, and such an awesome person. He was so funny, and he really got into his characters,” she said. “We all really miss him.”
In trying to recollect outstanding memories from past Gridirons, Wilson says there are “too many to remember” — laughs onstage when things went awry or someone forgot their lines or there were technical difficulties — but her favorite thing about the show is always the time spent with cast during rehearsals.
“I think we have more fun getting ready for Gridiron than the audience has at the actual shows,” she said. “There’s so much fun backstage and when we’re getting ready for the shows — in the writing and the rehearsing of it. There’s never a time when we aren’t laughing.”
As Wilson puts herself in the right frame of mind for this week’s performances, she contemplates how many more Gridirons of which she may be a part.
“Retiring (from Gridiron) has crossed my mind every now and then, but I have so much fun doing it, and I definitely want to be in next year’s Gridiron, which will be the 50th, so I know it’s going to be a big one,” she said. “We’ve talked about trying to get some of the old Gridiron faces to come back, but we’ll see. After next year, who knows?”
Audiences can see Wilson and her cast mates in “The News on (Route) 66,” the 49th annual Claremore Chamber of Commerce Gridiron, on Friday, Jan. 24 and Saturday, Jan. 25 in the RSU Centennial Center.
Friday’s performance will be Gridiron Scholarship Night, beginning at 7 p.m. and Saturday’s performance follows the Chamber banquet, which begins at 6 p.m.
Tickets are available at the door or at the Chamber offices at 419 W. Will Rogers Boulevard. For more information, call (918) 341-2818.