Catching up with Marc Unger and ‘Thespian’

Marc and Maria Unger with Director of Photography Tim Szczesniak, right. (Joe Cardamone photo)

In November of 2017, the JT ran the cover story, “Where Comedy Lives,” about the two Jewish brothers who own and run Magooby’s Joke House in Timonium, Andrew and Marc Unger.

At the time, Marc, a stand-up comedian, was producing a web series with his wife and co-creator Maria, called “Thespian,” about Adam Kelner, a “more neurotic version” of himself, who returns to the local Baltimore theater scene to get back into acting.

“Thespian” was released on Amazon and Amazon Prime last year, and season one, eight 15-minute episodes, are available now. Meanwhile Unger, his wife, ensemble cast and crew are currently shooting season two in and around Baltimore. Unger writes, directs, acts, edits. You name it.

In season one, Unger, now 53, plays a 50-year-old former comedian hoping to break back into his first love—dramatic acting. The series is at once funny, poignant, off-beat and charming — with a fully professional look and feel — thanks not just to Unger’s writing, acting and directing talent, but to his entire acting and creative team. In addition to sensitive writing and directing, the show’s cinematography, lighting, sound and editing is top-notch. The series is full of self-deprecating humor, Jewish humor and Gen X humor.

The first season recently screened in its entirety at the Columbia Film Festival, which just wrapped up at the end of June.

The JT caught up with Unger this week, to see how things are going and to find out when fans can expect season 2.

How was the reception for season one? You have lots of positive reviews on Amazon.
[Those are] mostly from people I don’t know. I mean, we know some of them. But these are not people that have to leave the reviews. Some of those reviews, I think it’s clear when you read them, these are people that just kind of found the show, and were really, really impressed. Everybody seems to really dig what we did. And we’re really proud of it.

Season one sees Adam making his leap of faith — to get into acting as he is turning 50. What’s Adam up to in season two?
Season two season opens with Adam, just turning 52. We’re excited about the upcoming season. The big trick with season two is, you’ve got this story about a guy who realizes that his career he’s been in for years and years, isn’t panning out. And he’s living across the street from the house he left 25 years ago. He decided to regroup, to go back to his beginnings as a serious actor. That’s provided a great season one story arc, but you can’t repeat that. You can’t be, oh, now Adam fails again and again. We have to kind of expand. So season two is more ambitious in terms of the storytelling. There’s more going on; his wife has a bigger role to play. Petra [an actor and director] has her own story. And we’re introducing a lot of new characters, and there are some characters from season one, you won’t see in season two, or you may see them briefly. So that’s part of why we made the decision to open it a year later, just to allow for some breathing space.

In season two, it’s a year later, he is still involved with Shakespeare Academy. There’s also a little bit of tension between Abby [his wife] and Adam. There’s a sense of frustration that’s kind of building a little bit. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s definitely some bigger stakes that will come into play in season two. I hope the audience appreciates that. And it’s going to be darker in some ways.

You’ve done an Indiegogo campaign and now have a Fractured Atlas campaign. How is production going?
We officially started shooting before the Indiegogo campaign finished, like mid-March. I was kind of hoping that we could release season two a year after season one. But I think it may take a little longer to get to the finish line. In season one, we just kind of used whoever was available in terms of crew. Season two, we’ve got people who are dedicated to the project and have shown a passion for it and they’re really good at what they do. So we’re more apt to work around their schedules. And then also, the cast has expanded, so there’s more consideration there. My guess is we’ll probably be releasing sometime in late November, early December.

What are your hopes moving forward?
Well, we’re hoping for somebody with some power, with some decision-making ability, to license us, who sees the value in the show and wants to help us get to the next level. I feel like this is going to be a four- or five-season show.

And after ‘Thespian’?
I’ve been working on a screenplay. I’ve optioned a couple that haven’t gotten produced, but I made some money. This idea has actually been kicking around in my head for like 16 years. And I finally started to work on it. It’s kind of a comedy-caper film.

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