Brian O’Connor’s audience might be small (in relative numbers and stature), but their appreciation for his antics is boundless.
O’Connor provokes giggles and gasps from kids - and their parents - each weekday morning on public television’s “Shining Time Station.” (The show airs at 7 a.m. on KSPS-Channel 7.)
His character, Schemer, is in charge of the arcade at the fictional train station, but he’s really just a big kid in a goofy leisure suit.
“Those are the kind of parts that are most fun to play,” O’Connor said in a recent phone interview. “I get to laugh. I get to cry. I get to fall down a lot.”
“Shining Time Station” is a sort of 30-minute morality play in which the kids who perpetually hang around the station (don’t they ever go to school or have a family life?) learn not to make fun of others, to cooperate and to always tell the truth. Schemer offers comic balance as the show’s unapologetic scoundrel. But, of course, he always learns his lesson in the end.
“Schemer is just a braggart who’s a coward. He’s always getting into trouble,” said O’Connor.
Like the time Schemer tried to take the kids camping (he made them set up the tent) and it started to rain, and he made his way back to the station a dripping, blubbering mess, whining for his mommy. Or the time he thought it was April Fools’ Day (it was really March 31, but the kids changed the calendar to fool him), and he ended up insulting the head of the railroad and tearing up his lease for the arcade.
“It’s all silly and when we’re filming it, we forget it’s for kids. We’re just trying to be funny,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor has been playing Schemer since 1989, but he has an extensive background in stage productions. He studied improvisation and children’s theater in New York and performed with a troupe called Living Poem Theater.
“It was kind of a post-hippie thing where kids would help write the ending of plays,” O’Connor said.
His versatile resume includes a bit part in the movie “Beverly Hills Cop II” and stints hosting shows on VHI and Comedy Central. He also did a live call-in show on the now-defunct cable network America’s Talking.
But, by far, his favorite gig is Schemer.
“The show’s creators are in negotiation with Paramount to bring ‘Shining Time Station’ to the big screen,” he said. “If the movie’s a big hit, I would love it if they did a sequel with Schemer.”
When he auditioned for the part, O’Connor had no idea Schemer would turn into a career or “I would have negotiated a better contract,” he said.
He showed up for the original audition seven years ago in full Schemer regalia, complete with the character’s now signature vertical cowlick.
“Sometimes, when you show up to an audition in costume, they look at you like you’re insane, but that time it worked,” he said.
And the show’s fans - the kids and parents - respond to the character O’Connor has created.
“My favorite part of doing live performances is the meet-and-greet afterwards,” he said. “I pull the Schemer character back a bit and talk to the kids about how great they are and how great I am. It’s kind of a mutual admiration thing.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FOR KIDS Brian O’Connor will appear in Schemer’s Incredible Schemer Show at 11:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Saturday as part of this year’s Family-a-Fair at the Spokane Convention Center. Fair admission is $2 for adults; kids ages 12 and under are free.