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Contributed Photo

JESSIE CURTIS BAADE’S seventh grade Delaware Valley Central School picture is the promo picture for her new play, “Freddie.” The picture represents her character, Deanna, to a “T,” she said.

Callicoon Native On
The Fringes of Fame

By Jeanne Sager
CALLICOON — June 18, 2004 – Forget the cockroach with the Jesus complex; Jessie Curtis Baade is coming home.
For the second year in a row, a play penned by the Callicoon native has been accepted into the New York City Fringe Festival – one of the most prestigious multi-performance arts festivals in all of North America.
She’s living in Modena – right outside of New Paltz – and the play will be performed in New York City this August.
But the subject matter hits home.
It’s the story of a girl named Deanna Curtis (think of that) who is visited by an angel drafted in the form of comic Freddie Roman.
“Kid,” he says, “you will entertain in the mountains . . . don’t forget to tip your waiter.”
It’s a laugh-a-minute ride that will take the audience from 1960s Sullivan County through the life of Deanna Curtis – a young shiksa with the comedic timing of Milton Berle.
Jessie Curtis Baade intersperses Curtis’ journey – from being so funny she’s shunned by classmates who don’t understand the kid who opens her mouth and “Don Rickles falls out” to losing her “funny” when she shuns the angel’s advice through life on the road as a magic act – with scenes at hotels that were the center of comedy during her own youth.
Baade grew up in the Catskills after all – during Woodstock she was 5 years old and at home in Callicoon with parents Terry and Ed Curtis.
A graduate of Delaware Valley Central School, Baade grew up acting out plays with buddy Trish Roche and learning to write at the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance programs in Narrowsburg.
The Borscht Belt has always fascinated the comic/actress/writer – she’ll see Mal Z. Lawrence at Blanche’s Diner in Mongaup Valley and she’s, well, plotzing.
“I’m so wrong for my generation,” Baade confessed with a laugh over lunch on one of her recent trips “home” to Callicoon for the town’s annual tractor parade.
“I’m a Borschtophile – the Borscht Belt was alive when I was kicking,” Baade adds. “My sister went to Woodstock . . . I watched Milton Berle.”
People who came out of the Catskills hotels were true performers, Baade explained.
“It didn’t matter what kind of comic you were, you had to hold the audience, you had to be really, really good – that’s all that mattered.
“Comics of this generation are losing that,” she continued, “like the ability to roast.”
Deanna’s story isn’t Baade’s story. She didn’t have famous comics coming down from the heavens to talk in her closet.
But she’s fought tooth and nail to get where she’s gotten, a story her character could relate to.
Baade used to get what she calls the “spinnies” – she’d black out, visions in front of her face would starting turning round and round.
Eventually the comic found out she had a brain tumor that was causing epilepsy.
Working was almost impossible, and eventually her condition led to brain surgery.
But that didn’t solve the problem. While trying to run after a 4-year-old day in and day out (Baade and husband Jason have a daughter, Phoebe), she was dealing with a mixture of medicines that she said was “crippling.”
From November to March, she was almost “incapacitated.”
That’s when she was writing “Freddie” – a period she barely remembers.
“I just did it so I could be doing something,” Baade recalled. “I researched the hell out of it – for another play – and I always wanted to do something on this.”
Baade was proud of “Vincent” – last year’s Fringe showing, named after the main character, the cockroach. But this time she’s going to be at the Fringe Festival at the top of her game – doctors pronounced her epilepsy-free in March.
“I’m getting another chance,” she said. “I know the writing is good, I know it’s an interesting story.”
And Baade will get the chance to control almost all of the production.
She has a director, Alysa Wishingrad, who “gets it,” and Baade is the star of the show – other characters will be done with voiceovers and Baade is testing her muscle with different voices.
“The thing that’s tricky about this from an actor’s point of view is doing a lot of the voices that can’t be a voiceover,” she explained.
Baade is getting help from Jason, a former actor who is studying microbiology at SUNY New Paltz.
She’s also enlisted the help of Dara Wishingrad – her director’s sister – who did the sound for “Vincent.”
The sisters are incredible to work with, Baade said, and they’ve been a big help.
This play basically fits into Baade’s car – a big thing because the festival hasn’t even assigned them a venue in the city yet, and all the practice is being done in the New Paltz area.
“We’re not guaranteed storage space, we’re not guaranteed wing space, anything,” Baade explained. “With this, it doesn’t matter – we can do it on a cabaret stage if we have to.”
She’s “come into the technical age” using projections for a lot of the set and was even rehearsing with another actor via the phone before the character’s part was made into a voiceover.
Baade is willing to try a lot of new things this year. She’s still nervous – she has a lot of lines to learn, and the whole process is nervewracking.
“I know what to do now, I know what not to do,” she said of working off a year’s experience. “I’m impressed I could do it when I was as sick as I was – if I could do that, I could do this.”
There’s prestige attached to this, of course – to be recognized for her writing is an honor.
“Writing is something I’ve been doing since I was a kid,” she said, shrugging. “It’s something I just do – acting is hard.”
And it’s something she can see Terry and Ed bringing their friends to – while “Vincent” could “offend some sensibilities.”
“It’s a good cross-section,” Baade said of “Freddie.” “There is some swearing, but she does have a Catskills timing to her speech.
“It’s entertaining,” she noted with a laugh. “I swear to God, it’s a trip in my own head.”
The play will be performed five times during the festival – sometime between August 13 and 29.
For ticket information, visit

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