Denver Improv Festival – My Trip, Day 4

This post not only describes the rest of yesterday’s Denver Improv Festival events, but features the very first FOOTNOTES to appear here at The Scrawl! ((yay!))

Kelly and I ate at the Rock Bottom Brewery on 16th Street and Curtis for three reasons: 1. the food is okay, 2. it’s a block and a half from the Bovine Metropolis Theater, and 3. if you bring in your underground parking garage ticket and order something they’ll validate your parking. Back in the day when Rick and I would come and do some improv, this was standard operating procedure and, after checking in with a few locals, it’s still the preferred parking method of choice for Denver improvisers.

It’s neat to return to a venue I used to frequent so often, yet had been away from for three years. We attended all of the shows last night, so here’s a brief breakdown of who we saw:

Convention? (Denver, CO) – This large ensemble (at least 13 people) portrayed what appeared to be the final act in a running series running parallel to the national election, with last night’s show focusing on three candidates and their teams reeling in their defeat. Each team was focused on for several minutes apiece, followed by a moderated Q&A session featuring all of the characters. There were some funny moments and many of the characters established themselves as well as their relationships with each other, even across party lines (nice to see improvisers reach across the aisle). I honestly felt like I was clearly watching the finale of a show I never saw, and that left me feeling like I was missing something, but there were laughs to be had, anyway. Standout Moment(s): a clueless VP candidate (Amanda Kennedy) spouting off a slew of non sequiturs, a felonious husband and a campaign manager (Mark Shonsey) singing a cut from their new Christian rock CD.

The Sanscript Players with Joe Bill (Denver, CO / Chicago, IL) – This is the house team for the Bovine Metropolis, one of the two host theaters of the festival. This was also a large ensemble and they asked Joe Bill to play Armando for an Armando Diaz Experience. ((Named for the inventor of this longform structure, one person steps forward as “Armando” and asks for a suggestion. They tell true stories from their own life to “fill the pot” with ideas and the ensemble creates scenes inspired by the stories. The Armando steps in few scenes to fill the pot even more. A very callback-friendly, organic, and symbiotic form.)) Kelly’s a big fan of the Armando (she’s seen me do a few) and this group is clearly comfortable working with each other, getting physical, using the space, etc. Standout Moment(s): a man trying to climb out of a window over and over to avoid getting married with his friends at a triple wedding, a woman who bottles her emotions – personified by another actor popping up in a window as a disembodied head screaming to be let out, and Joe Bill on conspiracy theories: “I think conspiracy theories are natural because keeping secrets is natural. That’s why I’ve been divorced twice.”

After the show we went around the corner to Sam’s No. 3 and had malts. I had an extra malty cookies’n’cream malt while Kelly created a chocolate / mint / strawberry concoction which left our server flabbergasted. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word to describe someone, but trust me, it’s quite appropriate for her reaction. ((“In all my time here I don’t think that combo’s ever come up! That’s something unique!”))

Kumate (Chicago, IL) – This was the first of three solo shows at this year’s DIF, the others being mine and Jill Bernard’s Drum Machine. Ryan Williams took the stage in kung-fuitized wardrobe and asked his audience for a location they’ve never seen in a Kung-Fu movie; he got “Antarctica.” After a mood-setting, and funny, pan-flute song, Williams then displayed some of the most patient improv I’ve ever seen. For three minutes or so, he established the setting – a ship at sea – and three characters – a deckhand swabbing the deck, the first mate at the wheel, and the captain in the crow’s nest, all through fluid, kung-fu inspired spacework and sound effects (think of that “Sh!” “Schuh!” type of noise you hear in the kung-fu movies when someone swings a fist in the air). The first words of the show were “LAAAND HO!” and we were off. Williams created an adventure journey, a love story, and a penguin-hunting tale in his time on stage and it all came to a satisfying conclusion by the time a second pan-flute song closed the show. Standout Moment: “I’ve been eating nothing but penguin for three weeks!”

The Drinks (Denver, CO) – Mark Shonsey took the stage for a third time (he was also in Convention? and The Sanscript Players) with fellow Sanscript Player Nanna Ogburn for a duo longform structure. They established their characters, setting up their relationship of a tension-filled semi-marriage, ending with the Nanna’s character explaining, with a big grin on her face, that if he ever tried to leave she would kill him. The rest of the show became a cat-and-mouse game to see if the husband could push the seemingly goody-two-shoes woman over the edge so she finally killed him. There were plenty of laughs, though while I fully embrace John Gardner’s theory of the importance of delay in fiction, I think the audience was really just waiting for her to kill him. I wonder if part of the reason that moment (spoiler!) never came was the aftermath of that moment was because that wasn’t something they had anticipated ever happening, but man, a duo show between one live character and one dead body character could be interesting. At any rate, both players’ characters were top-notch, their interaction was the stuff you hope your students will create in your improv classes, and I laughed plenty. Standout Moment(s): After establishing his life was in danger, the uneasy lover squeaks out, “What do you want to play for game night?” and near the end of the show, after going down on one knee to beg for his life, Nanna’s character screamed in delight that he was proposing marriage (“You did the knee thing!” “No, no, a lot of people go down on one knee for a lot of reasons! Tying a shoe! Picking up a dime!”)

After this show, Kelly and I went back to the hotel and took a nap. We had over an hour and seriously, we were both pretty flippin’ tired. Hooray for king size beds with fancy-schmancy blankets and sheets!

The rest of the night was at the Impulse Theater. This is where my old improv partner, Rick Simineo, got some of his training so while it always came highly recommended, this was unfortunately my first time actually going there. It’s a cool space, a very night club / comedy club feel in the basement of a local brewery and plenty of cabaret-style seating and what looked like a well-organized list of tech candy (well-placed tech booth, solid lighting, large backstage, multiple entrance locations, etc.).

Impulse Theater (Denver, CO) – A house ensemble did a round of short-form games including Rewrite (a.k.a. Take That Back, a.k.a. Ding!, a.k.a. Should’ve Said), Forward/Reverse, and Styles Replay. They played a game similar to World’s Worst in that they’d get a suggestion for a topic of a song (dogs, cars, etc.) and would switch up a real song with lyrics pertaining to the topic. I’d never seen that game before and it killed; definitely something I’d like to try sometime. The ensemble was great, really working together well. That may be because it was their third set of the night, according to Adrian Holguin, whom I know through and have met in-person at least one or thrice before. It’s always cool to see YESand friends in the flesh and performing, and Adrian did a super-awesome job. Standout Moment(s): Michael Solomon repeating “Noooo, noooo!” ad nauseum in Forward / Reverse, a Steven Spielberg-style scene in Styles Replay featuring Adrian Holguin as Indiana “Manuel” Jones, Liberty Gordon as a ridiculously-wigged preggers secret lover, and wow, Sara Vandas can sing!

FORK (Denver, CO) – DIF co-producers Jean Schuman and Jon Lannen took the stage for their duo show and were clearly having a fun time. They opened by getting two separate suggestions and took a seat on opposite sides of the stage, creating character monologues running concurrently and every once in a while, taking inspiration from one another – a very cool exercise in listening to your partner (I might have to take this as a workshop exercise). The show featured a series of relationship-driven scenes and musical interludes provided by LA-based guest Stephen Wilder and a keyboard accompanist, Seymour Muchmore, who worked at the Brave New Workshop around fifteen years ago. FORK’s set was fun and what I usually might call “loose” but I’m going with “playful” as a show ending after 1:00am by the producers who’ve been running around for weeks getting last-minute details done shoudl be. As I said, they clearly were enjoying themselves and that sensibility carried over to the audience. Standout Moment(s): Jon going off on a Milli Vanilli diatribe, Stephen as public defender singing about what a shrew the judge (Jean) was, and Jean actually making herself out-and-out cry for her judge character.

Due to camera battery issues, the only show I got to take photos of was FORK, but here they are:

After the show, Kelly, Jill Bernard, and I headed back to the Hampton. I dropped off the ladies and had an adventure in parking. Then, sleep. Sweet sleep.

Unfortunately, the workshop I was scheduled to teach today didn’t fill, so today we’re playing it low-key. Some writing, some essay grading, some ukulele practice, some blogging, some napping, and some mindless TV watching. Tonight I appear with Curds Only (Denver, CO / Chicago, IL), then we plan to catch the rest of the shows this evening. I’ll keep you posted, dear reader.


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