Dallas — The deeper you get into an improv festival, the more improv insular it gets. Boundaries dissolve, rules bend to breaking, and mental filters fall to the wayside. So many of them have massed by the fest’s conclusion that non-improv people become like anthropologists watching wild human improvisers in their natural state.
- When improvisers improvise for other improvisers, things get weird quick.
- Kyle Bradford is quiet enough and strange enough to be troubling.
- If more than 20 improvisers are together in a confined space, various emergency vehicles should probably be on call.
- Jeff Swearingen has a dirty mind.
- Improvisers enjoy immensely setting up another improviser in a challenging position and then watch them work out of it. They’re rather wicked in that way.
- Tyler Bryce of Red Dirt Improv is a maniac and a prime example of how of Oklahoma can warp your brain. (So he moved to Austin to warp it another way.)
- David Courtright of Red Dirt Improv is all that, plus the quickest, most sarcastic, wit, south of Chicago.
- These improvisers get very, very excited about peanut butter and jelly, to the point of stomping and shouting in unison about it.
- Liz Robinson should be bottled and sold as a mood lifter.
- Many of these folks are so deep down the rabbit holes of games, sci-fi and general nerdism it’s wise not to follow if you desire to stay sane.
In the first set of the night, Red Dirt Improv came on like a tornado. Some of the guys are giant-sized, which creates dynamic energy shifts. They excel when members do ridiculous activities in unison such as a roar-tet of Chewbaca singers performing the Star Wars theme, or get entirely physical and create things from their bodies like giant ladders.
Long-form improv that is sprung from just one short suggestion can end up wandering nowhere. A bigger bed of source material creates a bed of choices that a group can improvise a narrative from. A slip of paper with an audience suggestion was drawn from a goldfish bowl: “We will rock you.” That prompted a troupe member to offer a story of his baby sister falling head first down a remote mountain crevice. Another contributed an insane tale of daredevil swimming through underground caves. And off they went.
Red Dirt Improv used an intriguing interruption technique of a member passing through a scene to give direction. One might spout sound effects and motions of sparks to indicate a fire broke out, or simply specify that several hours had passed. It gratefully speeded things along. They abounded in creative devices. A character playing an inarticulate doofus was counseled to try and express himself through song lyrics. Much merriment ensued.
The Victims of Dallas also started from a deeper well of source material by interviewing an audience volunteer about their fears, dreams, favorite actors, and worst birthday memory. The next 30 minutes overflowed with strange moments and nonsensical entanglements, often very funny and sometimes even made sense. It started in mythology, with Jeff Swearingen as a House of Cards version of Odin, and got nerdier as it went along until it was deep into the alt-world of gamers.
Final set of the festival was an All-Star Jam featuring performers from at least 10 ensembles doing improv games ala Whose Line Is It Anyway? Sounded like a good idea. Sometimes performers who’ve never worked together brew spontaneous magic; and sometimes they just miss cues. At times, you yearned for the seamlessness of duos and groups who’ve been together for years.
Even so, All-Star Jam started out hot with a game that lined up five improvisers, assigned each a wacky musical style such as pirate, West Canadian ska, and sexually frustrated Christian gospel. A conductor switched the different styles on and off like a possessed radio tuner, concluding with them all firing off together. Other games then were tried, some of them way too complex for performers to follow, much less the audience. But the takeaway from the jam was this: Kenny Madison of Red Dirt Improv is on 100 percent of the time, an effervescent tank of a man born to creatively rumble.
Throughout the fest, improvisers and attendees were invited to write down words, sentences and suggestions on slips of paper and place them in the fishbowl. To conclude the fest, Jeff Swearingen and John Rawley of The Victims alternated reading the sentences aloud while attempting to forge some kind of conversation. Some examples:
- Put down the giraffe and step away from the stroller.
- I want to throw up through my eyeballs.
- People are inspired by your farts.
- I like to put bread in my nostrils.
- That cow is so cute.
Plus, of course, linguistic jokes like “My Dixie’s wrecked.” By the end, the bowl was empty, the floor strewn with crumpled bits of paper, and the beasts were released to linger in the lobby, reluctant to return to the real world.