Dallas — The Scream franchise of movies has grossed more than $600 million worldwide. People love to sit in dark theaters and collectively share in acted-out terror. The Dallas Comedy House is staging two shows this month that provide just that—albeit the screams are replaced by laughs.
The DCH Film Society is bringing its third annual The Improvised Horror Movie to Deep Ellum every Saturday in October at 10 p.m. (plus Friday, Oct. 30). And a group of graduates of the DCH training center is producing the first Halloween-themed sketch show at the venue with “Stage Fright.”
Tabitha Parker once again directs the The Improvised Horror Movie, which has been well received the prior two years, selling out routinely.
The production company holds closed, invitation-only auditions for the show, which is also a hot ticket among many Dallas improvisers because it’s a bit of a break from the norm. The actors need to not only be strong improvisers in a traditional sense but also able to stay in character, which has sort of been assigned to them while also playing the supporting roles of cops, reporters, citizens, etc.
“What's different about this show is the way that side support can help the players on stage,” says David Allison, a veteran DCH performer who is new to the horror movie cast. “We're empowered to use techniques like close-ups to assist the players on stage and focus them. In any improv show you want to make your scene partners look great, but the devices at our disposal in this one make it easier to do so. That, and the fact the rating is a hard R, so we can do terrible things to each other.”
Prior to each show, the cast asks the audience to name a horror movie that’s never been made. The players then decide who amongst them will play the jock, the brain, the easy girl, the virgin, the fool and the outcast. You know, all the stock characters of any and every horror movie.
The first show was titled Ultimate Massacre, and, well, you can guess what happened.
“It's definitely a more complicated show to stage, but with so many players, you have lots of options,” DCH owner Amanda Austin says. She sat out this year’s horror movie after two years as part of the cast.
“I think there is so much innate comedy in the traditional horror movie tropes, so it really blends well with improv,” Austin says. “Also, since movies are scripted, it's an interesting twist to ‘improvise’ a movie, rather than write it out as a sketch show. I think it almost gives the audience a feeling of being in on the movie, like when you watch the director's cut of a film. Everyone's watching this story unfold together. They're all part of the same experience.”
The cast uses the first act to go about setting the scene and figuring out just what horror genre this “movie” belongs in: slasher, paranormal, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, etc. This is where the players’ experience and skill are of the utmost import as the scenes need to remain somewhat ambiguous yet still build upon each other to form a cohesive show. Ultimate Massacre fell, as you can guess, into the slasher category.
At the intermission, the cast decides which one of them will be the killer, and the second act becomes a series of murders or maybe just one murder or maybe no murders or… It is improv after all. There are no rules and nothing matters.
“Everyone goes pretty hard with their character choices,” Austin says. “So it's wheels off. And sometimes, the audience just wants to see wheels off.”
Another thing audiences seem to enjoy are sketch shows, and DCH is ramping up its sketch game. In September, Austin directed Law & Order: The SVUsical, which played to sold-out shows each weekend.
Michael Corbett directs “Stage Fright” with a cast of characters, most of whom have graduated from the DCH improv program. Each cast member wrote a scene, and Corbett is tasked with making a cohesive show from the bits and ditties.
The group met in July and began throwing words on a white board to draw inspiration. Parents making their kids dress up as weird monsters to live out some sick fantasy became a running joke, and you can expect to see some scenes with awkward moments between moms and dads and tots.
Another theme will be spoofing on television shows that invariably trot out some kooky Halloween-based nonsense each October.
The first DCH Halloween-themed sketch show will take the stage Thursday, Oct. 15, and Friday, Oct. 23, culminating in shows on Friday, Oct. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 31, when everyone is encouraged to come in costume.