Fort Worth — Seems simple enough. Agree with your partner and see where it goes. Trust your partner’s idea. Bring your own ideas to light. And the next thing you know you’re getting the key to the city and are being asked to present your idea before Congress.
It’s hard not to be happy for the guys of Four Day Weekend. Their trust in each other and in the spirit of improv has catapulted them to being experts in their field.
In late 1996, David Wilk, Frank Ford and Troy Grant were improvisers without a place to play. They’d matriculated through the legendary Second City Conservatory in Chicago, and now were struggling comedians in a sea of struggling comedians.
“We were just a bunch of friends, all Dallas guys, looking for a space to put on a show, and Troy said let’s look at Fort Worth,” co-founder Wilk says. He admits some friends questioned the decision, “but we’re ‘yes, and…’ guys, so we said ‘yes, and…’ Now we’re selling out this 212-seat theater for four shows each weekend.”
They’re celebrating their 20th anniversary with a show Thursday at Bass Performance Hall. As with all of their other 5,000 shows, it will include scenes and sketches created from audience suggestions.
Wilk says they’ll also share plenty of memories from their 20 years and bring back some recognizable characters from the troupe’s earlier years.
Working It Out
While the troupe has dealt with all the ups and downs of any long-term relationship, the spirit of improv—that “Yes, and …”— propelled them to figuring out how to combine creativity with commerce to create harmony in the workplace, which is the subtitle to their book “The Art of ImproviZEN.”
This has led to the sold-out shows and ever-increasing corporate gigs.
“The mayor has called us an institution,” Wilk says. “We were just a bunch of guys looking to fill a six-week comedy run sure we’ll run out of money before that. Now here it is 20 years later and we’re the small business of the year, we have a key to the city and we’re going to hold our very own show at Bass Performance Hall. It’s incredible.”
Amanda Austin, owner of the Dallas Comedy House in Deep Ellum, says the guys at Four Day epitomize the philosophy of “yes, and…” for the comedy community and the entertainment industry as a whole.
“When we were planning the first Dallas Comedy Festival, we went out on a limb and asked the Four Day cast if they’d perform at the opening night of our festival. And in the spirit of improv, they said yes,” Austin says. “Their willingness to support the arts and DFW community, regardless of the project, is a true testament to the brand they have built.”
Wilk said the troupe’s speaking engagements now outnumber their onstage performances nearly two-to-one.
One day they led a seminar for Southwest Airlines that included a writer for the Dallas-based company’s in-flight magazine. The session begat an article in the magazine about positivity in the workplace that a congresswoman read during a flight back to D.C. She immediately took it to Connecticut Rep. John Larson, the Democratic caucus chair.
“She put it on his desk and said ‘Our meetings suck. We need these guys,’ and our lives changed overnight,” Wilk says.
A few weeks later, the group of friends who took that risk back in 1997 of opening a theater in downtown Fort Worth despite the naysayers, was explaining their understanding of the improv philosophy of “Yes, and …” to Congress.
They’ve since met Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and performed for U.S. troops overseas, in addition to the expanding corporate gigs.
Part of Four Day’s appeal is the intelligence of the humor and the dedication these men have toward making each other look good.
“They’re a class act, and their act is classy,” DCH’s Austin says.
“The audience will settle for far less, but we don’t want to just rely on fart jokes,” Wilk says. “We want to make them catch up to us. My job is to make Frank look good. Frank’s job is to make Oliver look good, and so on. If we all just do our job, it’s going to be a good show. That’s the spirit of improv.”
Wilk says after 5,000 shows, he now enjoys saying the line before the showstopper more than the line that gets the biggest laugh of the night. And because the troupe employs a lot of audience interaction, the biggest star of the night often ends up being the last person they pull up on stage.
Wilk believes that’s because of the troupe’s ethos of “have fun with, don’t make fun of” the willing participants from the audience.
It certainly makes for a memorable night for those people, and it is part of what makes Four Day Weekend a must-see whenever someone visits Fort Worth.
It really is as simple as that.