Dallas — Is bigger really better? When it comes to improv troupes, too many players on stage at a given time can get cumbersome as people talk over one another, and the scene quickly dissolves into chaos.
But when it works, having a large group of people thinking, acting and playing as one can create that unique performance many comedians strive for.
At this year’s Dallas Comedy Festival, a couple of large troupes are coming to Deep Ellum with hopes of achieving that level of singularity. More than 75 acts are set to take the Dallas Comedy House stages starting Wednesday, March 28, culminating with a multifaceted show Saturday, March 31, led by Sasheer Zamata.
3Peat out of Chicago brings a high-energy set with long-form improv scenes full of cast members, who also all happen to be black. 3Peat members tired of being the lone non-white person in comedy troupes and decided to create their own group. They’ve been named Best Non-Harold Team at iO Chicago the past two years and will be performing at DCH Friday night at 10:30 and Saturday at 9 p.m. in addition to teaching classes earlier each day.
This year’s festival has a lot to offer a wide range of audiences,” according to Maggie Rieth-Austin, executive producer of DCH’s 9th annual festival. “From current students, who are always hanging around here trying to learn new tricks, to graduates, looking to come back and just see a show, to comedy nerds looking to nerd out,”
About one-third of this year’s acts are from outside the Dallas area. It speaks to the niche the festival has carved out for itself in the ever-expanding Dallas comedy scene. In addition to DCH and Pocket Sandwich Theater — which combined stage live stand-up and improv shows almost every night — Fort Worth-based Four Day Weekend recently opened another venue in Lower Greenville. To boot, Stomping Ground Company will open its new Dallas home in April.
It’s a good time to be a comedian in DFW, and industry types are taking note. Rieth-Austin said major talent scouts from LA will be at this year’s festival, searching for the next big thing among the more-seasoned comics while also probably scarring the bejesus out of the greener talent.
Rieth-Austin anxiously awaits a sketch set by Nameless Numberhead from Charleston, South Carolina, on Saturday at 6:30.
The recently married couple of Henry Riggs and Maari Suorsa spent a half dozen years in Chicago and moved back to Henry’s hometown almost four yours ago.
“We wanted to move on from Chicago — somewhat because all our friends were leaving — but we weren't looking to go to a bigger city,” Riggs said via email earlier in this month. “I'm originally from Charleston and came up with an improv theatre there called Theatre 99. They run two big festivals and have a pretty established base of support. Our thought was that we could go to a smaller market and build something we thought was interesting on our own terms, borrowing from what we learned and enjoyed in Chicago. Oddly enough, it's been much easier to tour out of Charleston but we definitely miss Chicago a whole bunch.”
Riggs and Suorsa build a soundtrack ahead of a show and then use foot pedals throughout the performance to transition from scene to scene. Their show “is best described as post-apocalyptic vaudeville, falling somewhere between surveillance chic and voyeurism of the mundane.”
The couple is excited to see what is going on with improv and sketch troupes heretofore unseen by them.
“Larger cities like Chicago definitely expose you to tons and tons of great work,” Riggs said. “So, for comedy, there's just so much stuff going on to inspire and broaden your understanding about your own comedic voice. Certain schools focus on different things. You get to see ensemble work, you get to see solo performance, you get theatrical elements infused, music elements … all kinds of stuff. Festivals are great to experience those different styles of performance, different voices, and just soak it all in. It's a nice cross-section of folks doing comedy all around the country, and just a great opportunity to see what people are working on.”
For more info on schedules and tickets, click here.