Dallas — Surprises. That's what greeted me after every turn of the weekly show of Four Day Weekend East, the Fort Worth improv institution now putting down a second set of stakes in Dallas (hence the “East”), when I visited a month ago.
For example, the cast invited me to their green room for a pre-show interview. I felt a little sorry for them at that point because there was but one other group of patrons in the vast space and showtime was drawing near. When I returned to my seat, 15 minutes later, the house was 80 percent full. By the time the curtain rose, it was about 95 percent.
That vast space was another surprise. The standard for improv theaters, even pretty famous national ones, is a small, crowded room that glass-half-full are intimate and unpretentious, and glass-half-empty are dingy and suffocating.
Not this place. It is the most opulent improv theater in the area by a country mile—it was renovated from the space that was occupied for 12 years by Contemporary Theatre of Dallas—perhaps rivaled only by their Fort Worth base. Love seats. Balcony seating. An after-party deck. Golden chairs.
It's all a part of the vibe they are trying to create: one that includes $25 show tickets and no food beyond bar snacks. It's all very calculated, co-founder David Wilk tells me. There are already enough places to eat in the Greenville neighborhood they've called home since February. What they want is to provide for the area is a destination. An event.
And do they ever. The troupe on Oct. 27 consisted of Wilk, fellow Fort Worth veterans and co-founders Frank Ford and Troy Grant, and Dallas newcomers Colten Winburn and Daniel Matthews, who are experienced, respected, and well-known improvisers elsewhere in Dallas. Jordan Fruge is the musical director. The expanded 4DW cast now numbers 17, including its first woman mainstage cast member, Emily Zawisza. Members rotate in the four Fort Worth performances each weekend (two Friday, two Saturday), and the one on Saturdays in Dallas.
Without fail, they emphasized their high production values in interviews. “We married comedic aspects with theatrical ones, as with our music and lighting,” says Wilk.
“We quickly embraced the theatrical elements of high production values,” adds Ford.
This all can sound a bit like fluff before having seen the show, but it's true—and that was the final surprise. This is one elaborate production. Half the segments had prerecorded video intros worthy of network sitcoms. They seamlessly integrate elements like live video and rapid-fire costume changes (or costume creations on the fly, largely thanks to Matthews, who's also a puppeteer). There was more thought put into all elements of lighting, from spotlights to changing colors, than I've ever seen in an improv show before.
Most importantly, it was funny. The format is short form with heavy audience participation. For a lot of their acts, they often borrow from the Armando style of improv, in which a subject (in each case here, an audience member) is interviewed onstage by one player, giving the other players an opportunity to quick-change, listen, and think about what they want to try to do.
There were many improvised songs, all witty, all well-done. The crowd loved it and the bond between the performers and the audience was palpable.
The Nov. 24 performance is at 9 p.m. Beginning Dec. 1, performances are 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays. The plan for 2019, Wilk says, is to expand to four performances each weekend in Dallas.