This will be a slightly different post from my previous ones, it also won’t be exceedingly long like my previous ones. My notes from the Eric Hunicutt workshop will come tomorrow. No picture because I couldn’t find one that would do this post justice.
The last 8 months have been a completely different feeling from anything I’ve done in my life to this point. No, I’m not talking about getting married, that is on it’s own pedestal of amazing things that nothing else in my life will ever touch. I’m talking about what my life has been like since I began taking improv classes at Coldtowne Theater in Austin.
It started innocently enough. I was taking “serious” acting classes at the State Theater School of Acting in the Fall of 2010. I did this partly because I wanted to get in to acting and see what it was all about, and partly because I needed a creative outlet in Austin for performance. Being a musician you would think that it would be easy to find something like this in Austin, but there are so many talented musicians living in Austin that it’s harder than you would think, and I had done band/orchestra concerts my entire life and needed something more to quench my performance thirst. The classes were fun and enjoyable and very interesting to me in regards to being another character. There was one class in particular where we had an assignment for the week where we were to find one thing we do a lot of during the week and really pay attention to how we did it. Something physical. Mine, coincidentally enough, was drinking a beer. The next week we came in to class and had to mime the act that we had been doing all week. After we worked through miming our act we got into a two person scene and had to improvise our dialogue while we were doing our physical act. It was the most fun I had in class. I can’t explain it. It was something about the organic nature of the scene, not knowing what was coming up, reacting realistically to what was happening around us, etc. It was something that really caught my attention.
There was an improv class taught by Irene White that happened next door during our class time and we always heard them screaming and stomping and such and I thought “that sounds really fun” and had made up my mind to give improv a try the next session, this fact was furthered by my acting coach Amber Dupuy told me after class that I should try improv, she thought I would be good at it. I was set to sign up for classes at The State for the Spring of 2011 not long after that. Then, fate intervened. I was sitting around a Friday night in October bored (as I usually was Friday nights) and decided to look up places to see comedy in Austin. I already knew of Cap City Comedy Club but I didn’t really want to go see stand up, I can see stand up on Netflix and Comedy Central whenever I wanted. I had always been a fan of both versions of Whose Line is it Anyway? and new a bit about improv from reading bios of the first Saturday Night Live casts (I had heard of Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade) so I decided to Google Austin Improv. I saw a couple theaters listed but one that caught my eye was putting on a sketch show that night entitled “Rapture the Flag”. I thought the name was hilarious and it peeked my interest. This place was Coldtowne Theater.
I showed up that night, feeling like a complete douche for sitting there alone at the wobbly tables next to the bar with some random person sitting there staring at me while I waited for the house to open, but I stuck through it by reading shit on Facebook on my iPhone. Needless to say, after the show, I was hooked to this small theater. I think it was the fact that it was kind of run down and the stage was right next to the audience, but there was something about the aesthetic of the theater that really struck a chord with me, so I went back the next night. There I was introduced to some of the most amazing and funny things I had ever seen. Midnight Society, Frank Mills, Stool Pigeon…I couldn’t believe some of the things that I was seeing going on onstage, and I was crying tears from laughing so hard at the wittiness of the actors. Then, after one of the shows, I think it was Jastroch after Stool Pigeon, mentioned that they taught classes there. I now knew where I was going to train for improv.
As luck would have it, a couple weeks later, the Groupon for that day was taking an entire session of Level 1 Improv classes at Coldtowne, so I immediately bought it. My classes started the first weekend in January (if I remember correctly) and it was such a blast. The other students seemed really cool, I had a really awesome teacher (Todd Schanbacher) and it was just a chance to unwind after a long week of teaching. The next week we were asked if two people would volunteer to be in the All-Stars show the next Sunday and I jumped at the opportunity. When that Sunday came around I was so nervous because I wanted to be funny and make people laugh and all that crap. I was so nervous during the show that I didn’t even try to get up onstage until Emma Holder grabbed my hand and pulled me up there, and even though I still remember the two scenes I was in that show and I now look back at those thinking “What the hell was that shit? You denied someone, you changed things, what the hell were you thinking?!” Of course, I didn’t know what I know about improv now at that time, but it’s still weird looking back on that performance. Be that as it may, the performance bug had caught me. I was at Coldtowne as much as possible. I was there every Friday-Sunday and started going to some of the weekly shows as well. I started getting to know the other performers and students, I got to know the owners of the theaters, I became a “regular” audience member. In my first after Level 1 Notes session I was told that I’m at the theater more than most of the actors, which was probably true at that time.
The more I stuck around (and there was a 3 week time where I was at the theater literally every night) the more I got to know the other performers and students, the more I noticed something about Coldtowne. Every one there was awesome. I mean, really awesome. Every one was extremely supportive, they would talk to you even if they didn’t know you that much, they would tell you good job when you performed, and they would invite you out after shows to hang just because you were there. It was something amazing. It was really the first time that I felt completely included in a group since I had moved to Austin. The community surrounding this small theater in North Austin was outstanding. I started getting to know everyone there, mostly because they didn’t really have a choice since I was there all the time. I really felt like people “got” me there because we were all there for one reason, to do made up comedy on stage. I think this want of a common goal is one thing that really brings the theater together as a true community. It’s just like being on stage during an improv show, you support your troupe mates no matter what. It’s kind of the same thing at Coldtowne. Every one is there for a common goal, every one is there to make the best, most kick ass improv they can, and every one there is completely supportive of whatever crazy ideas you want to try (2 guys, a girl, and Four Loko; Buddy Daddy; Idiot Box). The term “Alternative Comedy” is very true when it comes to all the things I’ve seen at Coldtowne.
This sense of community is what has kept me there for 8 months now, and with two more sessions to go before I graduate from the Conservatory. While I can’t be at the theater as much as I’d like now since I live farther away, I still like to be involved as much as possible. The theater has come to define my life since I started there, improv and sketch comedy has become an obsession for me. I can’t get enough reading or watching of improv, I’m constantly hearing about troupes I need to check out and such, and I’m meeting a ton of new people in Austin through workshops and new sessions starting at Coldtowne every 8 weeks. And the one thing that keeps me there and keeps me coming back is the ability to perform at the theater so much and being able to perform with all the people associated with the theater. Coldtowne Theater, and to a slightly slightly lesser extent the improv community, have meant so much to me and my life since I began that I can’t imagine the last 8 months without them. If there is one major regret in my life it is the fact that I wish I had heard of this amazing place when I first moved to Austin, just so I could have had 6 more months to take it in as much as possible before I moved. To wrap up I would just like to send my thanks out to Arthur Simone, Justin York, and Michael Jastroch for starting and maintaining something that has meant so much to so many people, and for creating something that changed my life for the better. Thank You.
“The three greatest influences upon my life have been psychoanalysis, narcotics and improvisational theater.” – Del Close (minus the psychoanalysis and narcotics for me)