Don’t Let the Night Catch You: NightWatch Producers, Damn Gina

Members of Damn Gina in NightWatch: Ronnita Miller, Xaria Coleman and Maggie Maye.

Damn Gina has been filling houses and winning audiences since the five founding members (Cené Hale, Maggie Maye, Ronnita Miller, Tauri Laws-Phillips and Xaria Coleman) met and started the troupe at ColdTowne in 2015. Quickly establishing themselves as audience and scene favorites, they have played all over Austin and recently won the B. Iden Payne Award for Outstanding Improv Troupe, 2016.

Our interview with Damn Gina’s Ronnita Miller and NightWatch director Erica Lies follows. You can also check out their recent interview with the Daily Texan.

Damn Gina's Maggie Maye and Ronnita Miller in NightWatch. Photography by Steve Rogers Photography.

Damn Gina’s Maggie Maye and Ronnita Miller in NightWatch. Photography by Steve Rogers Photography.

What inspired you when creating NightWatch?
Ronnita L. Miller – This show was inspired by a show we put up in December 2015 where the members of Damn Gina did monologues and scenes based on our own interactions with police officers. In these stories, we shared insight as to how people of color are treated in routine situations such as traffic stops and how our treatment may differ from our white counterparts.

Drew Wesley is rumored to play the investigator/detective and the whole cast is a super solid crew. Can you tell us about the cast and what they bring to the show?
Ronnita L. Miller- The whole cast is encouraged to play investigator/detectives and suspects. We have a great cast of very strong improvisors. We all get along very well. The cast is looking for interesting points of view that are presented at the top of the show when we profile the type of suspects that might commit the crime that we are investigating.

Erica: The cast is amazing. I don’t know how we got this lucky, but every person brings so much both in terms of character work and bringing great details and premises to scenes. They all make me laugh til my stomach hurts.

Ha, Drew is wonderful, but whoever heard that rumor must get their news from Donald Trump. I wanted to be conscious of whether what we’re making onstage just recreates the power dynamics of wider society, and the last thing we need is another story where a white dude has power over women of color. So instead everyone switches roles.

The members of Damn Gina play the lead detectives and the rest of the cast plays everyone else, including sometimes other investigators, the police commissioner, the  DA. Sometimes that’s Drew with his sweetly bungling detectives, and other times it’s Linzy Beltran as a cop that gets too close to her cases, or Rachel Austin as a Doogie Howser teen cop.

Maggie Maye, Laura de la Fuente and Frank Netscher in NightWatch. Photo by Steve Rogers Photography.

Maggie Maye, Laura de la Fuente and Frank Netscher in NightWatch. Photo by Steve Rogers Photography.

Is this a police procedural? What was your inspiration for the show?
Ronnita L. Miller – I would say it is a procedural. We tried to watch as many detective and procedural television shows to get a sense of the lingo and the tone. We didn’t want to repeat what we did in December 2015 because we each only have a finite number of stories and didn’t want to repeat those stories as they may lose impact. We thought it would be fun to use stories from the audience on times in which they were falsely accused to illustrate how personal bias and other factors can come into play when investigating a crime.

Erica: I see it as a procedural because the “crime” is wrapped up by the end. Even if the person caught and arrested isn’t actually the guilty party, the case is closed. Even so, I also wanted it to have elements like more modern crime shows that also delve more into the cops’ lives and their motivations. But here we’re twisting the procedural a bit, too. In cop shows, the crimes are always high stakes — murdered women, organized crime syndicates, so many serial killers — and the police almost always get the right people. We wanted to use the suggestion to both treat something small and ridiculous as high stakes, but also to look at a story that isn’t quite tied up as neat and pat as a procedural. We also wanted to mess with the tropes of crime shows. They’re so common you could make a bingo card out of them — masculine hero with a dead wife, excessively tough lady cop, “the DA’s breathing down my neck!”, the renegade who dares wear jeans, the captain saying “turn in your gun and badge.” Even just the mood and the deadly seriousness of those shows, it’s all ripe for mockery.

NightWatch with Xaria Coleman, Maggie Maye, Ronnita Miller and Laura de la Fuente

NightWatch with Xaria Coleman, Maggie Maye, Ronnita Miller and Laura de la Fuente. Photography by Steve Rogers Photography.

Why NightWatch?
Ronnita L. Miller – NightWatch came from a few different places. I think all the members of Damn Gina grew up hearing their parents say something along the lines of “Don’t let the night catch you…” which was meant to be a warning not to be running around at night where you could be mistaken for someone up to no good. If we think about Trayvon Martin, you can understand why this warning is so important. My parents had a rule that I could not be out after the streetlights came on or I would be in trouble.

If you think about police or neighborhood watch patrols, they usually take place at night when the streets are empty and danger is more pronounced. So we took those inspirations and combined it with the Game of Thrones Night’s Watch and it became NightWatch.

What else should we know about the show?

Erica: It’s raucous and fun and the whole cast is just so insanely funny. So, come prepared for an ab workout.

Damn Gina’s NightWatch plays the ColdTowne Main Stage through the end of February, every Saturday night at 8:30pm.  Advance tickets are recommended.

Missed Connections ATX: Best of What You’re Missing

Missed Connections cast member reads a Craigslist post during the show

ColdTowne Theater’s newest main stage show, Missed Connections ATX explores the sentimental, fantastical, and downright raunchy nature of austin’s most impersonal personal ads. We sat down to talk to show’s director, Chelsea Bunn, who handpicked a list of her favorite ads that aren’t going to make it into this run of shows.

Chelsea Bunn, Director of Missed Connections

Director of Missed Connections

First of all, tell us a little about the show?

The show has a five act structure and marries short- and long-form improv. Each act is inspired by ads from Craigslist’s Missed Connections section, which the cast has never seen before!

Over the course of collecting ads for the show, how many ads do you think you’ve read?

Probably over 1,000! The show spans Central Texas, so in addition to Austin, I’ve also been pulling ads placed in Round Rock, Georgetown, San Marcos, and San Antonio.

Wow, that’s a lot of personal ads! Have you noticed any trends?

I’ve seen plenty of dick pics (reader beware! lol). A lot of Missed Connections seem to occur in gyms, barber shops, and grocery stores– where it’s generally expected that you mind your own business. I will say that I have no interest in entering a 24-Hour Fitness or Gold’s Gym locker room or sauna ever again… Some Central Texans are very free sexually!

Missed Connections cast member reads a Craigslist post during the show

Missed Connections cast member reads a Craigslist post during the show

OK, tell us about this list you’ve prepared for us…

Alas, we could only cram so many wonderful ads into our six week run. So, I curated a list of some personal favorites that aren’t making the run of shows. I hope you enjoy– and come see the show!

Ladies & Gentlemen, without any further adieu, Chelsea’s list:

I saw you on the game show this past week!!! – m4w (Austin)
I saw you on The Price Is Right this past week (I think it aired 1/11/17). You are gorgeous!!! Bubbly personality too! That’s a rare combo. Are you single? This is the weirdest way to meet, but my whole life has been full of really cool, yet weird stories. Hopefully this will be an ongoing story!!! Your first name starts with a “C.” If you see this, please reply with your full first name as the subject of your email. Also, please tell me more about yourself and send me a picture of you. I’m a great guy who will dispel all of the Craigslist stereotypes! I’ll send a picture with my reply to you along with more about myself. Thanks!!!

Your Name is Joe & Your Wife Works in Leander (Leander)
I don’t really know you but i know & work with your wife at a doctors office. Since i work with her, i don’t want to create work related drama, because i need my job. So i’m hoping someone on here knows you and can relate the message back that your wife is having an affair with someone here.

I don’t want to create unneeded issues for anyone else for my lack of detail on who & where. So if you think this is you, and want me to verify. Reply with your wife’s first name and if it’s her, i’ll reply back with her last name & vehicle she drives in.

Missed Connections cast during the opening weekend.

Missed Connections cast during the opening weekend.

Early morning..I need to learn basic vehicle maintenance – w4m (Southwest Pkwy)
Thank you to the man that changed my tire in the cold this morning. I don’t know who you are, and doubt you will see this. I was scared and cannot thank you enough! You were gone before I had a chance to stop and pay you because I had my mom on the phone. I feel so bad because it was freezing cold, still dark and you still helped. Thank you so much, I was really worried when you first stopped..(too many horror movies I guess)

Guy eating potato – w4m
I’m sorry for staring at you while you enjoyed your potato.

It looked really good. I’m going to get a hot plain jane potato soon.

that was some party. sad it had to end. – m4ww (my Dr. office)
The dr said everything would be fine in a few weeks. I should have known better. you guys are too tempting.

Lastly, and not for the squeamish…

farting in my mouth – m4w (my bed)
age: 35

I miss the way you hold your ass open and held your stinky farts in till I put my lips around your puckered asshole and then push out a hot steaming bomb in my mouth and I’d lick the inside of your ass while you blow out.

For more Missed Connections entertainment, check out Missed Connections ATX Saturdays, February 4 – March 11 starting at 7:00pm. Tickets are $12 at the door and $10 online.

Bad Ass Producer: Lindsey Moringy of “The Do Over”

Lindsey Moringy, She puts the "pro" in producer

Lindsey Moringy is #purehustle.  From producing sold out festivals (BettyFest) to packaging sold out show runs, (there’s also that little music festival she produces, too), she’s a powerhouse of strategy and execution. Also: She’s really funny. As The Do Over wraps up its run, we asked her to school us on how she approaches being a producer and to see why she’s just so dang good. 

Tell us about your background in performing and producing.

Lindsey Moringy, She puts the "pro" in producer

Lindsey Moringy, She puts the “pro” in producer

I’m a graduate of ColdTowne’s Conservatory, and am currently taking more improv classes at The New Movement. I also am one of the producers of BettyFest, an annual comedy festival that celebrates women performers. By day you can find me doing digital marketing for some of your favorite music festivals. By night you can find me performing with:

  • The Do Over (every Saturday in January, 8:30pm at ColdTowne!)
  • SheSheSheShe (see us 2/28 at ColdTowne  in SHE! True Hollywood Story!)
  • Stool Pigeon (see us at ColdTowne every Sunday at 8:30pm!)
  • Baby Bob Saget (lol we play wherever people want to see us)

I WILL NEVER NOT USE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SHOW PROMOTION AND YOU SHOULDN’T EITHER, READER FRIEND!

How did you get started?

I started taking improv classes to have an excuse to turn off my brain and force myself to have fun once a week, and I really fell in love with Austin comedy and the people who do it. I basically realized I had no hobbies, and that I was letting work stress me out all the time. I told myself that I wouldn’t join any troupes (tbh I was scared no one would want me), but then during Level 2 at ColdTowne I was asked to be in SheSheSheShe with my main babes Megan Mowry, Laura de la Fuente, Linzy Beltran, Stephanie Ard, and Jessica Vasami. I’m SO grateful they asked me to join and that they have constantly supported me ever since. Now I know so many incredible fellow improvisers who allow me to be a big ol’ dummy in front of random strangers and sweet friends on a regular basis, and that’s strangely empowering.

Tell us about the show. How did you come up with the concept?

The Do Over (FREE Deep Eddy Vodka – THIS Saturday at 8:30pm!!) is really the brainchild of a group of people, not just me. It’s also an Adam Sandler movie available on Netflix, but we didn’t know that was coming out when we first titled the show – luckily, I’d say we won that battle. My two boyfriends, Linzy Beltran (comedy boyfriend) and Aaron Walther (real life boyfriend) helped me refine the idea and build the cast.

You see, I’m a bigtime worrier. I have had a lot of moments in my life that I wish I could do over: the passive/shy way I’ve reacted to sexist remarks, not applying for out-of-state colleges,  not eating breakfast this morning, etc. I figured other people must have similar thoughts, and that it would be fun to build a show that focuses on what your life MIGHT have been like had you made the other decision, if you had one do over. Viewing yourself in an alternate reality can be fun and also terrifying, but always entertaining.

I pitched the idea to Will Cleveland who at the time did not know me. He agreed to direct the show, and I’m so glad he did – it wouldn’t be the same without him. He helped guide the cast into creating the form that the show ultimately took. He keeps us grounded and relatable. Emoji prayer hands.

What is your approach to producing? What’s a definite do and don’t?

My main secret is that I always bring La Croix to rehearsals. No one will ever be dehydrated on my watch!

DO: Trust the people you pull into your show to do a good job with it.

DONT: Get so trapped in your own head about producing a show that you forget to have fun when you’re performing. Also, don’t be stubborn about your idea because it’s going to morph with other people’s input and turn into something even better than you could have ever imagined.

Complete this sentence “a good producer is _______ and ________.”

Receptive and Creative.

What’s next for you? Are you particularly excited about any upcoming projects?

Ronnita Miller and Xaria Coleman of Damn Gina perform

Ronnita Miller and Xaria Coleman of Damn Gina perform at BettyFest, 2016

I’m going to be working on BettyFest (follow us on Facebook and Instagram @bettyfestatx!) and performing as much as I can, because at the end of the day that’s why I’m here. Not to force show promotion on you 24/7, but to have fun with my frahnds. Oh, and I’m def going to catch Damn Gina’s show Night Watch when they take over the main stage slot at 8:30pm every Saturday in February – they are unstoppable.

Don’t miss the final weekend of The Do Over, this Saturday (1/28) at 8:30pm.

Teacher Spotlight: Nathan Sowell

ColdTowne faculty and performer, Nathan Sowell.

Winner of “Best Coach” in 2016, Nathan Sowell is the complete package. Knowledgeable and encouraging as a teacher and joyful as a performer, he is a critic, audience and student favorite. We posed a couple of questions about his background and philosophy in this post.

Nathan Sowell, ColdTowne Teacher and Performer

Nathan Sowell, ColdTowne Teacher and Performer

Tell us about your background, Nathan.

I started taking improv classes in Chicago at Columbia College from a very nice man, Brian Posen. He encouraged me to continue pursuing the craft which led me to iO Chicago. There I fell in love with the art formby watching Cook County Social Club, The Reckoning, and Carl and the Passions religiously. At the time, I was taught and coached by The Improvised Shakespeare Company’s Andy Carey to whom I credit a large amount of my improv foundation. I played the occasional show with my indie team Boom Boom Washington at different indie theaters in town like Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, The Cornservatory, and The Playground.  I grew to miss Texas and its mild winters, which led me to pack up all of my stuff and move to Austin with two good friends. Within my first two weeks in town, I answered an audition notice on the AIC Forum for a ColdTowne troupe that was looking for new members, Nice Astronaut. They graciously opened their arms to me, and introduced me to ColdTowne. It was love at first sight. Over the next two years, I was able to attain something that felt missing in Chicago, reps. I was given the opportunity to hone my craft and love for improvisation, and over the last couple of years that has blossomed into not only performing but coaching and teaching some truly amazing individuals at our theater.

You won “Outstanding Coach” this year. What is your approach to coaching improv troupes?

When I begin working with a new troupe, I always start with a session that focuses on what I consider to be the fundamentals of scenework: creating and exploring your relationship with the other individual you are performing with. I strongly believe that great improv is borne out of a willingness to trust your and your scene partners natural reactions, and embrace the fear of the unknown together. With this in mind, I craft warm ups and exercises that work specific performance muscles during the coaching session. The stronger we get those muscles, the more we can rely on our instincts, as opposed to our brains, when we are up in front of an audience.

How do you approach teaching improv to brand new students when you lead the Improv 101 classes?

The same way I approach coaching and teaching normally, but with a focus on the aspects of improv that I have grown to cherish. We run exercises that focus on putting yourself out there in a room full of strangers, supporting the first offer made with haste and enthusiasm, and appreciating the unlimited potential for unique scenework that comes with collaborating with individuals from all backgrounds. In fact, that last one is something I try to instill in all of the young improvisers I come into contact with. As humans, we have the tendency to form cliques with others most like ourselves. Improv encourages, and is elevated by those of completely different backgrounds, race, age, gender identification, sexual orientation coming together and creating a group mind that can only and will only exist with that particular amalgamation of individuals. Through improvising and learning improv, we get to discover what we have in common with each other, and how different our perspectives are.

How do you feel like the Coldtowne philosophy intersects with your own approach to teaching and performing?

What really stood out to me, when I first started classes at ColdTowne, was the rich talent that was teaching. The faculty was comprised of improvisers with such varied backgrounds and philosophies. Nothing taught was ever treated as though it was sacred. We were made very well aware of the fact that the only right answer was the one that worked best for you. This allowed me to craft my own voice through the voices of my teachers. I may not have agreed with everything one particular instructor taught, but I wasn’t meant to. They provided me with the answers they had found on their journey, and I try to do the same for my students. At the end of the day, it will be up to them to decide which tools work best for themselves.

What else are you up to these days?

Along with teaching at ColdTowne, I also work for Vigilante Bar, a new board gaming bar and restaurant that is opening up right across the street from ColdTowne Conservatory. I am also in the process of creating a multitude of workshops that focus and hone some of my favorite improv skills. My ObjectWorkout workshop on Object Work will be a monthly elective open to everyone in the Austin Improv Community. You can catch me playing every Saturday in February at 7:00pm with Missed Connections ATX, and with Nice Astronaut on the second Saturday of every month at 11:30pm.

Nathan teaches our introductory Improv 101 class, every other Monday at 7pm.

Don’t Look Back: A retrospective on ’16 and look ahead w/Dave Buckman

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Now that we’ve closed the books on 2016, we sidled up to Executive Producer Dave Buckman to
talk about his first full year of programming at ColdTowne Theater to see what shows and performers had a break out run or year. 

What mainstage shows from 2016 were your favorites?
Dave: Dinner for Six, famiLIES, Elvis’ Rockin’ Nativity, Express Yourself

February - March 2016 Cast, Express Yourself

February – March 2016 Cast, Express Yourself

Were there specific performers that emerged in 2016 through the main stage runs? What makes them notable to you?

Dave: Jae Long in famiLIES… It was his first time ever doing a play and he just crushed it and carried it.  I wish we could do it this season because now that Jae has transitioned, that lead character of Francis would be amazing and so much more poignant and timely if she was playing Francis now.

Chaz Formichella in famiLIES.  This was a character Chaz had played before in the previous incarnation in 2010, and it could have been such a throwaway part in the way it was re-written, but his turn, this time, as Simon was revelatory.  He brought more depth to that role than I thought was possible, and every line he delivered perfect every night because he was listening while he was acting.

Jared Robertson, Michael Perkins and Chris McKeever in Elvis’ Rockin’ Nativity.  They play the backup band for every number playing actual tunes well, sometimes having to do it in a different key than the original or a slower tempo depending on the person singing and they also portray the Beatles and the Sex Pistols in some sketches.  A complete multi-talented power trio-delight that literally drives the show.

Sanjay Rao of Empty Promises, Midnight Society

Sanjay Rao of Empty Promises, Midnight Society

Also, Molly Moore, Kenah Benefield, Tauri Laws-Phillips, Megan Mowry, Abby Lincoln, Sanjay Rao and Will Sitters all really leveled up and, I think, found and developed the shit out of their comedic voices this year in various mainstage shows.

What show surprised you the most and why?

Dave: Express Yourself was explosive and caustic and compelling and moving.  All done with basically a Living Room format. It was exciting to see Frank Netscher and Ryan Darbonne take a simple concept that we all felt ‘meh’ about (‘An Improvised Dangerous Minds’) and subvert the genre and turn it to something deeper and beyond all of our expectations.

If you could bring back one show, which would it be?

Dave: Dinner For Six.  Which we will.

Or famiLIES….with a transitioned Jae Long

Looking ahead to 2017 and the season that has been decided for the first half of the year, what are you most excited about?  Why did you decide on these particular shows?

The Do Over and Nightwatch are proven hits.  They’ve been developing their formats in other The Do Over timeslots all during last year and are really going strong in rehearsals right now.  I’ve been to a few rehearsals and they are getting stronger and more confident with their vision.  I think adding Erica Lies as NightWatch’s director was an amazing call.

Kristin Henn’s production of Rezurangur meshes so many of my favorite genres of comedy and theater: mockumentaries, heavy metal, actual live music, and my favrote kinds of characters: over the top showbiz characters mixed with real humans behind the curtain (see: Krusty the Klown or Spinal Tap)  And the cast and live band of improvisers Kristen and Cody have assembled… it’s gonna be a doozy.

Missed Connections ATX was developed out of a short form improv game the Austin Translation cast invented in 2015. Chelsea Bunn, from that cast who hosted and developed the game wtthin that show has developed it into an hour long format.  The herat of the pitch is to  pull Missed Connection listings off of Austin’s CraigList and having them inspire the scene work, characters and relationships of a show.

And then down the road, Cortnie Jones is developing a reality show game show called The Gauntlet for May and June that is like an 8-week competition to whittle 32 improvisers down to a grand champion. I can’t wait for those finals.

If you could sum up the 2017 season in 4 words or less, thematically, how would you describe it?

Dave: Individual vs. The Collective.  Which I think is the great philosophical and political debate of our time.

Which directors and producers are you especially excited to see in the 2017 season?

Dave: Certainly, the return of our previous Artistic Director, Cody Dearing, in his first directorial show, Rezurangur, since stepping down early last year is a big deal. He has put up some of the most memorable shows in ColdTowne history and he’s not only a great guitar shredder in his own right, he’s quite possibly the best improviser/game finder/relationship builder in Austin improv, so I think that’s show is a perfect fit for him.

The co-directing combo of Mical Trejo (Latino Comedy Project) and Ben Bazan (Longtime CTer and outstanding Actor for Youth at Zach) with an all-Latina/o cast in outer space for La Frontera Final is going to bring in some amazing new theatrical perspectives that will be new for ColdTowne

Keith Horvath, who just moved down here from Chicago last summer where he was working at The Second City and The Annoyance Theater, my old haunts.  We speak the same sketch language and it’s exciting to get to share that voice with Austin.  His show, This Is (Not) The Gayest Show You’ve Seen is already in previews and if his Halloween show was any indication, this one is going to ba amazing.

Also, the announcement of any show as being “from the minds of McNichol & May” is always terribly exciting news.  

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Dave Buckman, Executive Producer

Thanks, Dave.

Dave Buckman was a director, performer and teacher for Amesterdam’s Boom Chicago (1999-2002), The Second City (2002-2014) and ColdTowne Theater (2006-present). Dave has worked in live sketch and improvisational productions with the likes of Seth Meyers, Ike Barinholtz, Jordan Peele, John Lutz, Kay Cannon, Dave Razowsky, Rebecca Drysdale, Mick Napier, Maribeth Monroe, Stephnie Weir and Jason Sudeikis and dozens more whose faces you know but don’t know by name.  

Since 2005, Dave has been living in Austin, TX with wife and creative partner Rachel Madorsky, teaching and performing with their award-winning troupe The Frank Mills and helping to establish Coldtowne theater as a hotbed for Austin’s alternative comedy scene.  
Dave has won two B. Iden Payne Awards for Excellence in Improvisational Theater, one with The Frank Mills in 2006 and one individually in 2008 and is proud to be a member of the B. Iden Payne committee in 2015-16. He is currently the Executive Producer and co-owner of ColdTowne Theater.