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.
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.
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.
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.