The ‘Powerz That Be’ at ColdTowne Theater have asked the cast and directors of ‘Express Yourself’ to write some sad-sack sappy shit about the show. What follows is said sad-sack sappy shit.
‘Express Yourself’ is THE most meaningful show I’ve ever done. Not only was I able to improvise with some of the most talented and supportive comedians in Austin, but we collaborated to speak honestly about issues that truly mattered to each of us conveying true moments and emotions that often made us feel our most vulnerable.
I joined because there was going to be another Salvadorian in the cast and I wanted to brag about it to my mom. The result was creating a show that made all others seem like they were missing something.
‘Express yourself’ was a show where I could make fun of all of my peers in high school while also talking about real issues that affect us all.
A wise, and totally stacked, man named Ryan Darbonne M.D. once said, “The revolution will not be televised but rather hidden under the guise of a dick joke” Ok, fine. It’s some dumb shit I made up but it’s a sentiment that I firmly believe in. Comedy, as an art form, has always been an important tool to address sociopolitical issues in an all-inclusive way. If you’re laughing with someone a ‘message’ or unique point of view is much easier to digest than the bullshit didacticism found in drama (‘Do the Right Thing’ vs. ‘Crash’ anyone?). When Frank asked me to help co-direct ‘Express Yourself’ I was elated. An opportunity to work closely with an improviser/director I have an immense amount of respect for? Fuck yeah! A chance to subvert racial stereotypes and make a live, predominately white, studio audience uncomfortable with some comedic real talk? Frank, you had me at ‘Hello Kunta’ (btw please stop calling me that. It was funny the first time…).
From the get-go the show felt like something special. Once the groundwork was laid out, the tone set and the cast assembled I knew we had something great. Every week our cast of insanely talented players pushed themselves and managed to tackle serious topics (some more heartbreaking than others) with a comedic professionalism that never belittled the subject matter. They forced themselves to be vulnerable, played deplorable characters and fucking killed every single (sold out) performance. ‘Express Yourself’ would NOT have been what it was without them. I’m insanely proud to have been a part of it.
I’m going to remember this show for a long time. This cast was so open, warm, and funny. There should be more comedy shows that take these kinds of risks.
The show was a dream come true for me; I mean who doesn’t want to work a demanding fulltime job then spend the weekend pretending to do that same exact thing in front of a room full of strangers? In all seriousness though, ‘Express Yourself’ was a dream come true for me as an educator. It was very refreshing to use my first love, acting/performing, to explore and improve my second love, educating low-income students. I’m very proud of the work that our cast was able to accomplish and excited at the prospect that the show broadened some minds and opened some hearts.
Laura de La Fuente:
Deb and I are two twin bastion baked beans in a bean pod, which is to say that Deb is what my heart looks like. I think it’s like that for most of the players in the show. Each of the characters we played were personal extensions of ourselves. Deb is basically my heart with legs, a Boston accent, and a Red Sox baseball cap. I think ultimately what I learned from the show is that the feelings of adolescence – the angst, the pain, the confusion, the heartache, the yearning – never really go away. Check the internet sometime y’all. It’s filled with inspirational quotes aimed at adults on self-doubt and soul-searching… those “adolescent feelings” are really just human feelings. I still wish I could go back in time and tell my adolescent self “it’s ok – you are not your emotions. You’re bigger than them, and you’ll learn what that means some day. Please be kind to yourself.”
‘Express Yourself’ taught me how important it is to bring awareness to what matters to you. You don’t need to be perfectly articulate. Just be brave and talk about it from your heart. Just talk.
Oh my gawuhd I miss this show so hard already.
As an improviser, this show pushed me to create goals beyond getting laughs. Being funny almost became irrelevant. Performing in a show that ignites conversation around topics I deeply care about felt like a responsibility. As a person of color it was empowering. We were able to evoke emotion through scenes touching on topics that, too often, hit home personally but may never cross the minds of many of our audience members. That was truly cathartic for me.
‘Express Yourself’ was an interesting and fulfilling experience for me. Every show we dealt with subject matters that weren’t inherently funny (sometimes they were downright tragic) while still being able to put on a hilarious show. I enjoyed working with and learning from the cast members and directors, as well as opening my mind as a performer and as a human who lives in a world riddled with the issues we addressed.
‘Express Yourself’ was one of the most challenging and rewarding improv shows I’ve done and featured an incredibly smart and talented cast of players. We didn’t go too deep into the issues on every show but when we did you could feel its impact on the audience. I’m grateful to Frank and Ryan for having the courage to do this show and I hope it inspires more work like it in the Austin improv community.
My whole reason for getting into improv was to have an outlet for self-expression. So when the opportunity to be in a show called ‘Express Yourself’ came up it seemed like a no-brainer. After all, performing for an audience of people who are at least somewhat interested in what you have to say is a lot healthier than getting into arguments with random strangers in the comments sections of Austin American Statesman articles. In everything I do I try to approach it from a place of truth and love…this show was no different. In particular, ‘Express Yourself’ forced me to get out of my comfort zone of quick wit and banter and required me to really dig deep and be more vulnerable on stage. I also had to quiet my inner contrarian. Instead of just vocalizing an opposing viewpoint I really had to strive to show or understand how that viewpoint came to be. I think that is where the impact comes from and why the show has been so popular. It has allowed people to experience points of views they don’t regularly get to see.
‘Express Yourself’ has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Going into it, I was terrified. Coming out of it, I don’t know how I’m ever going to improvise again. First of all, I’ve never had a co-director like Ryan Darbonne. In any improv project, I’m the one who’s always way too committed to putting effort into the show. Ryan was right there with me, excited and exhausted. He’s smart and playful and just a comedy genius. But, so was everyone on the cast (Suck it, Ryan!). I have never directed a cast that was so willing to meet the high standards that I set for them. For the show to work, they had to be completely vulnerable about their identities for seven weeks straight. The bar was really high, and they went way over it. Nobody involved was just looking for stage time; they all wanted the show to be really good. When you have so many people committed to making a good show, it’s hard for me to accept any credit. It just felt so much bigger than me.
‘Express Yourself’ was such a fun and exciting show. I loved the polish the directors push so hard for. I loved the characters we got to create. I loved the subject matter we tackled. I loved how the show wasn’t afraid to “go there”. I loved the moments of vulnerability that people had. I loved the wild, crazy, and silly moments that were earned. I just loved this show and will always remember it as something unique.
Racism, police brutality, gentrification, etc – these are topics that we should all learn and talk about more but don’t because it can be uncomfortable. The show gave audiences, and myself, a way to explore a hard topic while making it personal, palatable and funny at the same time. And people liked it. There are probably elements of this show that could be used in real-life conversations to discuss these issues. ‘Express Yourself’ was special to me because it was the first time I wasn’t one of the few brown people on stage. In a way, and maybe just for me, it was relieving to not have to feel the burden of representation and be among players who, in some form or fashion, take part in the shared experience of being a minority. We just came to have fun, be real and express ourselves.
This has absolutely been one the most gratifying experiences I have had in improv. To play with a cast that was primarily people of color and to tackle difficult topics was enormously rewarding. The fact that I was able to get on stage and make jokes about pupusas (Google it and then go get you some) was so rewarding in the sense that I was able to bring so much of my own identity to the stage in a way I had never been able to.