Martini Ranch’s 2nd Full Length Revue Debuts This Weekend!

Following a sold out Austin run this past spring, ColdTowne’s mostly queer sketch comedy group, Martini Ranch, returns with a new revue, Queer & Now. A light-hearted blend of social commentary and silly giggles, the must-see show features original songs, brand-new sketches, and a whole lot of glitter.

We caught up with Martini Ranch director Keith Horvath to get some insight into the process and to hear his thoughts on the deteriorating state of the world (our words, not his).

Queer and Now debuts Saturday, November 4th at 8:30pm! TICKETS HERE.

This is Martini Ranch’s SECOND full length sketch revue in Austin. How did the first show came about? What can we expect with this second revue? It is! I can’t believe in less than a year we’ve created two shows. The talent in Martini Ranch is incredible.

For This is (Not) the Gayest Show You’ll Ever See I had it in my mind that I wanted to create a group that would stick together and write multiple revues. I don’t expect everyone to stay forever, but I wanted to get a group and a brand established. I don’t think any of the cast knew that was my intention, though. After they were cast, I revealed that I wanted to do multiple revues. I hoped everyone would want to as well. Good news: they did.

Our process is very Second City driven, as that is where I got the majority of my training. However, with everything I do, I incorporate my own style and blend other aspects of theater that I have learned over the course of my career. A general rehearsal will start with me getting titles for scene pitches, and then I go away for about 20-30 minutes while the group discusses their pitch (I don’t want to get ideas about where I want the scene to go before I see what the writer intended in the first place).

When I come back, we will either improvise through those scenes, or we will read a written script. After I give notes, the group goes home to edit, and we make adjustments along the way. It’s a very collaborative environment, too. I’m the director and technically have the most experience, but like any good sketch director, I trust the instincts and ideas of my ensemble (otherwise what is the point of having them write the show?).

Often, we will have group discussions and everyone will throw out their ideas, like a writers’ room. I make the final decisions, but the ensemble has permission to interject their ideas.

This allows for us to have a strong creative and collaborative group. The shows feel like we all own them. Even though each scene usually has one specific writer – multiple if they’re improvising it – we all have a say and all our voices are heard.

The first revue was just us getting our feet wet. A few of the ensemble had never written or performed sketch before, and I was blown away with their natural talent and writing ability.

We were informed, via a review, that our political material was not the strongest in our first show, so for Queer and Now, we decided to focus on having fun and being silly. I don’t want to give away too much, but this will feel very different from the last revue. I wanted to show how nothing is as it seems right now, and there are several layers to everything. I want the audience to kind of be mind-fucked while they are watching it.

It’s fast paced, and if anyone knows sketch comedy/big-time directors, they will see a lot of Mick Napier’s style. If you don’t know Mick Napier, look up The Annoyance and read his books. He’s brilliant, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

It seems like everyone in Martini Ranch really bonded. Is that unusual? I don’t know if it’s unusual or not, but I pride myself on creating cohesive groups. It’s one of my strong-suits as a teacher and director. I think the fact that we are all queer (except Katie, who is an incredible ally) and have a mutual understanding of the struggles we go through helped us to create such a tight-knit group as well.

Right now we are actually working on filming some of the scenes we’ve done and want to start having an internet video presence. We will also be writing another revue for next summer, so come see it! Tell your friends!

How does working on a revue like this in Austin compare to Chicago? In Chicago, there is a LOT more sketch and writing in general. I think part of that comes from it being a bigger city and having more opportunities – there are over 200 theaters in Chicago – and part of it comes from the fact that if you want to get on SNL or get picked up for Late Night, you’re more often than not a writer. All of the people I know who are working in mainstream entertainment/comedy are writers. Even if they are acting, they still write. Writing is the key to getting a professional job in this industry, and even if you don’t want to be a writer, writing every day will help you to articulate your ideas, and help you break down scripts as an actor.

Additionally, I feel many people down here aren’t used to longer rehearsals. Most are usually 2 hours, and Martini Ranch rehearses from 10a-1p every Sunday during our process. It may seem like a lot to some people, but there are days I wish we had another hour.

2017 America is a hellscape. True or False? True, but I also think a lot of this comes from Social Media. So much gets blown out of proportion, or is sensationalized, and too few people check a variety of sources. I’m sure we all know that person who shares a meme about x, y, or z and it has information that upsets us. But if we were to verify the facts, we would find it’s partially true, or not at all. Everyone is suddenly an expert at everything, and everyone is looking for someone else to blame and be a victim. I hate it so much.

For me, I always tell myself that things will get better, and things will change soon. There are two quotes that have always stuck with me. The first is from Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who said: “No same man could walk through the same river twice, as the man and the river have since changed.” So no matter how dark things may get, there will always be hope down the road. We just need to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing that comforts me.

The other quote – and this one is something I personally always need to work on, because I’ve found myself getting so irritated and mad at everything recently – is a quote from the Buddha. I may be paraphrasing a bit, but he said: “holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; in the end you get burned.” I think this is accurate and poignant. When we are angry, we hold onto negative feelings. We no longer are as productive as we usually are,  and are distracted from the things that make us happy. An old friend of mine had further put this into perspective for me by saying: “Whenever I feel anxious, or depressed, or angry, I rationalize my emotions. I name them. I remind myself that I’ve been through this before, it hasn’t killed me, and I’ll get through it this time.” I find rationalizing emotions, particularly negative ones, helps me process so I can move on.

One other thing. I don’t think many people think about this, but no one can make you feel anything other than you. If I’m walking down the street and a stranger says I’m a dumb piece of shit, I don’t care. If my husband does that, I’d feel devastated. Yes, we have a strong bond, but I’ve allowed his words to affect me. Conversely, if I let that stranger upset me, then I’ll be upset because I allowed it to affect me.

Overall, my husband is the glue that holds me together right now. Without his love and support, I don’t know where I’d be.

Classic TV Meets Classic DC

This November, Austin’s home for improv and sketch comedy ColdTowne Theater is excited to present Barney Miller Dark Knight – a theatrical event that is exactly what it sounds like. Part classic ‘70s sitcom and part gritty DC Comic, Barney Miller Dark Knight threads storylines from the caped crusader and the 12th Precinct.

Barney Miller Dark Knight was conceived of and created by ColdTowne Theater’s Executive Producer Dave Buckman. We spoke with Dave about his inspiration, classic sitcoms of the 70s and his plans for the midterm elections.

Barney Miller Dark Knight runs Saturdays at 7pm at ColdTowne Theater.

What was the inspiration to mix Barney Miller with the world of Batman?
I had to look and search in my email to see when the first time “Barney Miller” came back into my consciousness. It was December 2011. I wrote my step-brother-in-law an email thanking him for a Secret Santa gift. I casually mentioned “I am working on writing a stage show that is a Dark Knight version of Barney Miller.” Three weeks later I ordered Season 3 off o Amazon in hopes finding what the internet told me was the best episode of the series, S3E6: “Werewolf”. I couldn’t tell you how that combination jumped into my mind, but it’s been there for six years. And then one night in 2015, I ran into Leng Wong at SpiderHouse. It was night time, but she was wearing aviator sunglasses and wearing a maroon leather jacket. I thought to myself, “Holy shit! That’s [Jack Soo’s character] Nick Yemana… right there in front of me.” I went home and finished the first draft that weekend and started the process anew, adding a few more storylines, exchanges and jokes from other episodes. We’ve been improvising on top of that script, sprinkling in Batman and Gotham references ever since.

What’s the attraction to classic sitcoms?
I have always loved sitcoms. Another dream show of mine is putting up staged versions of the classic ABC line up: Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Three’s Company using the same reparatory cast for all three shows. Like someone would play Fonzie, Squiggy and Mr. Roper in the same night. I love those three in combination, because they represent three very different types of comedy: realtionship-based, pure physical and bedroom farce. Some of those old shows hold up 30-40 years later. Welcome Back, Kotter does not hold up so much. Mork & Mindy is not a strong as I remember. But Barney Miller, Soap and Golden Girls are still killer, because they had really good writing and really good actors. Not comedians, actors. Also shout out to Sgt. Bilko/Phil Silvers show. One of the few black and white sitcoms that is better than anything on TV today.

Any concerns adapting pre existing properties? What do you do to make it fresh?
I hope to god we get a cease and desist letter. That would be great. So no concerns at all. As I was combing through episodes (thank you Sundance channel!) there was a lot of misogynistic, homophobic and semi-racist jokes and storylines that were allowed on television 40 years ago, but that would make my stomach (and yours) turn watching them now. So excising and rewriting those things were necessary for making it palatable and presentable in 2017. I hope this show launches a national revival of Barney Miller, the way The Annoyance Theater launched the Brady Bunch revival in the 90’s.

What are you looking forward to – creatively speaking – in 2018?
I’m going to direct an original sketch revue with Second City’s style of writing/improvising for a few months to get to some sketches and songs for ColdTowne next May. It will be about the 2018 mid-terms. I am hoping to cast some of ColdTowne’s best firebrands and flamethrowers to write it with me. It’s working title is Kill Rightey. My wife Rachel Madorsky came up with that title a few years ago, and I’ve always wanted to use it for a political sketch show. Next year, I get to.

TICKETS ON SALE NOW

ColdTowne featured on KLRU with Stand Up Empire (June 26th)

The comedy scene in Austin is exploding. With eight comedy theaters (and counting), and hundreds of improvisors, stand ups and sketch comedy performers, Austin is quickly producing talent that competes easily with comedians from larger markets, such as Chicago, LA and NYC. To chronicle the exploding comedy scene in ATX, creators Mike Wilson and Brently Heilbron developed Stand Up Empire, which is produced by local PBS affiliate KLRU.

Directed and produced by Chris Shea, Stand Up Empire chronicles the comedy scene in Austin, with a distinct focus on the top-notch stand up scene.  We were recently featured on the fourth episode, with interviews with Executive Producer Dave Buckman, Managing Director Erika May McNichol and Loverboy’s Stephanie Thoreson.

We were delighted to have Stand Up Empire recognize ColdTowne as a hotbed of comedic talent across all the comedy types, and to be featured alongside Live at ColdTowne regular Martin Urbano and Avery Moore.

Check the whole thing out, and watch for the segment on ColdTowne around 21:40.

You like? Check out Live at ColdTowne Fridays at 10pm and Loverboy on Wednesday nights at 8:30pm.

 

 

Austin Sketch Fest Is Here!

Lovers of comedy, one of the best weeks in Austin is here. The 2016 Austin Sketch Comedy Festival––7 days of the best scripted comedy from Austin and beyond. All this week we have multiple shows each night featuring sketch, stand-up, and more starting at ColdTowne Theater, stopping by the Hideout Theater, and then concluding with three nights at the Spiderhouse Ballroom.

Our headlining shows this year includes an all-new, original Seinfeld episode performed by Bellevue, from NYC’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. From UCB’s LA Theater, we have the amazing group Nephew who’ll be performing Friday. Austin Sketch Fest was also lucky enough to get one of our favorite comedy duos NYC’s Girls With Brown Hair, back for a third straight year.

We also have a murderer’s row of hilarious Austin-based performers, including Vanessa Gonzalez, Your Terrific Neighbors, Master Pancake Theater, and more.

This year’s ASF will also play host to a live stand-up album recording from Eric Krug, who’ll be recording his comedy debut for Sure Thing Records. We’ll also have Sketch Fest editions of popular shows like Naughty Bits, the hit comedy & sex advice show. And somehow, somebody also managed to sneak in some improv.

For tickets, show information, and a complete schedule visit atxsketchfest.com

Make It About The Relationship

TJ & Dave

TJ & Dave

By Sanjay Rao

“Make it about the relationship”. You probably get this note in class and rehearsal all the time. It’s one of those golden rules of improv. When in doubt focus on the relationship. Say you’re in a tag out run and you’ve tagged in with your hilarious quip. It gets that big laugh but no one tags you out or edits the scene. Or you’re in a scene and so much craziness is going on you don’t know what to do. Now what? Focus on the relationship!

The relationship between scene partners tends to be the most compelling aspect in any scene regardless of style or format. It’s also something that you can always go back to. That weird, quirky way you mispronounced a funny word has only so much fuel behind it but a good, believable relationship can power an hour long show (just ask TJ and Dave). But how do you make it about the relationship especially if you’re already confused or in your head?

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 12.23.48 PM

Digging a ditch

So how do you focus on the relationship? One very simple and useful way is to call out your scene partner’s behavior. This doesn’t necessarily mean what they are physically doing. Let’s take an example. My scene partner has grabbed their mimed shovel and starts digging an improvised ditch. The scene is not about digging a ditch. HOW are they digging the ditch? Are they happy about it? Are they sad about it? Are they being lazy about it? Are they perfectly content? These are all behaviors that you can call out. It’s the “how” that fuels all of it. Once you know how your scene partner is behaving then we can explore how that makes you feel. Going back to the last example, your scene partner is digging a ditch and he’s angry about it. Better yet something more specific like it makes you feel proud of them. Anything is valid here, just let yourself feel something!

After we have that established we can fill in the gaps of where we are, who we are, why we’re here, what do we want, etc. Now you know how you feel about one another in relation to this activity that is happening RIGHT NOW. We’ve developed a relationship! An added bonus is that since we started with an activity (in this case digging a ditch) the scene is more active and engaging. Once an audience is truly engaged the jokes will come out more naturally and land harder. All the little games you find along the way, like mispronouncing a word, will mean more because they will be built on top of a relationship that serves as a foundation for the scene. But getting an audience to be engaged isn’t as simple as that. You have to do all this stuff well. How do you do it well? Practice!

A very basic exercise to build these muscles is to have one scene partner come in and start an activity and add an emotional element. After a beat a second person enters the scene and calls out what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Going back to the previous example, if the first person starts digging a ditch happily the second person will call out “You’re digging a ditch happily!” and then he or she will make a choice about how they feel about that. After letting that sink in, the first person can then call out their behavior, “You’re happy too!” From here we begin the scene by responding to the last thing and we can fill in the blanks like who, what, and where. This exercise will help you read behavior as well as starting scenes more physically and emotionally active.

Sanford Meisner

Sanford Meisner

If you want to go deeper you can study the Meisner exercise that actors have been using for ages to learn to read and explore behavior. It’s a fantastically simple yet endlessly complicated exercise that a single paragraph of a blogpost would not do it justice. There are, however, several acting teachers both in the improv community and in the Austin acting community that can help. I’ve provided some helpful links and videos below. I can personally attest that doing this type of work has helped my performances tremendously and I sincerely hope it helps you too!

Information about the Meisner Technique:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meisner_technique

http://esperstudio.com/about-2/library/an-interview-with-william-esper/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP1Nkr1kc5o

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBszDobYD8w

Acting Teachers in Austin:

http://www.inthemomentacting.com

http://www.ckmcfarland.com/classes.htm

Helpful Improv Workshops Coming Soon:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1111192518931315/

Learn Some History You Bums:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konstantin_Stanislavsky


Sanjay Rao is a writer, actor, and comedian based out of Austin, TX. You can catch him around Austin, TX performing improv, sketch, and stand-up and has played on stages around the state of Texas in addition to New Orleans, Phoenix, and New York City. You can also see him in various films, series and short videos on the web.

A Brief History of Magic

Returning to the ColdTowne mainstage on the heels of their sold-out 2015 run, sketch team Comedy Bazaar is back in February with A Brief History of Magic.

Exploring everything from wizards and enchanters to the supernatural and the occult, the new show is sure to delight those who like magical themes as much as those who simply enjoy tightly-written sketch comedy.

ABHOMagic_poster_400x600We asked Comedy Bazaar to answer some questions about the new show.

What inspired the magical theme?

CB: “We like a theme that’s narrow enough to focus our writing but broad enough to go in a lot of directions and carry a lot of possible interpretations. Magic seemed like such a fun and natural choice.

With magic, you have the usual tropes of sorcery and knights and dragons—and those are great, of course. But then you have hypnotism, the occult, paganism and wiccanism, trickery, deception, conspiracies, and how people control and deceive each other. It’s quite interesting, when you dig into it.”

What makes this show different than previous ones?

CB: “We found ourselves writing shorter, punchier material this time. So, we embraced that and ended up with 15 sketches in the span of a 45 minute show. Expect a faster show, with many sketches clocking in at 1 or 2 minutes. Plus a few longer ones.”

What makes Comedy Bazaar itself different?

CB: “We definitely have a style. It’s a mix of zany and silly alongside cerebral and intelligent. You could say we embrace high-minded cultural satire as much as we embrace giant animal costumes and throwing food on stage. We’ve always thrived on a mix.

We’re also huge fans of the editing process. We take every sketch draft and mold it, until it reaches a higher potential. Working with a group writer’s mind—where everyone makes a sketch incrementally better with a cut here or a new phrase there—is one of our strong points.”

Thanks, Comedy Bazaar! It sounds spellbinding. Be sure to join Comedy Bazaar at 7pm on Saturdays in February.

BONUS: Want to win tickets to see the show? Plus some great magical swag from Half Price Books, including a $10 gift certificate and a 15% off coupon?

Enter the ticket giveaway by Friday Feb. 13 to win. Thanks to Half Price Books for sponsoring!

Comedy Bazaar is Alejandro Garcia, Alex Baia, Ella Gale, Matt Needles, and Nicole Beckley. Directed by Eric Rutherford.

A Brief History of Murder

Beware and behold!

ColdTowne’s own Comedy Bazaar proudly presents A Brief History of Murder, every Saturday in February at 8:30 PM.

Enjoy a deep red soak in our newest mainstage sketch show, an expertly-carved, acid-laced comedy production that explores the dark side of human nature.

Comedy Bazaar will shock and amaze as they present a killer new sitcom from NBC, put the orange back into Clockwork Orange, debate the nitty gritty details of Satanism, and put a new twist on the classic train mystery.

Comedy Bazaar writers and performers recently sat down with the master of spoken word eclecticism, Slappy Pinchbottom of Austin’s KOOP radio to discuss the show. Here’s an excerpt…

Slappy: So, what are some of your favorite murders from the distant land known as history?

Matt: I always enjoyed the death of the emperor Valerian who was flayed and his skin was stuffed and hung on the wall of the Persian king’s court.

Slappy: Flayed and stuffed?

Matt: Totally flayed, yeah.

Slappy: That’s a fantastic murder.

Alex: Yeah, the murders of royalty and high emperors. It’s sort of like, well, maybe they need to be taken down a peg.

Slappy: That’s a big peg.

Comedy Bazaar

Comedy Bazaar

Alex: The Archduke Franz Ferdinand holds an interesting philosophical place because people say that his assassination was the cause of a world war.

Slappy: With Ferdinand, somehow murder was a force multiplier on the persons around him… Please don’t take that too seriously, listeners. I’m so afraid that I just said that to the wrong person out there in radio land.

Alejandro: I’ve always been fascinated by the Zodiac killer. It’s such a weird tale. It seems like fantasy. This guy had the entire city of San Francisco on Lockdown and people fearing to go out at night… There’s something intriguing about these people that have such power and break all the rules. That’s sort of the impetus for the show… murder is a part of humanity, unfortunately.

Nicole: There are weird grey areas where sometimes we’re okay with exploring certain things and sometimes we’re completely against them… it’s fascinating and frightening.

Catch Slappy’s Odd Preoccupation, on KOOP 91.7 FM, Sunday February 1st at 4:30pm.

And then catch A Brief History of Murder every Saturday in February.

Laugh long into the abyss… and let the abyss laugh long into you!

Claim your tickets here before it’s too late.

ATX Sketch Fest Early Bird Passes and Lineup!

Memorial Day Weekend is fast approaching, and that means that the 4th annual Austin Sketch Fest is only three months away. We’ve got some more lineup announcements to make, and we’re not going to lie: we’re pretty pumped about these shows.

We’ve already announced our headliners, Superego (w/ special guest Paul F. Tompkins). We’re also excited to be bringing down Ennis & Kaye, Matt Kaye and John Ennis’s (Mr. Show writer/performer) sketch project.

Joining us from NYC is Beige, a UCB Maude Team. (see Video). From Portland, comes self-help guru Lance Life, who’s one man Ted Talk-inspired lectures will change your life.

The Austin Sketch Festival raison d’etre is to bring together the very best of the Austin comedy community. Master PancakeYour Terrific NeighborsStag ComedyTastemakersEvery Girl’s AnnualUnsuspectingly Sponsored ByLaugh DammitAustin Comedy Hour, An Historic Evening w/ Brendan K. ‘Grady and the Hustle Show will all be featured.

As confirmations roll in, we’ll have even more out of town guests and locals to announce. In the meantime, we’re releasing a second round of discounted Early Bird Passes good for all shows (PURCHASE THEM HERE). The first round sold out in minutes, so jump on this!

The Festival will take place at the Spider House Ballroom and at ColdTowne Theater. The full schedule and tickets for individual shows will be released soon.

The Austin Sketch Fest is produced by ColdTowne Theater, Austin’s home for live comedy, featuring more sketch, improv and stand up per square foot than any other venue in Texas.

ATX Sketch Fest — All Fest Passes Added!

We are three weeks and a day out from Austin’s ONLY Festival — The ATX Sketch Fest! We’ve released a very limited number of All Fest Passes to the event, good for any shows save Paul F. Tompkins Crying & Driving Tour . Good news, however, because it’s entirely possible to purchase pass upgrades with tickets to the Paul F. Tompkins Shows!

The festival kicks off at ColdTowne Theater on May 23rd, with performances from the Encyclopedia Show, the Hustle Show and There’s Waldo. We continue May 24th and 25th at the Hyde Park Theatre with shows from the P! Company, Spirit Desire, Stag!, Ghetto Sketch Warlock, One Across, Astronaut Theatre (NYC), and Fantasy Sex Picnic (LA).

The weekend will be capped off at the 29th Street Ballroom with two performances from Paul F. Tompkins and a special appearance by last year’s festival darlings, LA’s Delicious Moments and Austin’s own Your Terrific Neighbors.

Buy Passes and Tickets

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Mainstage Sketch Show Has a Name, September Debut!

Murderers and con artists. White collar fraud and suicide bombers. Bernie Madoff and Rupert Murdoch. There’s a crime wave sweeping the nation, and it has absolutely nothing to do with any of those things.

The real crimes against humanity are being perpetrated every day by the very people that birthed you. Your parents are guilty of turning you into a neurotic, self-obsessed basket case with commitment issues, and you will do the same to your kids in a never ending mobious strip of dysfunction. Never fear! ColdTowne Theater is on the case.

After School Special Victims Unit blends the manic, primary-colors of children’s programing with existential sadness of parenthood to create a comedic blend of sketch comedy, music and satiric nihilism. Featuring a kids show written by phobic parents, grossly inappropriate puppets and more terrible career advice than you can shake a stick at, After School Special Victims Unit promises at least several uncomfortable moments with your mother and father. Continue Reading