ColdTowne Graduate Premieres Short Film Series

ColdTowne Graduate premieres short film series with the help of Issa Rae

Austin filmmaker and ColdTowne Graduate B.B. Araya moved to Austin about two years ago and immersed herself in the filmmaking, improv and comedy scenes. Shot over summer 2017, her six-part short film series We Are  is a genuine, humorous glimpse into the lives of seven young women of color navigating their way through friendships, self-doubt, and quarter-life crises. The series premiered last month to standing ovations at the North Door and was subsequently picked up by Issa Rae’s Youtube channel for distribution.

Araya is a member of several ColdTowne Theater improv troupes, including Best of Austin Nominee Loverboy (Fridays at 8:30) and the all-women cast of LadyParts. New episodes of We Are premiere on Sundays through November 5.  

We had a chance to talk with Araya about improv, the creative process and We Are.

Hey! We don’t know each other that well, so I have to ask some basic questions. Like, how and why did you get into filmmaking? What brought you to improv?

I’m really glad you ask about improv, because it is something so dear to me that I don’t get to talk about often enough. When I moved to Austin about two years ago, I was checking out I LUV VIDEO one Saturday night and thought the place next door looked tight. I went home and googled the shit out of it to learn it was a comedy theater. A few days later, I drew up the courage to come back for a free class (mind you, I had very severe social anxiety at the time – still do – but improv has helped tremendously) and then went on to sign up for Level 1. I had never planned on doing improv until I literally did improv – something just kept pulling me back. I’m so grateful because I ended up meeting some of my closest friends and collaborators at ColdTowne. Improv has also heavily informed my writing process – which is to just keep going – and is the reason I started writing comedy (everything I’d written before improv was melodramatic AF)! Improv has absolutely changed my life in ways I can’t even begin to describe.

Regarding filmmaking, I’ve always had an undying love for cinema. It stems from my dad who is a videographer and total movie junkie. He would take my sister and I to the movies every single Sunday and was always encouraging us to watch movies with intention and really immerse ourselves in the worlds created by filmmakers. People went to church; we went to the movies.  As I got older, I started wondering why there weren’t more narratives with women and POC. After doing a few years of solid research on filmmaking and writing, I decided to take a stab at it and made my first short in my actual backyard about three years ago. Then I made another one and another one and I couldn’t stop.

Tell me a little bit about the “We Are” Film Series. What was the genesis of this project? What was the collaborative process like?

The project was born out of me and [producer Tamar’s desire to make something aimed toward women who look like us in a city that – although very liberal/progressive – is not always reflective of us. We brought a team of wonderfully talented folks together, and it was a beautiful collaborative experience. Films were co-written with actors, so we built these characters together. I wanted everyone to feel like they were telling their version of the truth and a piece of them is in the work.

Any fun, amusing or weird “making of” stories from production?

On our last day of filming, we had about 30 extras and were shooting in a place with no AC. In June. In Texas. It was pretty hot to say the least. About halfway through the day, we tripped the breaker (whoops!) and the venue owner notified us that we we had to stop filming until it was fixed. Typically, that would stress me out, but the heat ate up my energy so I was like “Bet, we can take a break now”.

Everyone was like “what’s going on, what’s happening, why aren’t we shooting?” and Jess, Tamar, and I were just like “Oh, nothing!” Thankfully, it was fixed so we powered through the rest of the day. We were all pretty delirious by that point.

We Are is debuting on Issa Rae’s youtube channel this month. That’s exciting. How did that come about?

Earlier this year, I submitted a film I made called BETA (starring Ronnie Miller in her debut acting performance!) to a series they do called #shortfilmsundays in which they showcase films by creatives of color the first Sunday of each month. We were in the very early stages of working on We Are (I think we had just solidified our cast) when BETA was selected as a part of the series and that triumph definitely gave us a validating push. I went to LA this year and got to meet the team in person and told them about We Are, and they told me to send it when it’s done. They saw it and wanted to showcase it. It’s been a dream come true to be able to share all the work of our cast, crew, and artists/musicians here in ATX on such a large platform.

What was it like getting a standing ovation at the premiere?

I’m still processing that, to be honest. When it happened, I thought everyone just stood up because they had to pee after the film, but then they didn’t move. Then everyone turned around and looked at us (cast/crew) while clapping,and I was like “ohhh, i see what’s happening here.” At that point I left my body. It was deeply gratifying to receive a standing ovation because it validated that the project resonated with the people we made it for – which were the women in that room, particularly the women of color. It’s something I’ll never ever forget.

You perform with Loverboy. What was it like joining an already established troupe? How did they ask you? Are they all jerks?

Yes! They asked me and Laura de la Fuente to join the cast after Cené moved to Amsterdam to join the cast of Boom Chicago. It was pretty sweet; we had been sitting in with them for a few weeks prior to them asking, and then in December, they asked us to join them for drinks after the show and popped the question! It was the sweetest moment, and I had been a huge fan of Loverboy long before I joined the troupe, because of how inclusive and welcoming they were to me and my friends when we were new to the theater, plus the improv was always tight, not to mention Cené was literally my first muse and trusted me enough to work with me so early in my filmmaking journey. They also had me sit in with them when I was wee little Level 3 baby and it was quite the honor to bestow upon a newbie.

Loverboy got a bunch of Best of Austin and B. Idea Payne nominations. How does it feel to be crushing it? And can I have a job when you’re famous?

The recognition is honestly in my periphery. The true honor comes from getting to play with such brilliant women each week. Regarding the job, probably, sure.

Araya’s work features a number of ColdTowne Theater graduates and performers including Ronnita L. Miller of Damn Gina, Ryan Darbonne of Sugar, Water, Purple, Xaria J. Coleman of Damn Gina, Michael Jastroch of The Frank Mills and Cene Hale, formerly of Damn Gina and Loverboy. You can catch her latest project, the We Are Film Series premiering new episodes weekly as part of #ShortFilmSundasys at Issa Rae Productions on Youtube. Want to be part of #ShortFilmSundays? Submit your film to submit@issarae.com.

Take a look at ColdTowne Theater’s improv and sketch comedy classes. The new session begins mid-October, so sign up now.  

How do you call your Loverboy? On Friday nights, starting Jan 2017.

After Wednesday favorites Patio Talk moved to NYC to further their comedy careers in 2014, audiences wondered: who will move into the Wednesday night slot? Who could deliver that much energy, talent and delight week after week? Given the long shadow and packed houses that Patio Talk had built over the course of their residency, the expectations were sky high.

Enter Loverboy, a troupe of six graduates from ColdTowne (Cené Hale, Kim Lowery, Maria Pond, Chelsea Bunn, Stephanie Thoreson and Taylor Stewart). Deftly taking the baton from Patio Talk, they’ve proven their mettle week after week, with hilarious shows centered around the dating stories of a guest monologist. Beginning in January 2017, they will move to Friday nights at 8:30pm, taking over from the beloved and critically acclaimed Bad Boys.

We chatted Loverboy up over the internets about their origin story (hint: there was no nuclear accident), favorite show moments and what comes next.

How did Loverboy form?

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Original cast of Loverboy (from left Cené, Kim, Stephanie, Taylor, Maria and Chelsea)

I formed Loverboy because nobody had asked me to be in a troupe yet and the people had had the most fun with in class just happened to be ladies! – TS

I’m actually not an original member. I had been asked by Taylor if I was interested in being in a troupe that she was forming but I was so green and shy and intimidated, I didn’t even get back to her at the time. Then I sat in with them on maybe their second or third show and afterwards all I could think was, “Please ask me to join, please ask me to join, please ask me to join”, and luckily, they did. It was love at first show for me. -ST

Where is the name from?

I came up with the name Loverboy because it seemed to fit in with our format (dating and relationship stories) and I liked the nod to the 80s Canadian rock band. I think both groups are lovably dorky but still really fun and good at what they do! – TS

How did you come up with your form? How would you describe it?

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Loverboy performs at Out of Bounds in the State Theater, 2016.

The format is our variation on “The Armando.” We discovered through rehearsals that we like a rapid-fire pace and we’ve tried to play to that strength. Our format starts with short “vignettes” after each story, then we revisit the scenes/ideas that we liked the most, and end our show with a fast-paced, no-holds-barred run-out. -CB

I wanted the hook of hearing a different monologist’s story every week. It brings a new energy to every single show, which keeps things fresh for us and for the audience. We refined our version of The Armando over time. Several quick, unrelated 3-5 line scenes, followed by longer scenes and a second story. The last half of the show takes inspiration from the new story as well as everything that has happened since the show began, increasing the speed and blending worlds, revisiting characters, playing those games hard and looking for that killer “blackout joke”. – TS

What are some memorable show moments?

People have shared some amazing stories with us. One of my favorites was a guy who was asked to impregnate his date– it was their first date. He escaped by crawling out of the restaurant’s bathroom window. It was just like a sitcom! I’ve also enjoyed learning more about ethical polyamory, pansexuality, asexuality and other lifestyles. Love is love! -CB

We’ve had the full spectrum of memorable stories, from touching, to heartbreaking, to oh-my-god-I-can’t-breathe-because-I’m-laughing-so-hard. My favorite was when our long-time teacher and ColdTowne Theater co-owner Dave Buckman told stories from his time at BOOM Chicago in Amsterdam for our 4/20 performance. In Amsterdam he directed some now-famous comedians like Seth Meyers and Jordan Peele and he showed the audience a slideshow of photos from that time. It’s extra special now because orginal Loverboy cast member Cene Hale is now performing with BOOM Chicago. Full circle! – TS

My most memorable Loverboy moments usually happen before the show. Like when we had a sing off which ended in Cené down on one knee proposing to Maria, or the first time we performed together, we promised we wouldn’t let anyone “cook” onstage. I didn’t know what that meant in improv terms, and I thought, “Oh cool, yeah. Cause we’re women… so we don’t want to do a bunch of stereotypical cooking scenes…..” They corrected me. – KL

Many of my favorite show memories are more visceral, like the memory of the way a moment on stage made me feel as opposed to the actual specifics of said moment. For example, there was this one time Taylor and I came out on stage together and it was clear neither of us had an initiation so we just mirrored each other acting like wrestlers and found the game organically, together.  I can’t remember what in the world the scene evolved into, but I remember feeling so connected to her. I was buzzing. Because when you’re really in the moment with someone(s) and it’s working, it feels like magic. -ST

It’s hard to think of one moment, but I enjoy most when we make each other laugh. – MP

If you could have one local celebrity as a monologist, who would it be?

Wendy Davis. -CB

Elijah Wood, but I want the DJ version. – TS

Wendy Davis. (Amy Poehler would be my ultimate choice if we expand beyond local, and I hear she likes Austin!) – KL

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Loverboy with monologist Kyle Houston Moore.

Joss Whedon! “Shocking.” – said no one ever. -ST

Is it cliché to say Matthew McConaughey? – MP

You guys have this incredible playful energy. Where do you think that comes from?

We’re friends IRL and I think that plays into it a lot. Also, we know how to make each other laugh and we don’t hold back! -CB

Yes, we’re definitely real life BFFs! To get us going, we start our pre-show warm ups with a high energy check in, and we try to keep that up throughout the show. Truth be told, sometimes those warm ups are even more special to me than the show itself!  – KL

Our sincere love for each other. And yes, we work hard to check in with one another. – MP

Tell us about the tattoos.

Some of us had been considering a Loverboy tattoo for a while, and when we were in NYC for the Del Close Marathon, Stephanie drew up a concept that represents what we chant each week before our shows, “Less Fear, More Love”.  This sincerely stands for what I’ve learned from working with these women, and it has changed my life in incredible ways. – KL

I took this workshop with the amazing Rachel Madorsky called “Let the Love In” and the underlying theme boiled down to less fear, more love (also that improv will certainly make you cry and feel feelings and examine your existential thoughts on existence and humanism, like a lot, but anyways, haha).This idea really struck a chord with me. It was such a succinct way to think about being in the moment on stage with yourself and other people that you care for and trust. It’s also just a great way to think about being, like in the world, period.  Eventually it became our mantra. Less fear! More love! -ST

Give us a sneak peek of Fridays in 2017. What should an audience expect? Why would they come?

Our fast-paced improv show will continue to be inspired by your love stories, but expect to see some changes to our programming (and lineup) in the next year… -CB

There’s obviously no replacing Cene. But, who is replacing Cene?

We agree that Cene is irreplaceable, which is why we aren’t replacing her. If and when we add new member(s), they will be asked based on their skills and talents. -CB

Psh, she’s easily replaced. I mean all we gotta do is find somebody who is as amazing, talented, funny, smart, kind, caring, sings like an angel….wait…hold on, I’m crying… – TS

Wait, Cené is just on vacation right. She’s coming back right?!? -KL

I’ll be the one in the corner, weeping. Please excuse. -ST

I don’t get it. Cené said she was going to the store to grab milk. – MP

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It’s a tongue, duh.

Your logo: Is it a tongue or a wang?

NOT A WANG!!! We worked with a female artist who helped us establish our logo/brand. We were drawn to lips because they are playful, feminine, and play to the fact that people are telling stories. Plus they’re sexy. (There, I said it.) -CB

I sort of love that people think it’s a wang. I never saw it that way until someone was asked to take our poster down at work because it was inappropriate. – KL

Ew. – MP

 

What troupes or players are coming up that you are fans of?

Lady Parts, for sure. I’ve also really enjoyed the QueerTowne jam– lots of talent within that community! I think I speak for all of us when I say that we adore Kenah Benefield, who is a wonderful performer AND we are #blessed to have him running our tech every week. KENAH IF YOU’RE READING THIS, NEVER LEAVE US! -CB

Basketball Dog is so dang funny. – TS

Lady Parts on and off stage all the way! I’m a huge fan of Will Dwyer’s and Michael Perkins’ writing and improv, and even though they’re not exactly “coming up”, I’m a nut for Damn Gina.-KL

Yes! Agreed on all accounts! We’re gonna need a deeper bench! -ST