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.

Interview with Keith “Keebler” Horvath, Director of This is (Not) the Gayest Sketch Show You’ll Ever See

Keith “Keebler” Horvath is a veteran of the Chicago Comedy and Theatre scene. Keith has nearly twenty years of theatrical training and experience, and has devised and directed over three dozen original sketch revues, plays, musicals, and solo shows, and has coached dozens more improv groups. He is a former director of Sketch Cast and Coached Ensembles in The Second City Training Center, and was AD for BlueCo, one of The Second City’s National Touring Companies. Also: He lights up the room.

Director, Keith Horvath

Director, Keith Horvath

In this interview, we chatted him up about his newest hit machine “This is (Not) the Gayest Sketch Show You’ll Ever See” (which is like fourteen of those little fireball emojis, according to everyone who has seen it).

Hi, how are you?

Sleepy, as I’m sure everyone is. Everyone is hustling to make their dreams a reality and therefore sacrifice sleep most of the time. Right?

Absolutely, same here, but it’s all good stuff, right?

Without a doubt. I’ve fallen in love with Austin, and I’m so happy I moved here to continue pursuing my art.

Can you tell us a bit about the show?

Sure! This is an original sketch comedy revue that’s inspired by the LGBTQ community. We have been in process since December of last year, and we’re very excited to share what we’ve created with the Austin community. You will see sketches that have been written by the actors performing in the show, and I facilitated the process along the way. It is a very organic process that yields a lot of material, so it was difficult for me to whittle down to the running order we have. There was simply too much good material because I am fortunate to have such amazing writer/performers and crew. Luckily on April 29th, which is our last performance, we will be showcasing some of the material that did not make it into the final running order. Some of those scenes may end up in our next revue!

What motivated you to focus on the LGBTQ community?

I really wanted to showcase the LGBTQ community because there’s a lot the general population doesn’t understand about us. Even within our own community, there are so many different aspects of what it means to be LGBTQ that we are all constantly learning, evolving, and growing each day. With that in mind, our goal was to encompass as much of the community as possible and to give a voice to those who may not otherwise have the chance to express themselves. While we have a lot of scenes that focus on queer issues, you’ll also see scenes about our political climate, scenes about family dynamic, and scenes that poke fun at the status quo of our communities. The purpose of a revue is to showcase variety, and I think we accomplished that quite successfully.

So the show isn’t completely improvised? What is the difference between improvisation and sketch comedy?

Cast of Not the Gayest: Ashley Blom, Laura de la Fuente, Luke Wallens, Mason Kerwick, Javier Ungo. Not pictured: Katie Stone

Cast of (Not) the Gayest from L: Katie Stone, Ashley Blom, Laura de la Fuente, Luke Wallens, Mason Kerwick, Jake Garrison, Javier Ungo.

No, the show has scripts the actors improvised and wrote themselves. Sketch comedy differs from improvisation in that sketch comedy is almost always written, whereas improvisation is made up on the spot. Sometimes sketch comedy revues have improvisational scenes, or utilize improvisation in some way, but not always. Sometimes people create premises before the show, then improvise with or without audience suggestion – we call this ‘sketchprov’. For (Not) the Gayest, we mostly brought in ideas for scenes, or a ‘pitch,’ and would improvise around that premise in rehearsal. From there we would test out scenes in front of an audience and reimprovise in rehearsals to find the structure that worked best for that particular scene – very much so in that Chicago/Second City style.

Why was it important for you to utilize Second City’s sketch comedy techniques/methods?

Growing up I had always wanted to be the next Jim Carrey or Robin Williams. As I got older, I discovered that a lot of my comedic heroes, especially those on SNL, had come from Second City. When I officially moved to Chicago – I grew up in the south suburbs, but no one knows where “Mokena” is –  I learned SO much about not only theater and acting, but comedy, and even life. I was immersed in this satiric lifestyle that was allowing me to challenge myself to get to the heart of what I wanted to communicate with the audience.

(Not) the Gayest cast members: Laura de la Fuente, Ashley Blom and Katie Stone

(Not) the Gayest cast members: Laura de la Fuente, Ashley Blom and Katie Stone

This is such an important part of comedy, in my opinion, the heart. Without it, the audience can’t connect with the scene or the actors; we would be saying jokes that didn’t make sense, or lacked a point. The power then, of improvisation, is it takes away the impulse to be funny, and instead focuses on people, relationships, and emotion. Improvisation forces you to connect with another person on a deeper level, and react in an organic way. This honest connection creates a visceral, empathetic response in the audience, allowing them to go on the journey with us. So, by using improvisation, we cut through the BS of trying to be funny, and instead become real people. The in-the-moment reactions to the situations within the scenes generate a heartier laugh, one that comes from deep within and is uncontrollable – a genuine laugh. Once we have this in place, we are then able to structure our scenes and our comedy within a framework that helps us organize our comedy. Within sketch, we generally have an average of 4 minutes before the lights go out and we move on, so there isn’t much room to (for lack of better terms) “half-ass” it.

Did I go off on a tangent? Sorry.

That’s ok, it was relevant. 

Oh, good.

What do you hope the show will accomplish?

I hope when people see the show, particularly those who are not directly part of the queer and trans community, they recognize and appreciate how much depth we all have as humans. It is easy for us to lump an entire group of people into one category, so this show invites the audience to take a step back and realize that everyone has depth, everyone is three-dimensional, everyone is complicated.

I think a key takeaway is that people are more than just their orientation or gender identity. For instance, I am an avid video gamer, and I am also bisexual. My husband and I like to watch TV, take our dog for a walk, go on hikes, and we enjoy trying new wines. When put together, we see that my orientation is a very minor (but important) part of who I am as a person. There’s so much more to me than who I am married to, and I want more people to see and understand that.

Remember: “Ogres have LAYERS” – Shrek

Did I sound like Shrek?

Close enough?

I’ll take it.

How has the rehearsal process differed from when you were in Chicago?

It’s been surprisingly similar to how I ran rehearsals in Chicago; the only difference is that I’m not struggling to find a place to put up a show, find rehearsal space, or procure actors dedicated to a show. I have not seen as much overbooking down here as I did in Chicago. There are a LOT of people in Chicago who are interested in doing work, then show up late, don’t show up at all, miss several rehearsals, all because they are doing too much at once. I have heard through the grapevine that this happens in Austin, but if that’s the case, I’m impressed with how hard the actors work down here to make all of their obligations a priority!

What’s been the best part of working with ColdTowne on this show?

People who know me know I am not one who tends to be sappy unless I am being sarcastic…however, the people at ColdTowne have truly changed me for the better. The pure love for this work has reinvigorated my passion for creating comedy, and the support from the ColdTowne community is overwhelming in the most wonderful way possible. ColdTowne is a theater that embraces diversity and inclusion, is open to new ideas, and most of all, is a fun place where people hang out, exchange creative philosophies, and create amazing art. I came from Chicago, considered the “mecca” of improvisation and sketch comedy, and I couldn’t be more impressed with the level of professionalism and aptitude the artists at this theater showcase day in and day out. We may not be millionaires, but we are creating theatre GOLD! There are several performers I’ve encountered already that could easily rival the talents of the many-many-many-many proficient improvisers in Chicago. I can say with authority that Austin, and ColdTowne in particular, is a really special place doing amazing things. I will always be loyal to ColdTowne because of the opportunities I’ve been given, and the warmth and passion of this community that looks out for each other.

That’s great to hear! Anything else?

Go see the show, and I have great hair! Ask to touch it the next time you see me*, it’s soft as FUG!

*I will decline if I have not showered that day.

You can ask to touch Keith’s hair and get the full experience of ColdTowne’s latest sketch show run every Saturday at 7pm through April 29th. Tix recommended at least one week in advance, as presales are already high for upcoming shows. Get em here.