There have been troupes I have profiled where I knew more of the players going in than I did with Brownie Troupe #3025 (If you don’t get the “3025” reference, Venmo me $5 and I’ll explain it to you), but in sitting down to watch them, I felt an immediate air of comfort and familiarity…
…because their first warmup game was KITTY CAT CAREER! It’s perhaps my favorite warmup game but I hardly ever see it played (in it, your troupemates have to guess what profession you are acting out; you can only use meows rather than words; whomever guesses correctly is next to mime a career. For an extra challenge, try KITTY CAT CELEB!).
After the fun of that (and another favorite, Mind Meld), it got down to the serious business of, for my money, the most challenging improv format there is: The JTS Brown.
The JTS Brown, for the unaware, is a format where each scene changes completely when any player enters or leaves the scene. In other words, you have to keep track of things like, “Okay, when Bobby and Susie are in the scene with me, I’m a barber in a barbershop, but when Susie leaves, I’m then a hillbilly in a rowboat with Bobby.”
It seemed hard enough (in principle) to me just remembering all the different scene partner permutations. But Brownie Troupe #3025 made me realize the JTS Brown is more challenging still: it never occurred to me that the nature of the format means that walk-ons and tapouts are not possible. "This show is all about listening. You have to let go. You can't plan,” says Brownie Heather McKinney.
So how do Heather, Dana Rubenstein, Kirstie Carrizales, Lindsay Lintelman, and Tori Ayres Oman (them there’s the players of Brownie Troupe #3025) remember who does what when? "Stage position really helps me remember the scene,” says Dana.
It also became clear to me that strong, distinct memorable characters are of paramount importance in the format, so the audience gets a hang of the format quickly and doesn’t confuse one configuration with another.
Happily, these women are character masters. Without fail, each one went strong and big and hilarious, every time. That’s particularly remarkable considering they didn’t form in the usual “We were friends/classmates and we wanted to play together” way. Instead, they were called upon by their coach, Cesar Villa, who had the idea to put this troupe together.
That doesn’t mean they DIDN’T want to play together. "I was excited to do this. Hell yeah. I already loved everyone else in it,” gushed Heather.
Cesar says they are all quick studies. "They really trust everything I'm doing. They melded REALLY quickly. It was easy to show them the format right away, and to coach them on it right away.”
Besides being a sausage-free troupe, what else sets the Brownies apart? The popouts. Perhaps you’ve seen it in other formats, when a character breaks the fourth wall to explain their thoughts, motivations, or actions to the audience.
It seems well-suited for what the Brownies are trying to do. "The popouts allow you to give gifts to your scene partners, or mess with them more,” says Lindsay. Dana concurs. "We just started doing the popouts a couple practices ago. I like it. The popouts add more information."
Despite watching a masterful performance –and it was only a practice! At 9AM on a motherlovin’ Sunday morning! – I still think the JTS Brown is the most difficult format. Maybe the key, however, is the same thing I have heard from every troupe, regardless of format, I have featured in this space: trust. Lindsay might say so.
"I think for me, I trust these guys, so I know if I forget something, someone else will remember."
Brownie Troupe #3025 will be in the free Playground on December 14th at 10:30P
Kevin Beane graduated from the DCH improv program in 2016 and is in the DCH troupe Preschool Fight Club. He also cohosts Quizprov, with occasional DCH shows, and performs in the Dallas-area troupe Autocomplete. He likes sports, eating, sleeping, board games, poker, euchre, and procrastinating. He hails from Akron, Ohio. You can also read him in TheatherJones.com, where he is the DFW comedy beat writer.