Jua Holt

The Improvised Horror Movie

The American horror movie. What cinematic legacy can claim special effects mastery, emotional poignancy, and raw camp in the same breath? Scary movies have done so much good for cinema that it’s sickening. And now that we’re in the season (oh goodness HALLOWEEN I’m excited are you excited I love Halloween like no lie it’s my favorite holiday and I’ve been planning my costume for MONTHS) – Ahem. Sorry about that. As I was saying, now that we’re in season – eeek – the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) has started a month-long series of holiday-appropriate shows. As is tradition, it opened the first weekend of October with a premier of the Improvised Horror Movie. Though the show stands as a tribute to the horror genre, it also exists in memorial to Del Close, creator of the format, and Jason Chin, former director at iO Chicago who perfected the show. DCH runs the Improvised Horror Movie through the month of October as a dedication to their work. Improvised Horror MovieJust like its parent genre, the Improvised Horror Movie takes a couple different forms – forms, mind you, not scripts, because then it wouldn’t be improv, duh. Each form spins off of a particular type of horror movie. The version I had the pleasure of viewing was based off of one of my favorites: the "Slasher," wherein innocent, dumb kids fall prey to a psycho killing machine. Now that’s what I call comedy! Hooray!

The way the shindig worked in practice seemed pretty simple: At the top of the show, the audience assigned each cast member a role, all inspired by classic horror tropes. There’s a jock, a nerd, a goth, a stoner, a popular chick, and the surviving girl who will, in the end, determine who the killer is. (Spoiler alert, most of the archetypical characters die in a spectacularly funny fashion.)

Even though the roles are pre-determined and assigned at the beginning of the show, this doesn’t make things easier for the players. If anything, this is crazy hard. “Here’s a point of view, now understand it, adopt it as your own, and think up stuff to say from that point of view on the fly in front of strangers. Oh, and by the end of the show most of you have to have died and you have to be funny in the meantime.” Like, what even!?! That’s hard enough for me to do on a good day.

“Emily, you’re dumb. Those roles are pretty much stereotypes, and aren’t those at the antithesis of what good character work should be?”

Um, first, how dare you, I’m hella smart. Second, no. Just because the role’s been given to you, there’s still tons of flexibility as to what constitutes that role. Sporty jocks don’t have to be bullies, and the brainiac doesn't have to be socially awkward. For instance, the stoner in the last show (played by David Allison) was far away from being dumb and slow – instead, he was an energetic conspiracy theorist who suspected who the murderer was the whole time. (He felt the perpetrator was George W. Bush, but whether he was right or not is hardly the point here.) The popular girl (played by Maggie Rieth Austin) was ditzy, peppy, and fun – not a sexualized antithesis to the surviving girl the character is usually reduced to. Thinking with that kind of originality takes skill and quick thinking that isn’t often matched.

“Well, OK, fine, so the characters are diverse despite being typified. You still can’t bridge the gap between cinema and stage acting!”

Au contraire! You forget that critical element of improv – scene painting! It’s a heavy and, in this case, a critical show component. We already know what will happen at the end of our “movie” – the audience sticks around for the journey to that conclusion. Performers primarily conduct scene painting through a series of different “camera angles,” wherein they call out cinematic direction you’d normally only read in a script. These camera angles double as edits and is what give the audience a cinematic effect, if an imaginary one. Cast members are given close-ups, split-screens, and even aerial shots that they have to make work and incorporate seamlessly into the ongoing scene. Half of the fun lies in players giving each other impossible views to pull off. (Have you ever seen a dead man fly in circles around two women standing horizontally? Well, I did! You might see it, too, if you buy a ticket). It’s a brain and body workout, to be sure, not to mention the lighting and sound tricks that the techs execute on the fly. (Props to Raye Maddox - you done good, kiddo.)

Boy. What a ride. In short, this show is a keeper. It’s one of those shows at DCH that’s a must see. You won’t get spooked, but you’ll certainly laugh, and any student or fan of improv will also get a great lesson by simply watching the cast. Oh, before I forget – that cast includes David Allison, Amanda Austin, Sallie Bowen, Noa Gavin, Jason Hackett, Tabitha Parker, Ben Pfeiffer, Maggie Rieth Austin, and Nick Scott. The whole shebang is tech'ed by Jua Holt (Raye Maddox was the technical director for the show I saw). They all deserve a big ol’ basket of treats minus tricks, allergens, and razors. For tickets, please visit www.dallascomedyhouse.com.

Emily Baudot is a DCH graduate and sketch student. When she isn’t at the theater, she’s drinking at one of the bars down the street and trying to justify ordering dessert for dinner.  Or, she’s on her computer pretending she’s a banished orc maiden, whichever one sounds healthier to you. If her crippling addiction to sugar and caffeine doesn’t kill her, she can be seen on stage with the soon to be world famous Wild Strawberry and the already-Internet famous Wiki-Tikki-Tabby (just kidding, they do go online a lot though). She’s also a Pisces because that means something.

The Importance of Base Reality

Jua Holt WrestlingEvery improv theater has its own style of teaching and performing. UCB preaches “the game” over everything else, while iO demands a wholesale commitment to organic group choices. Second City uses improv as a means to an end (sketches), and The Annoyance asks that you please just “do something.” No matter the particular theater’s creed, empirically good improv has a few principal tenants in common. The one that stuck out to my analytical brain the most when reading about the art form on my own was the idea that you should develop a “base reality.” Creating a vivid world for your improv helps bring the audience into the show. The people watching your run are like a talented-if-not-arrogant high school basketball team. They’re ready to laugh, but only by getting them to buy into the work you’re doing can you maximize their potential. When they’re fully invested in the show, they start to forget that they’re watching a group of goofballs make stuff up for 25 minutes.

Every time you drop a cup or look directly at the person making side support noises offstage, you remind the audience that none of this is real. It’s as if you’re forcing them to take the red pill when they were having a perfectly good time in the Matrix.

In addition to painting a picture for the audience, a base reality functions as a set of ground rules for you and your scene partner. In our everyday life, gravity, finding zombies scary, and dogs not talking are all part of our base reality. We have a more-or-less-agreed-upon expectation of the normal, so when something outside of the normal happens, we have a shared reaction.

Red paint doesn’t show up on red canvas. Only with a grounded backdrop can the absurd stand out. That’s how the UCB manual defines “crazy town” (p. 89). I often hear people bring up this phrase when talking about a particularly exotic scene or run. To me, “crazy town” isn’t just a descriptor for bizarre scene work, it means that the improv being performed didn’t have any grounding principles. A scene about riding pigs through an abandoned theme park isn’t necessarily taking place in crazy town. If the characters are participating in an honest discussion about the merits of having children, you’ve got a grounded scene. It’s when the improvisers in the scene don’t agree on a set of common rules about the world in which they live that they ride the eccentric CT monorail.

The best way to avoid crazy town is to listen and react to the words and actions of your scene partner. The UCB manual also prescribes solutions like the “peas in a pod” mentality (p. 169) — which is essentially a more analytical approach to mirroring.

If you and your scene partner react differently to something that happens on stage, the scene isn’t necessarily shot. When one character considers an occurrence normal and another character considers the same occurrence absurd, we may witness a conflict in expectations and reactions. Conflict, in this case, isn’t bad, but it needs to be explored. Why did Character X react differently than Character Y? Even if you fail to react to a scene partner pulling a gun, you’ve told the audience something about you and the world you’re inhabiting (e.g., you see guns all the time, or you’re unafraid of death).

Because this post sounds teachy/preachy upon rereading it, I want to incorporate a real-life example to support the base reality point.

Even with a recent surge in mainstream-adjacent popularity, most people don’t watch professional wrestling. If you didn’t fall in love with it as a kid, you’re unlikely to develop an infatuation with this form of entertainment as an adult. However, wrestling offers plenty of guidelines for strong improv scene work:

The outcomes of wrestling matches are predetermined, but the athleticism and danger on display are real. Without a shared understanding between two wrestlers, things could spiral out of control quickly.

When one wrestler reacts to taking a bump from another wrestler, they help maintain the reality of in-ring conflict. While the characters wrestling are at odds, the wrestlers themselves are in agreement.

Additionally, professional wrestling is about putting on a show. Competitors telegraph their moves not only for their opponents’ sake but for the audience, as well. This creates an expectation and anticipation for a coming clothesline or a leap from the top rope. When the opposing wrestler counters or dodges the move, the subversion of audience expectations stimulates an audible reaction.

At the start of every match, wrestlers assume an identity. There’s usually a good guy (face) and a bad guy (heel). The way they interact with the crowd and the way they wrestle tells the audience how to feel about them. They have strong perspectives established at the top of the match that they carry through to the end.

To close, here’s DCH’s resident professional wrestling advocate, Jua Holt, on the connection between the two artforms:

“At a basic level, pro wrestling is two people working together to put on a good performance. If you trust the other person and share the load, then your match — more often than not — will go well. One of the biggest things I’ve been able to bring to improv from wrestling is that the commitment level of your character can make or break a performance.”

Danny Neely is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. He works part time at a bakery and another part of  the time as a freelance writer. You can see him perform as a member of Big Turtle, Clover, Coiffelganger, Empty Inside, and Warm Milk.

Bulls in Heels

Bulls Show Dallas Comedy House troupe The 1995 Chicago Bulls will walk on stage tonight in high heels. The troupe is asking for show attendees to donate clothes and money, which will be given to Genesis Women's Shelter & Support.

The reason for the high heels, though, is based on Walk a Mile In Her Shoes, an event and organization that asks men to walk one mile in women's high heel shoes in order to raise awareness of violence against women. But the Bulls aren't stopping with high heels. They're donning dresses, wigs, and makeup, too.

"We were backstage before a show (we opened for Atlantic Pacific Billy), and there were heels backstage," troupe member Jua Holt said. "We laughed at the idea of Cesar [Villa] in heels, and the size he'd need to buy. And we 'yes, and' into a Block Party in heels to a full show in drag for charity."

And if you're wondering, Cesar wears a size 17.

Come out tonight to help raise money and donate clothes for a great cause. Funny Scenez starts the show at 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale now.

Troupe Talk: .f.a.c.e.

.f.a.c.e. Let’s .f.a.c.e. it—if a troupe talk reader ever came .f.a.c.e. to .f.a.c.e. with me, they'd probably a.) be jealous of all the imaginary snacks and presents the troupes have been bringing to their interviews for me and b.) get in my .f.a.c.e. for having yet to interview one of Dallas Comedy Houses finest troupes—.f.a.c.e.! So in order to avoid any future .f.a.c.e. to .f.a.c.e. confrontations, ladies and gentleman, i present to youuuuu, .fa.c.e.!

Thanks for coming to the interview all wearing masks of the face of someone you want to tell a secret to! Tell our audience who is on each of your masks and what’s the secret?

Ashley: I’m wearing a mask of Terry’s face. I’m just going to lean in and make a fart noise. He’ll understand.

Jua: I’m wearing a mask of Ashley’s face. I’m going to steal her nose, and then wink. She’ll understand.

Terry: I am wearing a mask of Jua’s face. I have just been asked to sing bass in a barbershop quartet. I don’t understand.

Tommy: I'm wearing Sarah's face. The secret is a bonus track on our third studio album. The track is called "Uptown Fu¢k" Look for it, out soon, from .E.I.T.G.

Jason: I’m wearing Tommy’s face, and my secret is that I’m Stephen King, so Tommy actually has been reading my books and loving me all along.

Sarah: I’m wearing Jason’s face. Took it right off his face, no muss no fuss since he was S. King underneath it anyway. I want to tell Jason that his hair is luxurious.

Wow so many secrets. So tell me one more thing—what do the letters in .f.a.c.e. stand for? How’d the troupe name come to be?

Ashley: It stands for, again I’m just going to make a fart noise here. Mr. Hensel rounded us all up; he wanted to do something weird and we obliged.

Jua: Valar morghulis.

Terry: .N.O.Y.B.

Tommy: I think it stands for Fruit And Chocolate Eclair, but also probably not. But maybe.

Jason: Some things are better not known than known. We started as a King of the Mountain troupe. We won five (?) or six (?) times and then were ousted by Nick Scott’s one-man show. *shakes fist at Nick Scott, but then gives him a hug because that was such a great show*

Sarah: .f.a.c.e. stands for opportunity, support, love, trust; we try to show each other our best faces so when it’s show night, ALLLLLL RIIIIIIIGHT

So something NOT so secret: You’re nominated for an INNY award (which is awesome—CONGRATULATIONS!) What’s that mean and how does it feel?

Ashley: It feels profoundly awesome, but I don’t really know anything about the competition or how the heck we got nominated.

Jua: It’s amazing! I’m very proud to be the only Dallas troupe that was nominated. Besides that...fart noise.

Terry: We are up against a bunch of stage dwellers, or as we call them “Stagies.” They all lack imagination.

Tommy: I am also pretty pumped about the nomination. The INNY awards are sponsored by Improvisation News, created to recognize excellence in improv.

Jason: Tommy did a great job explaining what it is, so I second his comment. It feels great to be recognized. It’ll feel even better to win it for DCH.

Sarah: Ditto Tommy and Jason. I wanna bring this thang home for DCH. So vote if you haven’t, DCHers! Let’s show ‘em there’s something exciting happening down hurr.

What is the style of .f.a.c.e. comedy?

Ashley: Full Access. Beans.

Jua: Stage fright.

Terry: It’s is the perfect combination of a knife fight and a Sharknado.

Tommy: We try to be so supportive that the audience feels free to be in the show. We try to involve the audience in our show as much as possible, in a long-form context.

Jason: The style is to be as limitless as possible. Nothing is off limits. Our limits know no bounds. Have you heard about our limits? You wouldn’t have, because there are none.

Sarah: The limit does not exist.

List out all of your team members, and then complete the .f.a.c.e. acronym to describe the person’s name below you (e.g., Billy Bob is Fantastic Awesome Crazy and Eerie).

Tommy: Fierce, Artistic, Comforting and Enchanting

Terry: Sarah is Full of Awesome Cat Energy.

Sarah: Friendly Ace Chap Eeeeeeeeissocoolsupportbestdude

Jua: Jason is Fancy As Childhood Emphysema.

Jason: Ashley is a Fairy Apparition Charming Everyone

Ashley: Tommy is a Fearless, Adept Cornerstone of Ease

.f.a.c.e. performs at the Dallas Comedy House on Friday, May 29, with Manick, and Saturday, June 27, with LYLAS.

Tori Oman is a Level Four student at DCH. She’s trained and performed with the Second City and iO in L.A. and Chicago. Favorite pastimes include being irrationally competitive at Monopoly, eating an apple in every country she’s traveled to, and being the sole person on this planet that thinks Necco Wafers are a delicious candy choice.

What We're Loving Year-End Spectacular (Part One)

We've loved many things this year - books, movies, tv shows, websites, people - but these things we loved  the A-Number One Best.   

fe66b2db92fc4b458530464df6bbf9fbWomen on TV fall mostly into three categories:

- terrible stereotypes of dumb girls and bad jokes (every show on CBS) - super-hot girls getting murdered (every show on the CW or ABC Family) - better-but-still-somehow-a-stereotype smart women doing intense things who have no time for love (every show on NBC).

This is a huge bummer for the majority of women who are sometimes cool, sometimes self-conscious, sometimes funny, sometimes angry, sometimes hot, sometimes gross, but always women.

Thank you, Broad City.

Ilana Glazer and Abby Jacobsen have nailed stories about being a woman, and more specifically, being a millennial woman. They’re just trying to get their lives together—bad jobs, weird love, gate-crashed parties, god-awful roommates, and sweet sweet Bed Bath & Beyond discounts.

It’s so refreshing to see a true-to-life friendship on TV where two women go through some serious weirdness together, but always have each other’s backs. They’re gonna get into the weeds with buying drugs for the first time, ending up with two guys who desperately want a four-way, or getting way too drunk at your birthday dinner. They’re gonna be ugly sometimes, be mean, and do gross things to and for one another. They’re gonna fight. They’re gonna yell. It’s not always pretty, it is always funny.

Even as ugly as it can get sometimes (because that’s real life), for the love of Carol Burnett, they’re real women telling real stories. We need that. - Noa Gavin

8 Out Of 10 Cats Does CountdownI love word games. I love game shows. Wheel of Fortune is one of my favorite shows of all time. If there's game in the title, I probably like it. I like trivia. I also like comedy. Along this theme, what I loved in 2014 is 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. It's a mash-up of two things I love: word games, and British accents.

Let me explain. Countdown is a British game show that is a combination of word games, and math games.  It's a panel show where comedians make jokes about current events. kind of like Best Week Ever, but it also shows these same comedians doing poorly at math! What more could you ask for? Plus, tt's been around since 1982! That's a long time!

8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown is hosted by comedian Jimmy Carr, with a rotating cast of comedians including Jon Richardson, Sean Lock, Joe Wilkinson, Rhod Gilbert, and David O'Doherty, all vying for the prize of a countdown teapot.

If you're like me and like to jumble letters in your head to think of other words, and also like to laugh, then give 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown a try, and tell 'em Jua sent ya. – Jua Holt

Interstellar1-210x300Sometimes when you admit to something you love, you have to be willing to look stupid. I feel foolish admitting this, but my favorite thing from 2014 is one line out of a movie, Interstellar. You know, the one where it’s the future, Earth is dying, and Matthew McConaghey has to find humanity a new home.

John Lithgow is his father in law. He remembers life before Earth was a dried up dust bowl, and in one moment he pretty much blew my mind. He is talking about the way things use to be: how there was a new invention just about every day, how every day was like Christmas, and how there were 7 billion people on the planet, every one of them trying to have it all.

His wistful look at the past (our present) made me think. Why are we all trying to have it all? We can’t possibly, but at least in our minds (or maybe just my mind) we want to. We think we can. And we get upset when we can’t. And we (I) throw fits when things do not go our way. But hey, there are 7 BILLION OTHER PEOPLE also trying to get their own way, and we just aren’t all gonna get it. And in the movie, there is a stark contrast- humans go from trying to have it all to struggling to survive.

I have thought about this a lot. More than the black holes, relativity, or other sciencey stuff. Don’t get me wrong, the special effects in Interstellar were cool, but Mr. Lithgow’s delivery in this scene made an impact on me. It sure beats hearing Michael Caine recite "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" ONE MORE TIME. - Molly Jakkamsetti

Jack-Links-Sriracha-Beef-JerkyWell, they did it. Show’s over, go home. Competition quelled. In 2014, Jack Links, purveyor of fine, dried beef snacks, offering classic variations of their “jerky” such as: cracked black pepper flavor and (my old favorite) carne asada with real jalapeno, ventured out onto the proverbial limb and landed on what will be remembered as their ultimate jerky incarnation: Sriracha Beef Jerky. Let’s get one thing straight - I’m not one of those jerk-off, try-hards that loves to tout their love of Sriracha sauce as some kind of hipster/foodie virtue. I just have an unnatural affinity for beef jerky, and I love spicy stuff.

This is the best gas station snack available. It’s spicy without being too spicy. It’s chewy and beefy. It’s a primal, visceral, delicious experience. You finish a bag knowing you’d give your next breath for there to be another spicy, meaty shard lingering at the bottom of the pouch. You think about your life. You think about the news. You realize you forgot about the crushing weight of existence for a few minutes as you inhaled this fantastic foodstuff.

I scoff at doofuses who walk right by this ridiculously delicious snack option in favor of literally anything else. Just last summer, I witnessed a young man pilfer a pack of Cigarillos with Jack Link’s Sriracha Beef Jerky plainly in sight, risking incarceration for a cheap, Georgia O'Keefe vagina desert flower reprint when an original Frida Kahlo is within view. Who can say what became of that young man? Hopefully he went on to make better choices. I guess I just don’t get it. I don’t get why other people don’t eat this at every chance possible, because I do. I love it. The end. Of this article. – Tim Brewer

811This year, I loved something that you can’t really measure in critical acclaim. I guess if there was something for it, “feels” would be a just description. 2014 was 12 months of real relationships with real people: new and old friends, a continued spark of love for my wife and learning to take more time for myself and the things that interest me. So as I look back at the things I loved the most, each is surrounded by these little pockets of happiness that involved the people in my life. Inside jokes, learning people’s pasts, their futures, and ultimately giving up a piece of myself in return along the way.

What I’m trying to get at is this: among the quiet hum of the things we ingest on a daily, yearly, life-long basis, take a second to push aside the veil of pride that accompanies your likes and dislikes, and think about the people who shaped, affected or made your 2014 an all around better experience. I know I will.

Oh, and Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was probably the greatest cinematic experience of the past decade from writing, acting, directing, score, execution -- everything. Man, those drums accompanying the movement of that film just had this kinetic burst, didn't it? High praise for that film.

But also, people. People are what matter. – Andrew Plock

anna-kendrick-pitch-perfect-650-430I’m crazy. I don’t just love things. I obsessively love things. And the person I love the most that isn’t a family member or friend is Anna Kendrick. If you’ve had a conversation with me, seen my iPhone case, or follow me on Instagram, more than likely you picked up on my love. Why do I love her so much? She’s funny, beautiful, intelligent, talented, driven, humble - I could go on. She’s basically everything I want to be. And I truly feel that if we were ever to meet, we would become best friends. Her tweets make me laugh. Her face makes me smile. Hearing her talk brings pure joy to my heart.

Anna’s birthday is August 9th. My birthday is July 9th. I KNOW. Our birthdays are a month apart. How destined to be best friends are we?! My birthday this year was very special. I had a show a few days after my birthday. After the show, I was talking to Sean, my best friend. Sean steered me towards the lobby of DCH and waiting for me was a cardboard cutout of Anna Kendrick. I was surprised, happy, and touched. I couldn’t believe that Anna (I know it’s not the real Anna) was in front of me. She was all mine. Sean orchestrated the surprise with our friends. So thanks Sean, Amanda, Ashley, Britney, Carolyn, Clarence, Clifton, Dana, Jonda, Jua, Mike, Milo, Nick, Rob, Sarah, and Weikei for giving me the thing I love most this year – Anna. I don’t deserve to have such sweet, caring, understanding, wonderful friends.

Are you interested in joining the Anna Kendrick fan club? I suggest you watch Pitch Perfect, 50/50, and Up in the Air. After you watch those, you can join me in watching her upcoming films, Pitch Perfect 2, The Last Five Years, Cake, and Into the Woods (out December 25th)! – Monica Pantharath

ArianaGrandeLast week I cried to Ariana Grande. It was very unexpected and a little scary because it was such a visceral reaction that I wasn’t ready for. See, I spend most of my time thinking about pop music and recently I’ve been wondering about the difference between a pop song and a POP SONG. A pop song is usually boring and released in May, just in time to capitalize on the breezy summer months. Its cultural importance is fleeting and the song is uncomplicated. There are many of these. A POP SONG changes lives. A POP SONG is important. This song serves all of your feelings on a neatly decorated dessert platter and leaves you to clean up the mess. It’s the difference between Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Britney’s “Toxic.” There are always tears during this song.

This year all of my emotions were served to me by Ariana Grande. Before I heard “Love Me Harder,” I had no real opinion on her. She was a singer who existed; a ponytail with vocals. Ariana caught me off guard. I was sitting in my car eating when Ariana’s now trademark vocals flowed through my speakers over a synth pop beat. She was pleading for the love of her life to “love her harder” if he wanted to keep her. Listening to that, coupled with the fact that I was eating an ugly sandwich alone, had me tearing up by the 45 second mark. By the end of the song, I bought her album. What surprised me was how much of a personal connection I made with the song. She, like all of us, deserve the best kind of love. With “Love Me Harder,” Ariana put me completely into my feelings and solidified herself as a pop star. I just hope the next time she does this to me I’m more prepared. – Jerrell Curry