Last weekend, the Maestro returned to DCH. The Maestro is not a man, nor a troupe, but a competitive improv format. For those foolish enough to miss the show, Glenn Smith offers a first hand account of the battlefield. It all started innocently enough. I volunteered to play in this fun little game called “Maestro” on a Saturday night. “It’s a great opportunity to play with new people and experience a new format”, I thought. What transpired was completely different, unfortunately. Although the world of improv is generally known for its supportiveness and for getting each other’s back, I quickly realized that the Maestro I signed up for was actually a bizarre, comedic Hunger Games.
When I walked backstage, I immediately encountered an amazing array of assembled talent, all sharpening their killer instincts by flinging coat hangers at the rafters and cheering lustily when the neck of one would get stuck, as if fastened by a noose. There was the fiendishly handsome Rob Howe, the wily and witty Amanda Hahn, and the agile and fearless Jua Holt, to name a few. Each portrayed a warm inviting smile, but also a subtly sinister twinkle in their eye that suggested their desire to strike at any moment. In my head I could hear Elizabeth Banks’ voice saying “May the odds be ever in your favor” but I knew they would not. As much as I wished to be the Katniss Everdeen in this arena, I knew that I was instead going to be the poor slob from District 9, who would bend over to tie his shoe just as the games begin and get slaughtered by a Cato or Glimmer in horrifying fashion.
The Hunger Games comparison is immediately realized as we begin by being paraded in front of the unruly crowd, and then are instructed to square off in a slow-motion Samurai simulation. This incites bloodthirsty screams from surly spectators. On stage there is a blur of swords, stabbing, and then stillness. Somehow, I am still standing. “Could it be that I actually won?” I say to myself. As that last syllable escapes my lips, I am suddenly sliced from behind by the stealthy Jason Hensel, who celebrates while I slump over on to the stage. He is awarded the first point and I feel my first sting of defeat.
Next we are presented with the promise of attaining points through group scenes based on audience suggestions. The audience seems testy from the cold and rain and, despite host David Allison’s best efforts, they insist on seeing bathroom scenes and people stricken with disease. As I feared, I am not up to the task and my feeble attempt to create a marijuana farmer worthy of admiration makes me the first to be escorted from the stage, along with Jared Berger, whose only fault was simply being too nice a guy for these conditions. Depressed and dejected, I sulk off licking my wounds and prepare to watch my fellow combatants fight the elements and each other.
Jason Hensel and Ryan Callahan valiantly try to make an AIDS suggestion funny, while the audience asks Jua Holt and the sharply-dressed Sean McEwan to take selfies on the toilet. When the warm and wonderful Ashley Bright and her sharp-witted partner, Rachel Hall, are asked to play waitresses at the breastaurant, Twin Peaks, things begin to look dim, but Ashley alertly sees a silver-lining and plays a Laura Palmer angle. She then creates a “special” relationship between the two women and the masses turn in her favor. She ultimately rides this wave into the final, where she eventually wins everyone over with a clever infomercial selling light bulbs, complete with outrageous customer testimonials.
So, as midnight draws near, Ashley Bright stands atop the stage and is crowned victorious as defeated performers flock each side of her and bow with respect. The rumble of thunderous applause fills the room and for a brief moment, everyone is happy and the weather has been forgotten. I drove home and nursed the substantial wounds sustained by my fragile ego and vowed to never do something stupid like that again. Yet, as I reflect on that evening and ponder how fulfilling that moment of victory must be, a twinge of desire resurfaces. Maybe I can endure a few more shots to the heart in hopes of someday being the one leading the celebration. We are not finished yet, Maestro! Not by a long shot!
Glenn Smith is a DCH graduate, who originally hails from Disneyland. He can be seen in Juan Direction and an upcoming, secret Ewing troupe. He likes baseball, martinis, and Pawnee, Indiana.