Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Black and Funny / Twin Cities Improv Festival at the Bakken Museum

Last weekend, I attended the final performance of the joint festival by the Black and Funny and Twin Cities Improv Festivals. And it only made me wish I had seen more of the performances. In the before times, I didn't see improv often enough, but I had to go to Huge Theater (which was a sponsor of the event) at least once a year to see my favorite improv show, Family Dinner. It had been a year and a half since I had seen live in-person improv, and it was so amazingly wonderful to laugh with other humans at silly, smart, fun performances made up entirely new right in front of us! That's the magic of improv, doable over Zoom but so much better in real life, even outdoors* under a tent on a rainy day. The festival may be over, but live performance returns to Huge on July 9 with shows every Friday and Saturday throughout the summer, and their full schedule returning this fall (click here for details).

The final performance featured two popular Twin Cities improv troupes that perform regularly at Huge and other venues, The Bearded Company and Blackout, both of which performed with a subset of the larger group.

Using the prompt "slingshot," Bearded Company members Maria Bartholdi, MJ Marsh, and Tyler Mills spun a story of a courageous 12-year-old girl going after ghosts, vampires, and vampire-ghosts who were haunting her school, with the help of her best friend. Quick, clever, and funny, the performers took the story to places I don't think even they knew it was going! You can hear more of Bearded Company on their D&D fantasy improvised podcast Break the Dice

The all-BIPOC troupe Blackout's typical performance procedure is to collect topics from audience members on slips of paper, which are then drawn at random from a hat. Because covid, they just asked the audience to shout out topics, from "Black people on roller coasters" to "people on a chicken" (the latter coming from some younger audience members than you would usually find at an improv show). Blackout members Alsa Bruno, Alexis Camille, and John Gebretatose, along with two out-of-town special guests, then discussed the topic, followed by an improv scene related to the discussion. Again, this went into some weird and wonderful places, including a TV teen drama about swans. The uniquely great thing about Blackout is that they can have some serious discussions about current topics, especially those concerning the Black community, and then turn around and make you laugh.

The Bakken Museum (next to Bde Maka Ska) is becoming the performance venue of the summer. It's a really lovely location, even in the rain! Wayward Theatre will be performing their "Mixtape" storytelling series there next month (for a full list of outdoor performances in 2021, click here). And watch for the Bearded Company, Blackout, and other improv troupes at Huge Theater in Uptown beginning July 9.

The Bearded Company and Blackout
(photo credit: @cherryandspoon Instagram)