Friday, June 21, 2024

Blackout Presents: Juneteenth at the Ordway

This week I attended my first celebration of Juneteenth National Independance Day, a holiday long celebrated but only recently made a federal holiday, commemorating the end of slavery in the US. And I can think of no better way to celebrate than with Blackout Improv. Blackout has been performing at various venues around town since 2015, and was the first Black improv troupe in Minneapolis. There are more now, many of which perform at the annual Black and Funny Improv Festival which they started, bringing in BIPOC improv performers from all over the country (and Canada!) to perform at HUGE Theater. I've seen Blackout perform a number of times over the years, and they're always "funny, smart, relevant, and topical" (as I wrote one of the first times I saw them). This was the biggest venue in which I've ever seen them perform, the Ordway's gorgeous Concert Hall, and it was a thrill to see them in front of a large and supportive audience in what felt like a usual Blackout show, but also elevated and special.

Blackout is most known for their signature "swag hat," in which they draw topics (suggested by the audience) out of a hat, have a round-table discussion about it, and then perform a few improvised scenes related to it. But on this special night, we had to wait until the end of the show for the swag hat to make an appearance (from which were drawn topics such as Minneapolis vs. St. Paul post George Floyd, Willie Mays, and health care). The first act included various scenes and sketches, improvised or maybe somewhat scripted, led by and including different members of this talented cast (which included Alsa Bruno, Dorian Beal, Denzel Belin, Alexis Camille, Vann Daley, Destiny Davison, John Gebretatose, Mahmoud Hakima, Khary Jackson, AlysshaRose Jordan-Bird ,Gregory Parks, Jada Pulley, Lukas Ramsey, Duck Washington, Karyn Wilson, and Aron Woldeslassie). We were also treated to storytelling, poetry, music, and genealogy. More than just an improv show, it felt like a variety show that showcased the varied talents of the performers.

If Juneteenth is about celebrating Black freedom, Black joy, and Black excellence, then this show accomplished that mission. Everyone in this troupe is so talented in their own unique way, and brings their perspectives as Black Americans to improv, comedy, and storytelling, creating some really profound and poignant moments, as well as some silly and funny ones. We have so many incredible Black performers in this community - comedy, theater, music, dance, and more - and we should support them every day of the year.

You can next catch Blackout at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in a show currently titled Blackout Improv Does Something!!!. They often perform at HUGE or other theaters around town; follow them for info about future performances.

the Blackout Improv troupe on the Ordway Concert Hall stage
(photo courtesy of Blackout)