The ComedySportz Crew Visits More Than Just the Classics
By Tommy Dively
No one said these guys were not versatile. ComedySportz Chicago may thrive on their well-known ComedySportz home show but the theatre on West Belmont Avenue offers a variety of shows for all ages. The ComedySportz show is a family friendly show for sure, and the rest of the week features many late night shows for adults only, but Saturday mornings are the kids’ turn, providing them a brief escape into a fantasyland.
David Flora, ensemble member of ComedySportz Chicago, has been apart of The ComedySportz Crew Visits series from its start, adapting famous fantasy tales into hour-long shows meant to entertain as well as inspire kids on a weekly basis. With The Jungle Book winding down and Sleeping Beauty just getting underway, hear his thoughts on his experience thus far.
How has Jungle Book been thus far?
“It’s really fun. I think one of our favorite parts of it is taking the stories themselves and adapting them to fit a ComedySportz-type show and vice versa. So for Jungle Book the book itself by Rudyard Kipling is not at all like the Disney version that I think the people are used to, it’s actually pretty violent and it’s a conglomeration almost of different stories of the jungle. Like the story of Mowgli is just one story, there are a bunch of different stories that follow animals and things like that. What we tried to do was just focus on the story of Mowgli. So, we still follow the stories that people are familiar with, maybe through Disney or fairytales but we also incorporate a lot of that the kids can get up and do with us, a lot of participation type stuff, and a few silly jokes in there for us and the parents sometimes. Not a lot, but the parents seem to enjoy themselves. Making that happen in terms of adapting them is the really fun part of it.”
Compare the show’s structure to improv
“We have a script for every show. The good thing is once we learn the script we’re free to improvise from that if we really need to. Scripts follow a beginning, middle, and end but the kids sometimes participate when we don’t ask for it so we have to be ready to improvise then. We’re free to be flexible with the script once we learn it.”
Talking about Sleeping Beauty
“Mainly Annie [Rijks] is our writer for some of the shows and then once we get it on its feet we will workshop and see if some things need to be taken out. For this one, CJ Tour, who plays the villain Expensivo, is writing Sleeping Beauty is taking the story with more of a unique slant with Sleeping Beauty layered onto it opposed to the other way around. So in this one we have players who are at odds from the beginning because in real life one of them wasn’t invited to a party and that carries over to the story of Sleeping Beauty, where the evil fairy wasn’t invited to the birth of the kid. So, it runs parallel like that. We just have started rehearsing it, we did a table read last week, and we’re going to put it on its feet this week. In any of these processes we find new things and we find what doesn’t work as we go along in the process.”
How long is the writing and rehearsal process for each show?
“It takes us as long as it we need to read the story and then we will probably write two to three drafts of the story. Like I said, in the past, Annie writes it, I read it, then we talk about it and write another draft, then we present it and workshop it from there. It can take about a month to put it all together.”
The prop and costumes differ greatly per show?
“Immensely because for Alice in Wonderland we had a ton of stuff; we had a Mad Hatter scene, there’s a croquet scene where we had actual flamingo puppets and remote control cars for the hedgehogs. For Jungle Book it is very minimalist. We’ve got masks for the characters that are the animals and I think there’s maybe one torch at the end that Mowgli uses and that’s about all the props that we use. It depends on the show.”
How many shows have you been apart of now?
“I’ve been in it since it started with Snow White so that was 2010. It was the first of this series. I know they used to have a ComedySportz for kids of all improv games; they would get kids in here, get them on stage, and do improv games for kids. That happened years ago and I’m not sure how long ago they stopped doing that. They wanted to get kids back in here on Saturday mornings and so they came up with this concept of doing fairytales with a ComedySportz slant. I’ve done about 10 shows.”
How do the children audiences differ from the mostly adult audiences for ComedySportz shows?
“The one thing that is the biggest difference is that when adults interrupt things or shout things out, it’s kind of annoying and they are doing it because they want attention in shows, that’s what I have found at least. For kids shows, if the kids yell something out, they are really invested in it; they are not just being jerks, they are so invested in the story that you have to listen to them and incorporate what they say and go with the flow with that, and that is part of the fun with it. That is the biggest difference, and other than that it’s not much because we are just being silly and they love the silliness too. We don’t dumb it down for them; we are being more receptive to what they give us.”
Any things I should hear about the shows?
“There will be a dragon. That’ll be fun, I don’t know how but we’ll have a dragon in here. I don’t know if people are disappointed that they are not getting Disney versions of this stuff but they are definitely happy when they come out of here at what we do give them. We’re not just doing a story; we’re putting a story with it of our own. It’s a dual story that’s satisfying for kids and adults. And you can watch the Disney version anytime. I watched it online for free the other day. It will definitely be fun for them and give them some experience to get up and do stuff with us, and they will see something different with the story so I think that’s a good thing to highlight. It’s Sleeping Beauty but you’ll see some new things with it with the classic stuff. And we are excited about The Snow Queen next season.
“For the holiday season, November to January, we are going to do The Snow Queen. And then for next season we are doing Beauty and the Beast, Arabian Nights, Robin Hood, and The Nutcracker and Winnie the pooh: Return to Pooh Corner. They are topping out at nine or ten weeks. And we might do something different next season where we do a ComedySportz for kids show in between each run.”The whole group including Flora are continually excited about the prospect of showing kids original takes on these classic tales, many of which the children have either never heard of or have only seen the Disney version. It’s this originality that constantly draws new audiences, kids and parents alike, back again and again and again. So do not miss out on a very fun adaptation of The Jungle Book and be sure to catch the dragon and more in the upcoming Sleeping Beauty right here at ComedySportz Chicago.
CSz 2012 World Championship: A Final Glance Back
By Tommy Dively
The smoke has cleared, the dust has settled, the confetti has been swept away, the matches have been played and the workshops taught, and now we are left only with the memories of an incredible weeklong experience. The 2012 ComedySportz World Championship is finally over, leaving Chicago as the new world champions over Los Angeles. Chicago may have won the trophy, but all 21 participating ComedySportz clubs that came out this year took home something that will stay with them for a while. It was a week of great matches, edifying workshops, and most importantly, a chance for friends new and old to celebrate the theater that brought them all together in the first place.
ComedySportz draws many different people to its ranks and that variety was showcased during the week of tournament. Alli Soowal of ComedySportz Philadelphia said she started with ComedySportz just as a way to fill her leisure hours. After spending too many hours “being bored on the couch with nothing to do, so I took classes at ComedySportz and joined in 2007. And now I’m the managing director of Philly.” Darryl Fishwick of ComedySportzUK in Manchester, England had a similar experience, joining the ensemble just from sheer enjoyment of the brand and what it could offer: “I turned up and loved every minute of the show and when I was picked as an audience volunteer in “Sound Effects” I was hooked. At the time ComedySportz UK was running out of a Youth Theatre, meaning it only had a young troupe. I am now about to enter my 10th year of being a ComedySportz UK player and I am one of the longest serving members of CSzUK.”
Hosting duties fell to Chicago this year for the championship week. This is an immense honor for the city, as the last time Chicago hosted was back in 2001. And the city did not disappoint, making it a big event to say the least. “I think the biggest way it was different to my previous tournaments was the sheer scale of it all,” Fishwick says. “The sheer number of improvisers who attended from ComedySportz was the most I had ever seen, and the Athenaeum was the largest venue I’d ever performed in. It was the first time I had ever needed a microphone or to be sound checked for an Improv show, but it all added to the spectacle.” And spectacle it was, as the Athenaeum held up to 500 patrons on the main floor alone as opposed to the 149 capacity of the ComedySportz Chicago Theatre on Belmont.
The championship week was a great opportunity not only for the younger members to workshop and meet their fellow improvisers but also for the tried-and-true veterans of ComedySportz to catch up with old friends and do what they do best: improvise. Patrick Short of ComedySportz Oregon said, “I had more fun playing this time than usual. Partly because of ‘Ref Trainwreck.’ He had bits but reffed the show really well. We let him do his stuff and he let us do our thing in the games. The second half went more off the rails when Chicago played, becoming an actual train wreck,” Short laughs.
The week hit its grand finale Saturday night not only with the long awaited championship match between Chicago and Los Angeles, which Chicago won, but it also featured the humbling All-Star match. It is a great sign of the many players’ respect for one another, as Fishwick attested to, saying, “It was so much fun to be on stage with those guys and gals, players that you yourself have looked up to and wanted to be like and suddenly you are on stage with them.” Soowal, who along with Fishwick was chosen for the All-Star team in a vote by the 200-plus players in attendance, was also very humbled. “Being voted into the All-Star match for the first time was amazing. It was so much fun, just to be silly with the Brits. Being voted by my peers though was a huge honor.” And it was a well-deserved one for all eight players who were voted onto the team.
All in all, it was another championship week of great matches, fascinating workshops and discussions, and a warm and happy celebration of an art form that takes center stage here in Chicago: comedy. And through short form improv with 21 different ComedySportz teams, comedy put on one heck of a show.
ComedySportz Presents our Newest Class, The 100 Proof Comedy Stand-Up Training Program!
Have you ever dreamed of trying stand-up comedy but are just too scared? Is it a passion you are trying to figure out? ComedySportz is introducing a brand new class starting this August and it is the opportunity for you to finally give stand-up the ol' college try.
"Stand-up comedy can be one of the most intimidating activities that a person can pursue." says Jamie Campbell. "Many people are interested in trying stand-up comedy, but they don’t know where to begin. Our program is designed to provide a positive environment that will serve as an introduction to the world of stand-up comedy. If, after taking our first course, you decide that you might want to pursue a career in comedy, the next 2 levels are designed to challenge you, and help you find your voice as you begin your journey." Jamie Campbell has been doing stand-up for years and can offer some invaluable insight into the craft. The level 2 and 3 classes will be offered in the coming terms.
"Stand-up comedians aren’t made in classrooms." says Jamie. "They are made on-stage with hard work, dedication, and relentless persistence. We’re not going to turn you into a professional comedian. If that’s your goal, only you can put in the effort that it takes." This class offers you the chance to test things out, experiment with different bits, and just give it a try in a safe place. Everyone in our classes here at ComedySportz love testing what's funny, so the atmosphere always resembles that attitude.
Jamie's plan for the class is simple, "Our goal is to give you the tools to take your first steps into the world of stand-up comedy." Level 1 being offered next term not only offers great insight into the art of stand-up for beginners, but it is taught by some truly talented stand-up comedians who can show you the ropes.
Meet our instructors:
Jamie Campbell, Sherman Edwards, and Kelsie Huff
recommended for: Those without any experience doing stand-up comedy and newer performers who have been doing stand-up for less than 2 years.
This course will serve as an introduction to the world of stand-up comedy. You don’t have to decide to pursue comedy as a career before taking this course. You just have to decide that you’d like to give it a try! For some of you, this will be an exercise in facing your fears. For some of you, this might be the spark that lights a fire that continues for the rest of your life!
Next term begins on April 9th!
Stand-Up Level 1 classes next term:
DAY TIME INSTRUCTOR
Wednesdays 7-9:50pm Lisa Laureta
Sundays 3-5:50pm Jamie Campbell
This is a brand new class being offered here at ComedySportz and is sure to fill up fast so do not miss out on this chance to either try out what you have always wanted to do, battle a big fear, or just work on your dream of comedy
CSz 2012 Post-Championship Celebration
To celebrate our historic win over Los Angeles in the 2012 ComedySportz World Championship, we're throwing a Post-Championship Celebration at all our ComedySportz shows this weekend, Thursday-Saturday, July 26-28.
We will be hanging our championship banner this weekend as well as offering complimentary champagne toasts to those who can partake, so be sure to come on out and celebrate this new title of "World Champion" for the city of Chicago with us!
Make reservations for what is sure to be a big weekend by calling 773-549-8080. Visit www.comedysportzchicago.com for more information.
Photo: The entire ensemble and staff taking the stage at the Athenaeum after Chicago's victory is announced on July 21, 2012.