Acting is serious business, and every so often actors need to lighten up a bit. Or a lot.
It’s not like working at the Creede Repertory Theatre is so soul-crushingly dramatic that the cast is unable to crack a smile all summer. There are even a couple of comedies on the docket this season.
But no scripted productions allow the actors the kind of freedom that they find in Boomtown, the CRT’s improvisational comedy side project.
Boomtown will break away from its home stage this weekend for two shows Sunday at the Durango Arts Center.
“It started as kind of an effort to find a show that works for a late-night and younger crowd,” said Jessica Jackson, artistic director for CRT and the de facto leader of Boomtown. She joined the troupe in 2004 as an actor and started Boomtown three years later. Now it’s her “day job,” so to speak, as she no longer acts in the CRT’s regular repertoire.
“It’s excellent therapy,” Jackson said.
Boomtown typically sells out its regular 10:30 p.m. shows in Creede. And with an audience made up mostly of young restaurant and ranch workers, Boomtown works a bit bluer than its mild-mannered alter-ego.
“It’s adult entertainment, but we try to keep it not filthy – we don’t go overly blue,” Jackson said. “It’s more challenging, and we want the humor to exist on a smarter level.
“But what we really love doing is walking right up to the line of good taste, flirting with it and making the audience think we’re going that way. Almost down the garden path to hell but not quite getting there,” she said.
This is serious improv. Boomtown brings with it a musical director (Joe Montelione) who inserts himself into the onstage action and forces the cast to improvise songs as well as more expected comic sketches. And stage manager Laura Berrios makes sure that the lighting and atmosphere is appropriate for what the actors are doing, as well. It adds a facade of preplanning to the off-the-cuff performance. Berrios’ improvisations match the setting to the scene.
Improv comedy comes in many forms, but there are two basic schools, and most people are familiar with them whether they know it or not.
The short-form type is that which is seen on shows such as “Who’s Line is It Anyway?” It consists of quick hits, short sketches and jokes that draw from a full toolbox of standard improv methods and tricks.
Boomtown uses the long-form version more akin to that performed by Chicago’s Second City troupe. Skits typically are up to 20 or 30 minutes in length as the actors work to develop characters and story lines from scratch in what still is a relatively short period of time.
Sunday’s shows will be a rare treat, not only for the Durango audience but for the actors, as well. Nine of the 12 Boomtown cast members will make the trip; the others have to act in CRT’s regular performances, of which there are seven this summer, and it’s not often that any of them can get away for long.
“We’ve done a few ‘away games,’ as we call them, but it is an anomaly,” Jackson said. “Normally, we can’t find a window since all the performers are in the acting company and we do seven to nine shows per week. So it’s usually a struggle to find time to perform elsewhere, but we love doing it.”