THE END OF AN ERA: A TOUGH LOVE GUIDE TO REMEMBERING WHY WE PERFORM
By Chad Damiani
In the last few weeks, IO West has made some big changes. They’re disbanding 11 of their 12 mainstage Harold teams, with the exception of the popular and long-running King Ten. Those 87 performers will be given a chance to audition for four new all-star Harold teams that will perform Wednesday nights.
And now another bombshell: IO is re-formatting all shows that take place in their two back theaters. For the indie improv community, this is a major happening.
A quick explanation for people outside of the Los Angeles comedy scene. IO West is one of two major training centers for improvisation. For several years, they have provided the most stage time for improvisers on independent teams (teams created by individuals and not affiliated with a school) in two back theaters known as the DCT and The Loft. These shows were free and either hosted by teams or individuals – most of which with some kind of history with the IO training center.
Starting next month, all of these shows will be terminated. It’s not clear what new shows will take their place, but IO’s Artist Director James Grace wrote this in an email to former hosts: “Just be clear, going forward starting Dec 15th, only shows that are directly related to and sanctioned by the training center will be in the DCT and Loft theaters.” I don’t want to speculate too far, but the final level of IO’s training program is creating a new form. It’s hard to imagine that these teams won’t be given the opportunity to host – although no one seems sure if they will play alone or invite outside indie teams to share their blocks.
There are a lot of performers feeling betrayed by IO, but I’m not writing about that. This community is full of such kind and wonderful people and I have nothing but sympathy for those affected. Losing an opportunity to perform is heartbreaking. But the truth is that there’s a wide perception that IO’s product isn’t of the same caliber as The Upright Citizen’s Brigade. It’s not hard to see why. Just go see the line to get into UCB shows that wraps Franklin Avenue. Perhaps IO could have made more gradual changes, but it’s their theater and they have a right to dictate their content.
Instead, I’d like to focus on some truths that I hope every indie improviser and promoter should take away from these developments.
SOMETIMES WE ALL TAKE A GOOD THING FOR GRANTED
There were quite a few shows I really liked playing at both the DCT and The Loft. Fun and dynamic hosts that took pride in booking good shows – as well as using the opportunity to grow as a team themselves. I’m going to miss them.
But there were also a lot of shows in both spaces that felt uninspired. It still shocks me when I see a host/team take the stage with no energy or intention. Everything that happens when the lights go up should be treated like part of the show. There were also clearly host teams that were only together in name only – not practicing or taking advantage the regular (and free) performance time. If you’re a team of six-eight and can only get two members to attend your own shows, then it’s time to give up the slot to a younger, hungrier squad with more focus.
This blog isn’t about blaming those shows for IO’s new policies. For all I know, this mandate came from IO’s Chicago office. But there’s no denying that the weaker shows in both the DCT and The Loft impacted how people treated those spaces. Indifference breeds disrespect and disrespect abuse – with teams regularly cancelling last minute, leaving early or using those stages as a chance to be sloppy and fuck off.
Of course, any improviser who acted this way was completely wrong. The idea of squandering any offer of performance time boggles my mind. But that kind of behavior is endemic to the LA improv community as a whole, which brings me my overall point:
PERFORMING IS A PRIVILEGE
I was talking to a couple of improv friends recently and one of them told a story he’d heard about a booking snafu that led to The Red Hot Chili Peppers performing for some tiny small town crowd – well after the band had become a huge international sensation. The group took the stage and performed a sweat-soaked three-hour set you’d expect them to muster for Texas Stadium.
I responded with a story I’d always loved about a pro wrestler named Shawn Michaels. Legend goes that he worked a house show (no cameras) in the early 90s where less than 50 people were scattered in the stands. Michaels went out and had a 30-minute match where he took multiple falls on the concrete. When one vets made fun of Michaels for limping back to the bus, he told him if one ticket gets sold, that buyer deserves to get his money’s worth.
We’re spoiled here in LA when it comes to stage time. Let this serve as a reminder that could change. So make the most of every opportunity. Always take the stage with purpose. Push to be more present, committed and brave. Cherish your audience and then take pride in being an audience worthy of greatness.
“LIKE” Chad’s JETZO page to learn more about Catsby show line-ups. Stating in December, Catsby runs the second and fourth Sunday of the month at the indie mecca The Clubhouse.
Short version: Chad says smart things about what it means to do improv, how the future could be brighter and more! Sad myself to see indie performance spaces going away, but makes stage time that much more special. I love teams who host shows who do a combination of booking big names while giving opportunities to other groups, and hopefully this means more of that around town.