July 18, 2008

Improv Group Having Fun on the Fly

By Dan Mayfield Journal Staff Writer

While having coffee at Flying Star, the crew from Blackout Theater Company keeps getting stares from tables nearby.

No, the seven members having coffee on a weekday afternoon aren't being rude, they're just having a good time, making jokes and laughing out loud at everything.

It's clear the group is tight, with each trading inside jokes about another and building on jokes until iced mocha lattes almost come out of their noses.

In one year, the new theater group has become tight and has produced eight shows at local theaters. Blackout is hosting its first "The Best of Blackout, So Far," the group's one-year anniversary sketch show at the Albuquerque Little Theatre.

The company is a group of former students from the University of New Mexico who mostly graduated last year. After school, however, they missed having a steady reason to write skits, to perform and hone the skills they'd spent years in college studying.

"A group of us started last summer and we would all get together on Tuesdays to write and practice improv and do workshops," said Jeff Andersen, Blackout's co-artistic director. "That turned into a show."

Well, the group said, it didn't exactly work out that easily.

The nine members, in the absence of rigid school work, wanted to maintain their writing and performing chops. At these Tuesday night gatherings, several skits were honed, and honed some more, until one day the group realized it had enough good material for a show.

"It was called 'Ghetto Thunder Uhhh,' don't forget the uhhh," said Nathan Simpson, a co-artistic director.

Though the original "Ghetto Thunder" skit didn't make it to the show, the title stuck.

"That first show was like 'SNL' ('Saturday Night Live'), but not on TV and less polished," said Heather Yao, public relations manager. But the crew had a blast, people bought tickets to see it, and Blackout felt the need to do more shows.

"After the second show, we decided to get together and decided to do it," to form a real theater company, said Josh Bien, the group's technical director.

"I remember it was Sept. 6," said Barney Lopez, the group's training coordinator. "It was the day after I turned 21."

Since last September, the collective has coalesced into a core group who do everything from writing the scripts to building the sets and writing programs.

Besides the eight shows Blackout has produced, there have been "like 4,000 improv shows," said Leonard Madrid, the group's so- called dramaturge. So far, all of the shows have been at The Box and in theaters at UNM.

The improv shows, called "Blackout Tonight," bring together Blackout members with students to play improv games and do skits.

"We sold out a couple of times. We were like, 'Who are these people? Do you know these people? Those aren't my parents,' " Yao joked.

"We mainly focus on comedy because that's a gap. There are a lot of groups doing theater, but not solely comedy," Madrid said.

After the anniversary show, the group will jump back into rehearsals for the show "Chops," which was written by Madrid, who has won several national awards for his work.

"Chops" is about a politician running for office, but then is outed as a pig. A real, slop-eating, mudbathing pig.

"The sad part is, he's actually a good politician because he's actually a pig," Madrid said.

"Chops" will open this fall at the Albuquerque Little Theatre.

"The Best of Blackout, So Far"

WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday, July 19, July 25 and July 26

WHERE: Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $5 at the door. Visit www. blackouttheatre.com


(c) 2008 Albuquerque Journal. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.