April 29, 2008

A History: Lighten Up

The history of Lighten up told by Trish Berrong.

I started as a performer at ComedySportz in 1990. I'd been playing about 5 months when Marc Garlett joined. We dated for a while, and both worked in the office at CSz--I took charge of PR efforts, with Clancy's permission, and Mark re-started high school leagues (where we met Dan Walsh and Tim Mason) and taught workshops.

Sometime that fall, Marc pissed off Clancy and got fired. I stuck around till the ComedySportz Invitational Tournament, then left as well. We considered moving to another city and trying to get a CSz license, but Chudnow was loyal to Clancy, and said he wouldn't intentionally start a new league with someone in a feud with an existing owner.

So we started Lighten Up, performing an improv game show with sketch commercials and news breaks (Play It By Ear) upstairs at Harry Starker's on the Plaza. Our auditions were in February '92; our first show was Friday, March 13. We had a mostly-new troupe to train in a month--we were lucky to have a couple of former CSz players with us, as well (including Doug McCann, Ria Stafre and Marc's brother Kyle).

We got kicked out of Starker's (audiences were too loud, apparently), so we created a non-formated show (sketch and improv) called Outside the Lines and moved to the Fine Arts.

We left the Fine Arts for a short run at Orlando's in the River Market. In an attempt to make money, they'd brought exotic dancers to the restaurant and caused a huge uproar; one of our members had a connection there and brought us in to take the heat off by doing family shows. We held a press conference, put in Play It By Ear and Outside the Lines (now sketch-free), and lasted exactly one weekend. Even then, we had to ask the bartender not to dress like a ho.

So. I wanted to rent a theater just for shows...Marc wanted to rent our own space. Our first theater was the current location of the Persona Day Spa at 74th and Wornall. We ripped up carpet, broke up tiles, built walls, installed bathrooms, put in air conditioning, covered thrift-store sofas with badly dyed sheets because we couldn't afford tables and chairs...all on my Hallmark salary, some credit cards and a couple of personal loans Marc and I took. We ran into codes issues, parking lot problems...I think we performed there for about 5-6 months before our landlords asked us to leave for making noise (a group that rented our space during the day put their speakers right up against the wall and blasted out the business next door). By then, we were happy to go.

We moved to a space right next door to the old ComedySportz stage at 323 West 8th Street and were there from...oh, 94-97 or 8 or so. While there, we:
--Performed Play It By Ear and Outside the Lines weekly.
--Started Spontaneous Combustion: The US Improv Festival.
--Taught Flying Leap improv workshops.
--Got a license to do Theatresports, which we used to create an "anybody can play" competitive league (where we met Jared & Ed and the rest of the Trip Fives).
--Started the KC High School Theatresports League.
--Brought in out-of-town directors like Joe Bill and Rob Reese.
--Directed some short-run shows with other local improvisers.
--Rented space to Caught in the Act, Renegade Theatre (from Lawrence), Out on a Limb, and whatever the name of Matt Rapport's group was (actually, I think that was in the Wornall space).
--Let Marc's girlfriend direct a REALLY awful Halloween show called "Blood Clot Bingo," in which they threw a ramen-noodle-gelatin-kidney-bean mixture at the audience, and it later turned to cement. (I was thankful to have talked Marc out of his original idea: using animal parts from a butcher.)

Lighten Up came to an end when Marc and I decided to part ways. The company had taken on some debt as a result of paying directors for improv festivals and getting the space up to code for an unprofitable coffee shop. We were starting to dig our way out, as a result of growing crowds for our game shows, regular sell-outs for the improvised musical in Outside the Lines, and a hugely successful high school program (which made money for us AND the school theater departments).

Over the years, Marc and I realized we had very different philosophies about the way the business should be run, and they came to a head over the debt issues. We decided to split. I left, as did the cast. He kept the theater, which closed within weeks.

It was kind of a sucky way for things to end...but man, it was fun while it lasted.

1 comment:

kcimprovgeek said...

A. I'm deeply honored.
B. But I'm concerned your readership is going to PLUMMET, because
C. I think maybe only my Mom is this interested in me.
D. Also, wondering: Are the photos going to continue to get progressively less flattering? I think I SERIOUSLY need to clean out my Facebook albums.