Last Saturday I got a chance to visit my friend Lillian Frances. Lillie and I were on a team called Frank Booth at ImprovOlympic in the 90s. I was on that team for about 4 years during which we probably performed over 200 Harolds together, mostly at iO, but we also performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and a few other places along the way. We created a show with our friend Tara Davis called the Frank Booth in the Blue Velvet Lounge where we combined torch songs and long form improv, setting scenes in the same lounge where Tara sang. Our swan song was a show called Therapy directed by Miles Stroth where we vented our real life foibles in front of an audience and then poked fun at ourselves through improv.
It’s been years since we’ve seen each other, but we still have a very strong connection. Lillie and I had similar sensibilities and even more similar ambitions. We both wanted to run our own theatres, we both loved improv and we were both frustrated by ImprovOlympic. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful place to learn and grow as performers. It was the kind of frustration you feel when you love something and feel it could be even better if only you were in charge. A feeling that many, many performers have felt over the years as they passed through iO.
In a way, I got my chance to run a theatre in New York for the UCB, at least for a little while, and Lillie is getting her chance now. Last year she bought the Chicago Comedy Company, both it’s corporate improv wing and it’s theatre in Schaumburg. Although she has been running the place for a year now, and rebranded the theatre as the Laugh Out Loud Theater on January 1st, her official opening is just now happening on June 13th.
It’s interesting to see the different choices that she made. Instead of a small ensemble, she cast a big one. She has around 20 performers that rotate into the show (only 4 do each show). Her shows are short form rather than long form. Although the shows are doing well, the financial engine of the company will likely be the corporate shows and workshops they will be doing.
She is fulfilling a dream that I share, to run my own theatre. And even though she shares many of the same values as I do about performing, her theatre looks very different from the one I would start. I would focus on long form, rather than short form. I’d probably want lots of different ensembles and/or shows, not just the one consistent show. And the very last component I would add to my theatre would be a corporate outreach. It’s the part of the improv theatre business that I’ve liked the least, teaching workshops and doing shows for companies.
There are lots of little differences between us, but I still feel like we are peas in a pod when we are together. It’s funny too, because between her husband and her, they share almost all my major interests in life. After chatting with her all day about improv, I spent nearly all night talking to Scott about the internet and Second Life and other geeky topics. I think if I could pick a couple to be a permanent third wheel to, it would be them. I’d only need a break from them to go play poker every once in a while.