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Arts Eclectic turns the spotlight on happenings in the arts and culture scene in and around the Austin area. Through interviews with local musicians, dancers, singers, and artists, Arts Eclectic aims to bring locals to the forefront and highlight community cultural events.Support for Arts Eclectic comes from Broadway Bank.

'Comedy as a vehicle to have conversations': 'Nostalgia: 90s Rewind' mixes comedy with tough topics

Hideout Theatre

Seeing as she’s the creator and director of an improv show called Nostalgia: 90s Rewind, it’s not really surprising that Rochelle McConico grew up watching sitcoms in the 90s. And like the creators of the shows to which Nostalgia: 90s Rewind pays tribute, she’s not afraid to mix a few lessons and Serious Discussions into her comedy.

“I think of comedy as a vehicle to have conversations,” McConico says. “And so I always want to have conversations that deal with the heart space and deal with this idea of change and who we are and question those things. And comedy allows us to do that. So I was like, hmm, what are we feeling right now? People are feeling nostalgic, people are getting in their thirties and forties and they're… trying to look back.”

Being a comedian and improviser (not to mention being The Austin Chronicle’s currently reigning ‘Champion of Comedy'), a comedic improv show was a natural fit for her to explore these ideas. “And I'm like, can I create something that allows us to look back?” she says. “But also with a lens of like we're laughing. But also there were things going on back then too that we really kind of need to deal with and think about. Some of the things that are happening now… were seeded in that time or were happening in that time. And so how can we kind of hold up a fun house mirror to that and laugh but also, you know, be serious and say some things?”

Nostalgia: 90s Rewind, the funhouse mirror that McConico created, is an improvised sitcom in the 90s style (think Full House, Family Matters, and Step by Step) which fully embraces the humor, silliness, and Very Special Episodes that are inherent to the genre.

“We have a lot of very special moments that are kind of peppered in throughout and that's been kind of the fun challenge,” says cast member Steve Guntli. “Rochelle always says… the only way that we're really gonna fail at this is if people walk away just having laughed and not having anything else. Like if they're not thinking a little bit about what they just saw, then we're not doing our jobs.”

At the start of each show, five performers become the family at the center of that night's improvised family sitcom. “And they don't know what position they play in the family – if they're the mother, the father, the child or a wild card,” McConico says. “That comes while they're on the stage. And then they are influenced by the TV coming on, and every time the TV comes on, it's a new clip that they've never seen before and they have to try to incorporate that into their play. And some of the clips are funny and some of them are tragic, and they have to let that inform their character and then inform the moves that their family makes.”

“It's insane,” says performer Jose Da’Hype. “It is an insane process, the act of literally just being on stage and having to listen, think, create and communicate at the exact same time. It's… have you ever tried to walk and chew bubble gum at the same time? It's just that difficult.”

“While also rubbing your stomach and patting your head, all of that,” Guntli adds.

“I believe that everybody in the cast is a product of the nineties, Da’Hype says. “All of us, in our rehearsals… make nineties references in the show. You know these are people that grew up in the nineties because we're referencing things like Tamagotchi, we're referencing things like Tickle Me Elmo, the first World Trade Center bombing. We remember being there for those things. So you get a lot of authenticity from the actors when we're up there on that stage because we were there.”

'Nostalgia: 90s Rewind' has one performance left this Saturday night at the Hideout Theatre.

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for KUT.org. When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.