The Back Pack Uses Classic Physical Comedy To Create Something New And Whimsical

Apr 10, 2019

“We like to call it movement-based comedy,” says Pete Betcher, one of the founders of The Back Pack. “It’s a little bit of dance, it’s a little bit of media, it’s a little bit of theater, all kind of blended into one thing. It ends up being very fast paced.”

The Back Pack’s current show, Wear and Tear, like all of their works, is a fast-paced, energetic, and dialogue-free show that gives the impression of spontaneity even though it’s meticulously planned out.

“Everything is very tightly choreographed and planned out. A lot of people accidentally call it improv because it has that very playful nature to it, but it is definitely not improvised,” Betcher says. “It is very tightly choreographed.”

“Down to the second,” adds Katie Kohler, also a founding member of the troupe.

The members of The Back Pack have created a new type of physical performance – Kohler says “when I’m selling the show to people, I’m like, ‘I promise you’ve never seen anything like it,’” – but it draws inspiration from many earlier physical comedians.

“It takes a lot of inspiration from older media types. A lot of people will describe it [as] similar to the feel of an old cartoon. Just because it has that whimsy and… it could go anywhere at any moment, [with] no explanation as to why,” says Betcher.

“But it’s got some of the cleverness of Looney Tunes,” Kohler adds.

“And there’s also like a little I Love Lucy, a little Mr. Bean thrown in there too,” Betcher continues. “There’s some old classic clowning.”

The Back Pack has been honing their craft for about ten years now. “We’ve been working together for about a decade. I guess the format started when we were in college. One of our friends… was producing a ten-minute play festival,” says Kohler. “And she was scrapped for content and was like, ‘Just do something. Do anything.’ And we were like, ‘Do we have to talk? Do we have to write a play?’ And she was like, ‘I don’t care.’ And so we brought her this. And it was really well received.”

“Our main shtick – why we’re called The Back Pack – is we wear these pads of paper that are layered anywhere from twenty to sixty papers deep on each of us,” Betcher explains. “And so as the show goes on, we rip off those pages to reveal new costumes, new props, new characters, new settings.”

“I tell people [to] just come and have fun. It’s a fun show, don’t overthink it. There’s nothing to get. It’s just entertaining,” Kohler says. “We write for adults, but you can bring your kids. Kids love us, because we’re, I guess, absurd and whimsical and just that. There’s no deeper meaning unless you want there to be. And you can find that on your own.”  

The Back Pack's 'Wear and Tear' is onstage at Zach Theater's Whisenhunt Stage through April 20.