The members of Parallelogramophonograph, the in-house improv comedy troupe of the Hideout Theatre, love performing together but also respect the CDC’s current social distancing guidelines. That’s why, this past Saturday night, they decided to put on a show even though the Hideout was closed to the public.
To keep themselves and their audience safe, they quickly created a “virtual” improv show, performed via video streaming from their separate locations and viewable online to an at-home audience. I talked with the members of the troupe (via web chat, of course) about the creation of the show.
“On Saturday, I was bored around 5 o’clock, and I was like, ‘Hey guys, do you want to do a show tonight?’” says PGraph member Kaci Beeler. “It’s like, let’s just go for it and experiment. The audience is out there.”
Beeler and the rest of PGraph – Roy Janik, Valerie Ward, and Kareem Badr – quickly figured out the logistics and put on their first virtual show later that night, and then did another on Sunday. Doing a comedy show without a live audience does create a different atmosphere, Beeler says.
For one thing, there’s no laughter to be heard, but there is laughter to be seen, via the chat function of their streaming service.
“People would just type ‘HAHAHAHAHA’ in all caps,” she says. “And actually, that was great. It actually does work well – you just have to have a lot more trust, in the process and in your work.”
“We’re pretty good at adapting,” Badr says. “And I think one thing we kind of set as a goal early on when we decided to do this was to acknowledge that all four characters are on screen, like all four characters are meeting virtually for some reason.”
“I think that we’re all of the mindset that limitations or mistakes or anything that’s out of the expected can be a great opportunity for creativity and discovery,” Ward says.
The virtual show was created as a response to guidelines in place because of the COVID-19 scare, but this is not a show about the pandemic.
“We’re trying to not talk about it,” Badr says.
“We want it to be a place of escapism, which has always been the point of our shows,” Beeler says. “I feel like we’ve figured out the comedy of [this show] pretty well, and now I’m kind of curious how do [we] bring in the artistry and still keep people engaged?”
“It’s definitely a strength of ours and a focus of ours to kind of mix in the sour and the sweet when it comes to improvised theater,” Janik says. “And so far, our two shows have been like us funnin' around on camera, and now we’re interested in digging deeper.”
PGraph will be doing several virtual shows this week, and the Hideout will continue to produce streamable content as long they need to.
“PGraph is going to do virtual shows more and the Hideout – our plan of attack is to continue doing virtual shows and rebroadcasting old shows just to give people something to watch and a way to support the theater,” Badr says.
“And then as it’s safer for people to go out but people are still hesitant to be in an audience, I think we’ll start doing shows… to an empty house but then broadcast [them] on the internet.”
Live and pre-recorded streaming content can be found at The Hideout's website.