Onstage during a live improv show, not knowing what's going to happen can be exhilarating. When you're trying to run a business, not knowing what's going to happen can be debilitating.
Yet Amanda Austin, owner of the Dallas Comedy House, handles her career as performer and her job as proprietor with equal aplomb. The ever-affable Austin is preparing to host the sixth annual Dallas Comedy Festival, which runs March 24-28 in Deep Ellum.
But where exactly the shows would be held and the workshops would take place remained uncertain as the festival drew near. The DCH has been at 2645 Commerce St. since January 2010, but the lease is up at the end of March. Austin found a larger space around the corner at 3025 Main St., and work continues preparing that site for occupancy. The new DCH will expand from one stage with seating for about 75 to two theaters seating 99 and 55, with four new training rooms (up from two previously).
Finally a decision was made: The festival performances would be in the old location. But regardless of whether the event was going to happen in the new or old venue, Austin was prepared.
"A lot like how you don't really know where a scene is going to go, and you've got to be ready for anything [onstage], I've been making those snap decisions with the move ... what paint color, seat configuration, what's going to be on the menu, those kind of things."
Austin and Sarah Adams, executive director of the festival, pride themselves on booking a number of well-respected improvisers who want to come to Dallas to perform, as well as teach workshops.
"As we consider the submissions, of course, we want what's really good, but we also try to cast troupes that are diverse both in the appearance of the cast and the kind of comedy they tend to perform," Austin says. "Then we try to schedule them to provide the audience a different view of improv with each act."
This year, Bangarang, an eight- person troupe based at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles, is bringing its brand of long-form improv to Deep Ellum. The cast includes Lauren Lapkus of Orange Is the New Black and David Theune, who's appeared on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The troupe has been playing to sold-out shows on Friday nights at the UCB Franklin theater in LA.
"Dallas has an improv community that is growing by leaps and bounds," Theune says. "And it's so fun to be just a small part of such an exciting time. LA experienced something similar in the last five or six years with an explosion in independent improv. Outside of just being part of a really fun improv festival, we really love the chance to get out of LA and hang out with each other in a fun and different city."
Bangarang members will lead workshops all day March 27 and 28
and then take to the stage later those evenings. Individual tickets to all shows and workshops went on sale early this month, and many of the scheduled workshops have already sold out.
The festival starts March 24 with stand-up sets from Dallas' own Aaron Aryanpur and Paul Varghese, as well as a handful of comedians from across the country. Preston Lacy of the Jackass crew headlines the March 25 stand-up.
Then improv takes over as troupes from Austin, Oklahoma City, California and Dallas Comedy House make things up for your amusement.
This year's slate is highlighted by TJ and Dave, a duo that has been performing on Chicago's iO stage just about every Wednesday night since 2002. It's made up of TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi. Jagodowski has been a cast member on the Second City main stage since 1998 and more recently has become instantly recognizable to many via his work in Sonic commercials. Pasquesi has starred in shows at Second City with Chris Farley, Bob Odenkirk and Tim Meadows, who headlined the 2011 DCF.
The duo is highly regarded within improv circles, and Austin knows it was a hard get.
"They don't travel much. They don't do a lot of festivals, so we're really excited to have them coming to Dallas," she says.
Pasquesi says he's "looking forward to drinking coffee and talking to cattlemen and women ... not cattlewomen, just regular women," when in Dallas.
In addition to herding all the cats within some 30 groups of improvisers, Austin will be in three shows during the festival with her Manick, Local Honey and Roadside Couch troupes. She most certainly will portray a woman onstage and may even act as a cattlewoman if that's where the scene goes. Either way, expect her to be ready for whatever is going to happen.
By Jason Philyaw