Laughter is contagious. Unfortunately, another (much less enjoyable) thing called COVID-19 is too, which has forced theaters across the country to shut down for the majority of 2020. Luckily, the theatermakers at Jet City Improv are masters at saying “yes, and” and have invented new, creative ways to share their art in quarantine. I had the opportunity to watch their most recent venture, Twisted Flicks: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and I’m happy to report that they are on their way to conquering this pandemic with laughter, the best medicine (note: TeenTix does not endorse laughter as a replacement for vaccines).
Since 1997, Jet City’s Twisted Flicks have entertained audiences by irreverently voicing new dialogue and sound effects for the scum de la scum of cinema. Now, they’re utilizing Twitch to perform with a similar format from their homes, screen-sharing the film on a live-streamed Zoom meeting and receiving audience suggestions via a virtual chatbox. The bridge between audience and performer is one of the things I cherish most about theater, so this replication of that interaction felt refreshing and rare in quarantine. I hope non-improv theaters borrow this device for their productions as well to inject some of the energy of live theater that is lost online.
As for the actual show, improv either whisks you away or it doesn’t—this, unfortunately, didn’t. The performers were sensationally silly and Art Koshi’s improvised score seamlessly blended in with the emotions of the scenes, but I wasn’t captivated by the show’s structure. In the post-show Q+A, improviser Daryl Ducharme commented, “We’re still figuring out virtual improv. It’s okay to experiment and even fail a little bit because that’s how improv became what it is now.” While I believe it was a worthwhile experiment, the long form’s confinement to planned visuals as well as the lack of audience participation for the bulk of the production made it less engaging online.
The scenes worked best when the actors were fully committed to their characters, impressively mimicking the emotions portrayed on-screen while supplying the story with much-needed emotional weight. Incorporating flourishes such as sound effects and pop culture references added splashes of entertainment value, but they only succeeded when held together by strong characters. There were quite a few moments that caused me to laugh aloud, from anti-humor one-liners such as “be there or come later and be there then” to inevitable quips about COVID, but the improvisers often didn’t build upon the situations for maximum comedic synergy, which made the piece no greater than the sum of its one-liners.
While some of the humor was lost in translation online, the charisma and communal values of Jet City weren’t. From the preshow to the Q+A, the cast made me feel more in touch with the local arts community than I have for months, effortlessly creating a collaborative environment despite the challenges of performing virtually. One actor even dressed in a Santa suit and performed the show as Santa performing the role of Santa in the film (“so meta,” as one improviser cheekily commented). However, this casualness was a double-edged sword, causing many performers to not act with a straight face, which snapped my sense of escapism and detracted from the jokes.
Despite the foundation not succeeding for me as an audience member, the show was a pleasant change of pace for quarantine entertainment. I look forward to seeing how Jet City improvisers continue to refine their craft and provide laughter to our community at this time when all we have is each other.
Check out Jet City Improv’s improvised romps from now till the end of time, on their website.