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August, 2016

The Path to Process

by Process director Jeremy Sweetlamb

The Hideout is a special place for a lot of people. I was around for its inception in 1998 and only after so much recent growth and expansion of their programs and shows have I really begun to see how important it is for so many people. This is a place where someone can submit a ridiculous format like Process, and because there is so much support from staff and systems already in place, a crew of 10 artists and 9 actors can deliver magic. Yes, I am directing the show and I know this sounds a lot like my own horn or some sort of propaganda, but I contend that my influence as a director in an improv show is way less than in the scripted world. The amount of self-directing that the crew and actors do every night for Process way outweighs any influence I have in rehearsals. With these things in mind, I reached out to Rachel Posey Austin and J.R. Zambrano, a couple of our newer performers, to see how they got into theatre, and why they auditioned for Process in the first place.

Jeremy: What is the first memory you have related to theatre?

Rachel Austin in “Precious Bane”

Rachel: My first memory is playing a Christmas tree salesman in a school play in 1st grade. I was overzealous and basically yelled all my lines. I also remember micromanaging all of the other “actors” by pushing them into their places, and if they even remotely hesitated on their lines, I would say them for them. I was well-loved among the cast.

JR: It was pretty early–I couldn’t have been more than 10. My family had just moved to Harlingen, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. And to try and find a place in the community, my mom went to go and audition for a community theatre production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She ended up bringing me and my two sisters along, and since they were auditioning everyone, I tried out as well and ended up in the kids’ chorus with one of my sisters and a few other kids. My first real clear memory is sitting in the theatre, watching the director and the other actors choreograph the song and dance numbers and trying to dance in sandals. I learned a valuable lesson that day, which was that they can hear you on stage even if you’re singing quietly to yourself in the audience.

Jeremy: Is there someone in your past who has encouraged your love of theatre and/or improv?

Rachel: My dad’s side of the family is very artistically inclined. My grandmother is an artist and my uncle is an actor (and owns the The Ochre House in Dallas). Growing up, I remember talking at length with both of them about theater, art and creative expression. My parents, while neither creatively-inclined, always encouraged me, and I can remember running lines with my dad while sitting on the back of a truck when he was working cattle (he is a veterinarian).

JR: Oh, absolutely. My mom did a lot to encourage my love of the theatre. She’s the whole reason I got into it in the first place. And when I was 12, we took a trip to New York and saw two shows on Broadway (Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables), and that did a lot to cement a love of the theatre. She even helped put together this traveling children’s theatre troupe which went to local schools and did plays for kids. I played Pinocchio. It was a ton of fun.

J.R. Zambrano in “Aladdin”

When it comes to improv, that’s easy: Kacey Samiee threatened to murder me if I didn’t take an improv class. I haven’t looked back since. I was very lucky to end up in Ruby Willmann’s class. She is an incredible teacher and made everything about improv wonderful. Whether it was pointing out that it’s just people up on stage being dumb and goofy, or showing how there’s a kind of magic when everyone listens to each other and a story kind of creates itself. And the best part is I keep meeting awesome people who just make you feel welcome and like you’re doing something really neat together, and I love it. I can’t say enough good things about how friendly and encouraging everyone I’ve met through improv has been. You’re all great!

Jeremy: What is a scripted role or improv format that you would love to play again?

Rachel: Earlier this year, I was in an improvised space western narrative, inspired by the Joss Whedon TV show Firefly. Members of the crew developed characters that they played throughout the run, and the shows were serialized and built off each other. I really loved building that character and playing with the other characters. It was hard to abandon that character after the show concluded and would love to do something like that again.

JR: Oh man, that’s a tough one. I’m not sure if it counts as a format, but I really liked doing SongRunner (an improvised, cyberpunk musical) and I would do that again in a heartbeat. That or Fiasco.

Jeremy: What got you interested in auditioning for Process?

Rachel: I loved the idea of playing two characters – the actor character and the role the actor is playing. Also, I liked that the show pokes fun at scripted theater while still exploring what makes scripted theater so great.

JR: I loved the whole idea of it. Especially when I heard that there’d be costuming and a set, and that it was as much about putting on a show, as it was about performing a show, if that makes sense. I wanted to see what kind of stories you could find in that format, and I thought it might be a great chance to show some love for theatre, which has been a part of my life for a long time now.

Jeremy: Was there anything that happened in your first Process show that surprised you?

Rachel Austin in “Process”

Rachel: I was surprised how fast the time goes. It felt like we had barely started before it was over – but time flies when you’re making things up. Also, the costumes/set pieces. I knew they would be great. But I had no idea how great until my first show. They were so good and just continue to get better.

JR: Absolutely: There were these huge flies on stage, big enough that the audience could see them. Big enough that you couldn’t shoo them away. And in the second half of the show, where we’re putting on the play, I was in a scene with Courtney Hopkin and she was giving this intimidating speech and one of the flies landed on a plum she was holding. Then, right at the absolute perfect moment in her monologue, she paused, swatted the fly, and it fell dead to the stage as she finished talking. It was magical. That kind of unplanned intrusion by reality exemplifies the best thing about live theatre of any kind–each show is its own creation dependent on both the cast/crew and the audience. Even if you’re seeing something that’s been done myriad

J.R. Zambrano in “Process”

times, like Hamlet, you’re still seeing the performance of Hamlet that happens that night. And that particular show will never happen again. So what will your show be like? Only one way to find out!

Jeremy: Who would you most like to see you performing in Process, living or dead?

Rachel: My mother….and Drake. Then we’d hang out and be best friends.

JR: I would love for my grandma to get to see it. I think she’d get a kick out of it.

Jeremy: Big one here: Has the Hideout changed your life? Explain!

Rachel: Absolutely. I didn’t know how much I craved being a part of a community and having a creative outlet. When I started going to the Hideout, I felt more at home than I had for most of my adulthood. I walk in the Hideout and it’s like I’ve come home from school in 4th grade. Instead of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich waiting for me, it’s lovely people and a fantastic cup of coffee. I feel very lucky to have found this place.

JR: Oh man it absolutely has. It’s given me a place where I feel at home, and a wonderful community. There is no way that doesn’t change your life–more directly though, it’s helped me feel more confident and jazzed up about life in general. I mean, I directed a show there recently, and it was basically a dream come true. It’s one of the first times I’ve felt like I could just get out there and make something happen, it’s an incredibly empowering feeling. Plus it’s inspiring being around all the creative folks there. Again, I can’t say enough things about the community they’ve helped build. It’s wonderful.

Jeremy: Tell me the worst possible idea you can think of for a HO main stage show.

Rachel: Improvised Joe Dirt.

JR: Le Petomaniacs: an improvised musical where all the music is farted!

To see Rachel, J.R. and Jeremy in action in Process, get your tickets here!!

Process photos by Steve Rogers and Michael Yew

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Breaking the Status Quo with Tyler Lane

This Sunday at 2pm, Hideout wunderkind Tyler Lane is leading a workshop entitled Status Work in Improvisation. If you’re looking to take your scene work to the next level, sign up now because spaces are limited!

We talked with Tyler a little bit about what inspired this workshop and what status in improv means to him.

Hideout: What inspired you to lead this workshop?

Tyler: I use status a lot in my improv, probably more than anyone else I know, because it helps me out so much with understanding what’s going on and what or why things are interesting. In teaching a workshop, I wanted to choose something meaningful to me that I felt I understood well.

Hideout: Why do you think status is so important in improv?

Tyler: Status (as Keith Johnstone describes it in the second chapter of Impro) is something innate to the natural order of things. Things are either acting or being acted upon, and the dynamic shifts of those are intrinsically compelling to humans. We laugh at high-status stupid people when their plans fail and cheer when low-status people go on a difficult journey and succeed. Watching a fight scene, for example, is not fun if it’s just the good guy pummeling the bad guy to death; we want to see a teeter-totter where both hero and villain struggle and edge over each other for dominance until there is a clear winner. Similarly, a scene where the President of the United States falls down a staircase and dies is hilarious, but it wouldn’t be if they were on their way down to comfort their crying child.

Sometimes you’ll see improvisors who tend to play the same way every time, but you can’t really articulate why. People tend towards being either high-status or low-status in real life so they’ll naturally play that way onstage. That means regardless of what voice or physicality their character has, they’ll always have the same kind of relationships and interactions until they’re made aware of it. Acknowledging status means you get a lot more variety in your characters & relationships. This awareness is super important in duos, because if one player is naturally high-status and the other low-status you can really fall into a pattern every scene and not even notice it.

Hideout: What’s your favorite status-centric scene that you’ve seen or done?

Tyler: There’s a wonderful elimination game for Maestro where the players monologue as orphans and the audience chooses which to “adopt”. Recently, Jessica Soos had a leg injury that was near recovery but she had crutches offstage just in case. When it was her turn to come out and speak, she hobbled onstage with them. At that point the winner was clear, and she hadn’t even said anything.

Hideout: What’s your favorite show of status in a movie or TV show?

Tyler: I think It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a great example of status in comedy; terrible things happen to all the main characters but you laugh instead of feeling bad for them because they’re all very high-status.

Sign up now for Tyler’s Status in Improv Workshop!

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