Hideout theater gets gig at Long Center
The Austin improv scene has boomed over the past decade and given birth to a succession of new theaters and 30 troupes.
And for the second time since January, the improvloving Hideout Theater has landed a gig at the Long Center for the Performing Arts’ Rollins Studio Theatre, a venue four times the size of the 49-seat room tucked upstairs at the downtown venue.
In April 2009, when the original owner of the Hideout didn’t want to continue his lease, Kareem Badr and two friends stepped up. “We took over the Hideout because we didn’t want it to go away,” Badr said.
Helming the city’s oldest venue for improv performances and classes suits Badr — the gig draws on his passion for improv (his troupe, the brilliantly named Parallelogramophonograph, just played its 300th show) and his enthusiasm for promoting it.
During its decade as the only improv show in town — before the recent momentum that now surrounds the somewhat cloistered improv movement — the Hideout was prone to occasional lulls, Kacey Samiee of troupe Girls Girls Girls says. “There was a period of time where we would come to do shows and they would be canceled because there was no audi- ence,” she says. “This lasted a very long time.”
Last year, now surrounded by new theaters, Badr’s group succeeded in bringing new vigor to the Hideout. “Now, the rare thing is to have a house that isn’t full,” Samiee says.
They chose “Battle of the Sexes” for this week’s show, a format that’s played at the Hideout every weekend for the past 11 years.
But the atmosphere changes for these bigger shows, Badr says. The theater suddenly fields calls from people who’ve never been to an improv show, and the audience fills with the uninitiated.
As with their first show at the Rollins Studio Theatre, they’ll be joined by visiting improvisers of some renown. On this occasion, it’s Amber Nash and Kevin Gillese from Dad’s Garage Theater Company in Atlanta, who’ll captain their respective genders’ teams.
The format is a series of challenges: One team challenges the other to do a scene without the letter “S” or to stage the most dramatic scene it can imagine; sort of the theatrical equivalent of a game of horse. Each scene is then scored by three judges.
Badr and Samiee also stressed something about improv that’s misunderstood: It’s not just about the jokes. “When the crowd is on your side,” Badr says, “making a joke is the easiest thing to do.” What is much harder to do is to leave them with a sense of awe.
“I’ve been doing improv long enough that making an audience laugh isn’t hard, but if I can make them gasp, or lean forward in their seats because they’re so wrapped up in what’s happening — that’s something that really good books, really good movies, really good theater, does, and there’s no reason improv shouldn’t do that,” Badr says.
The cost to rent the bigger theater was picked up by Catalyst 8, a group of philanthropists dedicated to propelling rising stars to the Long Center’s bigger stage. This sparks a bit of improv to end the interview.
“What nice people!” Samiee says, after hearing about Catalyst 8 for the first time. “Their name makes it sound like they stand around in robes while you make your pitch,” she adds.
“Well yeah, there was some kind of ‘blood-letting’ ceremony,” Badr recalls with a quizzical look.
Samiee: “Yeah, virgins and goats.”
Jill Bernard and Asaf Ronen compete at the Hideout Theatre, where an improv battle of the sexes has run on weekends for 11 years. The event comes to the Long Center on Saturday.