Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Let's Share

First, an a bit of an announcement. At some point tomorrow, I'll host a post by another writer as part of a Blog Share. This person will post anonymously as I will elsewhere. Please come back tomorrow to check it out.

On another note, my best college buddy, Steve (married to Tracy - see my blog links) has a new blog. A recent post of his led me to another web-acquaintance, Pete, who essentially posed the question, "What is the importance of an improv troupe name?". I think the name is pretty damn important. After dabbling in improv briefly ten years ago, and almost weekly from 2003 through 2007, my opinion on this matter has changed.

In 1998, I began working with Suzanne and Kim, formerly of Big Purse and Matching Shoes. Theirs had been an all-female troupe in South Florida that also did sketch comedy. The name was familiar in that area, which helped with recognition. It also was indicative of the gender of the performers. I never saw them perform, but I sure as hell knew who they were.

The three of us (along with Keven Scotti, who would soon depart) began some light improv rehearsals. I had no training up to this point and Keven had been in two troupes in our university. Once Keven had gone, the ladies and I began to develop a sketch-revue spoofing public television. It never got off the ground, but we did PR photos, a Second City training and more to prepare. We also agonized over a name for our trio. I threw out some suggestions which were not used, but I still love - Three-Tards, One With Sausage - Two Without. Both names reflected upon the group makeup, but were fairly offensive and somewhat obscure.

For a brief time, we adopted the name, Riding Chickens, which was apparently part of a joke about outlaws who traveled on poultry as opposed to horses. Another obscure reference and very silly. This name stuck for awhile, before we settled on Baker Act. I kind of liked this one. It had the word "act" in it, which implied performing. The name, Baker was open to interpretation as it could mean "we're cooking up some entertainment" or that we all assumed it as a surname. Like The Ramones. For obscure reference-lovers, a Baker Act was a Florida law which allowed families to admit relatives into mental institutions. Or something like that. Good enough.

After we all married (within two years of each other). We drifted away from each other and I moved up to Jamestown. After a year of living up here, several like-minded friends and I started an improv troupe. Our teacher and leader was Eric, who'd been performing with Comedy Sportz (good national recognition, name reflects nature of the show) in Buffalo. We were not an extension of them and needed our own name.

I wish I could remember all of the ones we brainstormed, but I can only come up with our first name and our lasting name. Our inaugural performance was under The Bonapartes. I may have come up with this one as it was a street I'd lived on in Long Island. It didn't last any longer than the first night. While it might have picked up recognition at some point, it wasn't indicative of anything we did in our shows and sounded more like a band name. Like The Ramones.

I don't know who came up with our final name, The Unexpected Guests, but this one stuck. Unexpected can relate to the nature of improv, while Guests could be the characters created at each performance. We like it. A lot. The group name has regional recognition, to the point where people screw it up (Uninvited Guests is the most common). Our audiences have also given us acronyms (T.U.G. and The UG). For me, the name works. What do you think?

For the record, I'm not crazy about names like Laugh Riot or Funny Is as Funny Does. I don't like punny names either. I'm not into performing in T-shirts with the name on it or bowling shirts. In TUG, we've adopted black shirts and denim. I love the Second City model of dress shirts and ties - more adaptable than you'd think.


Tracy Crowe Jones said...

Troupe names are always tough to come up with (as the two of us are currently flipping through names via email) - whether for a one time event or for an established long term group. It can also be difficult to come to a consensus on a name. I've been proud of some names the troupes I've been a part of over the years have come up with and not so proud of others. One of my favorites was "Straight Man" - a troupe directed by a woman and consisting of all male performers, except me. We had a good run.

I am always interested in how troupes decide to dress. In KC, most troupes have moved toward the casual, dressy - which I think is nice. It makes them look professional without making them look like clones. I am adamant, however, that no female should ever play in a skirt - it's too confining and is only asking for trouble.

Mr. Social said...

This is so true. If anyone should improv in a skirt, I believe in my heart it should be the men.

Galoot said...

When I saw Second City in Chicago, the women were wearing slacks. One of them is the "wife" in the Sonic drive-thru commercials. Gary, do you remember some of the names we thought of way back when?

PreppyGirl said...

Don't forget the Three-jects, one of my faves. Also... remember the tagline for Baker Act... "committed to comedy since 1998."

I think that Molly chick from second city was wearing a skirt that night. All black - shirt, tights, skirt - it worked in that instance but I wouldn't want to be caught performing say..."death by blender" in a skirt. ;)

Steve said...

Thanks for the plug, Len. The only group I ever had a hand in naming was "Act Two, Baby," which was really just a one-shot show. It featured Tracy and Pete, and maintained a single improvised dramatic line through two acts. In retrospect, it was a good show but not a good name.

By the by, do you remember when you and I and 1 or 2 others wrote sketches through improv for a welcome-Freshman thing at CMU? We had a beer can.

Galoot said...

Well, I remember now! Freshman orientation. I think we did sketches about partying to much and aggressive boyfriends. There were a few stereotypical line readings too, with tongues planted firmly in our cheeks...

If I'm not mistaken, when we were working on lights for that performance, I moved a step ladder with a crescent wrench on top. The wrench fell and clocked me between the eyes. Same thing happened in the same spot a year later.

Steaming bowl o' Calderone said...

First, thanks for the link. Right back atcha! Perhaps I should explain my reasoning behind what I wrote. After discussing marketing (impact, message, desire, draw & etc) with many non-provers, it became increasingly apparent that, unless you had some sort of cache attached to your name, people didn't care if you were called Walt Whitman's Beard or Anti-fungal Ointment. They didn't care how much experience you had or, often times, who you studied with. A rose by any other name, you know? The only thing they cared about was "Will you be entertaining?".

The only time/place it seemed to matter what you were called was within improv circles. We're kind of geeks that way. Anyway, just wanted to share my little focus group testing results to further illustrate. I realize it isn't empirical evidence. :)

Oh by the way - Molly Erdman.

Steve, I don't know about anyone else, but I liked the name "Act Two, Baby!" if for no other reason than the implication that you were coming into the middle of something. Maybe people were turned off by the nod to U2? Oh well.

Galoot said...

I'm digging Act Two, Baby. A lot. I'm still hoping to get Bill Chott to come out my way. There are about 4 troupes we're affiliated with between here and Rochester. We've gotten together the past three years for an Improvathon at SUNY Fredonia. Each act gets their own set, then there's a free-for-all at the end. What's cool is there is no one-upmanship. During the other sets, members of each troupe are absorbing new games, variations on old games and more. I'd love to spend an afternoon with Bill and all of these performers, just lapping it all up.