Like a really funny comet that cruises past the Earth to delight lovers and whip astronomy cults into a frenzy, the Aces have hit Portland with their newest production, National Forest. Every year, the combined might of local improv comedians Shelley McLendon and Michael Fetters takes on the shape of a new sketch comedy show. Last year they delighted audiences as a pair of well-traveled swingers in For Your Pleasure at the Milagro Theatre. This year, National Forest is selling out all its shows at the Siren Theater.
The Aces' signature style revolves around quickly changing sketch scenes that are sometimes so loosely associated they may as well be free associated. Boundless and bizarre, an Aces audience is never bored and sometimes has to hustle to keep up. I really can't say enough nice things about this pair. They deserve all their current accolades and a whole lot more. Let's pump them full of money so they add more shows.
McLendon (also of the Liberators, owner of Bad Reputation Productions and The Siren Theater) took some time to answer some of my questions about the Aces, how they got together and where they’re headed:
MERCURY: Why do you call yourselves the Aces?
SHELLEY MCLENDON: I named us the Aces because it sounds like a name of a gang in West Side Story.
What makes the Aces especially the Aces?
We look at the whole show and how to make the whole show cohesive and a full entertainment experience, rather than a show filled with single sketches that are unrelated. We try to inspire the audience to feel things as well as make them laugh. We've had people in our audiences cry before because of how sweet something is. In fact, I think we've cried on stage too!
The combo of me, Michael, and our director John Breen is pretty special. We are all really good friends and we work really well together, so it makes the whole process really fun and I think that is evident on stage. Oh, and we are known for playing animals.
Which Oregon campground would National Forest most closely resemble?
A combo of Lost Lake and Cape Lookout.
What parts of National Forest will remind me of a Wes Anderson film?
The are a couple of characters that are Wes Anderson-like and we try to have visually satisfying scenes, like Mr. Anderson is known for.
The Aces have great visual design. Why?
Are you talking about our posters? We have wonderful and crazy-talented friends who are photographers (Andy Batt and Galvin Collins) and designers (Adam Murdoch) and they make us look great. The experience people have with the show starts when they see our posters, so we want them to look great.
I heard you added another National Forest show next week. Is that because this weekend is sold out? If that show sells out, will you add more performances?
We actually had to cancel our extra show that we added on the 17th because we realized it was St. Patrick's day and the Siren is downtown, and no one wants to deal with that. National Forest will close this Saturday, but we may bring it back at a later date.
What are the next projects for Shelley McLendon and Michael Fetters, together or separate?
Well, the Siren theater is now my forever ongoing project and there are shows every weekend. I've got a big show in April coming up that will be announced soon. And the Aces will be back in late spring this year with a show called Animal Kingdom which will be a collection of our animal sketches that we have done over the years.
Will there be snacks? Last time there were snacks.