The third night of Stumptown Improv Fest was crazy packed. At the opening of the 8:30 pm J Names and North Coast show people were on waitlists. Volunteers were flying around like superheroes, finding people seats together. There was a lot of dubstep pumping straight into the Artists Rep auditorium and it had a disorienting effect on everyone.
Leon Anderson and Erin Jean O'Regan ran out to introduce the show and I originally thought the absence of Jed Arkley from the Stumptown Improv tri-wizard hosts meant he’d fulfilled my prophecy and collapsed from exhaustion. I’ve been reporting on everyone’s gradually hoarsening voices all weekend but his was certainly the most pronounced. It turned out—I should have remembered—he was just in the troupe they were announcing: J Names. J Names is a Portland supergroup composed of eight people whose names start with the letter J. Their performance was a little unbalanced—too many type-A comedians on an island. The shining star ended up being Jenn Hunter who deftly managed her energy and everyone else’s, tying up the loose threads of J Names mania into one hilarious joke where she was a realtor showing various circles of hell.
North Coast was up next and oh my god. The combination of hip hop, beatboxing, and improv sounded like a TERRIBLE idea but I was wrong and I am happy to be wrong. The sounds that came out of Ethan Scott—North Coast’s resident beatboxer—(1) defied reason, (2) were totally gross, and (3) combined to be so cool! Over his beats, North Coast laid rhymes inspired by an audience prompt about Russian nesting dolls, skewed into tchotchke shops and finally into my personal favorite subject, object sexuality. “That’s fine with me as long as I get to have sex with some windows!” Rachel Rosenthal shouted.
North Coast's set was composed of about 60/40 rapping to regular improv but everything was so high-energy that, after 10 minutes, I begin to worry about them. How do they do this all the time? Are they addicted to energy drinks? I have a feeling that North Coast is either really popular (and I just don’t know about it because I live really far from New York) or they are about to blow the fuck up soon. A woman I talked to later said she would likely have the “You can have this atlas for free” song they created stuck in her head for the rest of the week. If you get a chance to see North Coast, see North Coast!
Between the 8:30 and 10 pm shows I made the acquaintance of Tremaine Arkley, King Quince himself (I’m calling him that. He didn’t call himself that). Yesterday, I noted some irritation from the audience regarding the lengthy quince shoutouts before every Stumptown Improv show, but King Quince is a real delight and deserves whatever shoutouts are his due. He invited me to sit in his special quince section and I discovered the two people sitting next to me were only associated with him as people he’d run into at his hotel. THEN GET THIS: Tremaine knows Gilly (Hannah Murray) from Game of Thrones and dropped a bunch of insider speculation on me, mostly that Murray suspects the show’s writers identify with Samwell Tarly. That’s the reason her character has survived this long and why she may make it out of GoT alive in the end. Then we had to stop gossiping because The Liberators were on.
The Liberators got off to a rough start with a joke about Chinese inventiveness which immediately alienated a lot of the audience. You could feel the people trying to go there with him but there just was no there to go. The Liberators didn’t manage to make their way back to their typically exceptional form. Maybe this was just a casualty of performing after North Coast.
Orange Tuxedo, long time improv pros Carla and Craig Cackowski, closed out the show by acknowledging the intimidating nature of doing so after seeing so many incredible and diverse improv performers. They started off slow, creating a world of characters revolving around a performance in a small theater. It wasn’t as funny as it was meta. The extent of their storytelling ability came into full view within the last 10 minutes of their routine, Carla and Craig switching between their created characters, letting you know what role they occupied with simple body posture, taking on each other’s roles and letting the audience fill in the closure. The thing Orange Tuxedo does they do very well and the audience spent the little energy it had left on a standing ovation.
As the last show wrapped, the hosts, performers and volunteers milled out onto the stage floor to embrace and express gratitude to everyone involved making such a fun festival a reality. The Stumptown Improv Fest seems to revolve around a very sweet, close-knit community of improv players and fans having the best damn summer camp experience of their lives. Here’s to 2017! I hope some of them can catch a well-deserved nap sometime between now and next year.