The Playground Theater recently hosted a 30-hour improv marathon to raise money for the Illinois Coalition of Reach Out and Read. KC Redheart, an incubator team at The Playground, performed the unthinkable: a new guest team with a new improv form, on the hour, every hour, for 30 hours. They came out alive, albeit cranky, and several team members were kind enough to share some of their experiences with me.
Sarah Ashley: So, whose idea was the marathon?
Bill Stern: A long time ago, I was in a group called Well Hung Jury – and this is in Austin, Texas – and we thought we could do anything. We had just started doing long-form improv, and immediately after doing [long-form] for 20 minutes, we were like, “Let’s do that for 27 hours.” Set a world record. We were really into narrative story telling. So we did it! 27 hours, just us. The thing about that is that the group before and the group after were two completely different groups. Before we did it we were a bunch of kids doing impov, and after we did it we were like a family who knew what each other was thinking. It really changed our whole game.
Dave Maher: Bill had been talking about KC Redheart doing this for over a year.
BS: I was worried that people wouldn’t want to do it. Initially I do think there was a little concern.
Margaret Conway: I don’t think we understood it. Even up until right before we officially decided to take it on, we were like, “Wait, so are people taking shifts? Do we get breaks?”
DM: And that was the same thing that happened with guest groups, too, even up until the day of the shows. There was a mental block I think. There’s no way that that’s what they mean!
SA: You guys got to perform so many different forms over the course of the 30 hours. What were some favorites?
MC: To us, [The KC Roommates Show] was obviously was one of the most fun hours of the marathon. It also was a fart joke for the whole show, initiated by my non-improviser husband.
DM: The Roommates show was an idea I had early on. But Bill is the one who usually is always like, we did this really sweet thing with my old group, we should try it here.
BS: People kind of do similar stuff to each other here [in Chicago]. There’s a lot of montage. Even if they’re not doing montage, the style still feels the same. I just missed kind of really pushing the envelope [in Austin] and failing sometimes. You know like, trying to do some weird stuff that doesn’t always work. That’s how we found the [improvised play] format. KC Redheart is the only group I have that will really experiment like that.
DM: That’s one of the things that solidified in my mind after the marathon. I feel like close to the core of what KC Redheart is about is the experiment. There are a lot of very different personalities willing to try very different stuff.
SA: What sorts of moments stand out in your mind from the entire experience?
MC: Well I was tired every 3 hours. The most difficult times for me were way earlier on than I expected. And I kind of prepared! I tried to get a lot of sleep the week before.
BS: Leading up, everyone helped but Margaret was the most key: getting all the volunteers, all the financial stuff, basically.
MC: My mom works with Reach Out and Read, and through that we were able to get connections to volunteers. The day of the marathon the volunteers were amazing. Showed up, did everything. They were there early, taught each other, stayed later; we never had to worry about it. And we had a few holes in the schedule the day of and people just stepped up.
BS: Also, Kara Jakubec. Like, it wouldn’t have happened without her. She was so helpful.
DM: She was an advocate of the whole thing.
MC: And all of the teams were so enthusiastic.
DM: No one backed out. We never had a time where a team didn’t show up, which easily could’ve happened, but no.
BS: Every team was amazing. Everyone was awesome.
SA: Were there daunting moments in the beginning? Tense or nervous moments?
DM: Here’s the thing – KC Redheart, to it’s benefit, is a group that has a lot of entrenched rituals before shows. Which is awesome. But we didn’t do any of it! Like, we didn’t even warm up before the first show.
MC: There were three or four people at the first show, 6 o’clock Friday. I was so wound up I realized, once we got onstage, and at one point in the middle something made me laugh so hard that I could not get rid of it. I could not stop laughing. What was that? Tag out at the wedding? About how we met? Remember – the pub?
BS: The Irish pub.
DM: And I had Triple Diabetes and my name was Andy–
BS: Type 3.
DM: Yeah! Type 3 Diabetes not Triple Diabetes. Was Karisa [Bruin] in that scene with the date or was that you?
DM: Dude, that’s awesome. Because Karisa was one of the top three KC Redheart members I learned from in this whole marathon, and what I learned was you have to go out. Go out first. Like, even if you don’t have ideas, which not to say she never did, but Karisa was always on top of it no matter who we were playing with. No matter how intimidating or awesome or stupid, Karisa would go out and be in the first scene.
MC: She literally jumps when she goes out on stage.
DM: That’s awesome. See, I like being in it a lot, but I much prefer other people to set it up. Then, when someone mentions a bear or a dragon or something then I’ll go out and be the bear or the dragon.
BS: Margaret, it’s funny that you said that you were super wound up in the first hour because I think eventually you found this peace within yourself and you were like, “Whatever.” It was really great.
DM: It was surly… Which you wouldn’t expect from Margaret. Her responses became so much more immediate.
MC: That was really fun.
BS: Its great to see someone snap and stop worrying about it! And you have to do improv enough until you snap and realize that you can’t worry about it if you’re going to do it right. Its like a killer instinct.
DM: I think every single person had some display of killer instinct at some point during the marathon.
BS: Like George [Serad] came up doing short form and we had a short form show earlier on and he lit the fire under it.
SA: What were some other pivotal moments you recall?
MC: I feel like I can’t pick one. I did fall asleep standing up. I almost fell down. I had some moments where I hated everyone, where I was just angry and things weren’t going well, like right before the 3 am slot.
BS: I’ll tell you what, my most dire moments were when I was doing improv in the way that is the worst way possible, where I was looking at my watch to see how much time was left. I wasn’t playing the way that I like to play and that is the only way to do well, which is to not even think about it.
DM: That ended up being a growing experience.
BS: One of the whole points of dong this is to get better. And I definitely learned to just soak it up live in the moment enjoy it.
MC: Dave, I don’t think I ever saw you actually sit, even between shows ever. You were just such a strong presence in all of it.
DM: What always helped me get into shows was editing. As much as sweep edits aren’t as sophisticated, they were super helpful to me and whenever I would do it, it would be a quick burst of energy. But, one of my sweetest moments was actually during the kids shows. I played the chief villain and in the kids show everyone ends up being friends with the protagonist eventually. The show was a series of tests. We gotta run through the forest, swim through the river, get all the way back to the Home Depot. But, at multiple points I would look at Bill who was the narrator. I would try to find ways to shortcut the narrative and be like, “Hey guys, we don’t have to do that! Lets wrap it up!” And Bill was like, “No, let’s see it through.” That was his subtext. It was a nice moment for me to realize, “Oh, as grueling as it was, its always more fun to play the whole thing out and not to take short cuts.”
BS: That’s a good marathon lesson. You eventually learn what works for your group.
MC: Everyone’s core style became so clear. It’s amazing. Like, I know when Mark [Logsdon] is gonna kill it with a one-liner.
DM: Mark is so good at summing things up.
BS: He’s good at immediately recognizing what is the weird thing here.
SA: Do you think you’ll do a marathon again next year?
BS: This is a funny question. Immediately afterwards I was like, “Well, good enough. I don’t need to do this anymore.” Then yesterday, Karisa goes, “I can’t wait to do this again.”
DM: Honestly, we learned too much stuff to not do it again.
Troupe: K.C. Redheart
Performance: Playground Improv Marathon
Venue: Playground Theater