Friday, August 30, 2013

Day 110 - Rachael's 30th/Attending Atlas Improv

I have never celebrated Rachael’s 30th birthday, and I have never been to Atlas Improv in Madison, Wisconsin. Tonight both of these things were on the schedule, which meant it was going to be a busy Friday. Let me start off by saying that I feel lucky to have a woman like Rachael in my life, and celebrating her 30th, and golden, birthday with some of our closest friends meant a lot to me (and her, of course). Leading up to tonight’s dinner event we actually had to make last minute changes to the location of the event because the restaurant Rachael originally picked couldn’t take a reservation of our size. With nearly 20 people showing up for her birthday dinner, it was quite an event, and it made me feel lucky to have so many special people in our lives. So, first thing’s first. Happy birthday, Rachael! I love you to the moon and back!

Happy birthday!
Our evening began with our birthday dinner plans at the local Mexican restaurant, Pedro’s. Although Pedro’s trademarked brand of so-so service left something to be desired, the nearly 90 minutes it took our group to receive our food after ordering gave us plenty of time to catch up, have plenty of laughs, and have some fun. Drinks flowed and people were merry. It was a great way to end a work week and an even better way to celebrate Rachael’s big day. Unfortunately, obligations tomorrow morning meant Rachael couldn’t stay out late, so the party began to wind down quickly after 9:30 pm.

The dinner crew

With knowledge I intended to make Atlas Improv my “I have never...” for the day, Rachael previously indicated she was interested in attending. However, a few margaritas and a pending early rise caused he to change her mind just before the show was scheduled to start. After confirming she was still ok with me attending (she is awesome), I proceeded to the home of Atlas Improv on East Washington Avenue in Madison. Upon entering the building, I was greeted by a man standing behind a counter standing before a movie themed poster advertising a “Friday Night Double Feature” improv event. The sounds of the improv group warming up bounced off of the walls in the building as I approached the counter. At first afraid I was late for the start of the performance, the man behind the counter quickly informed me I was one of two people in attendance for the late show. After confirming the show would still go on, the man asked me if I was still willing to attend despite the low turnout.

In response to his remarks I furrowed my brow and gave a quick glance around the building. A feeling of hesitance gripped me as I stood before the counter contemplating my next move. I started questioning what I was getting myself into as I stood silent before the man. Seconds ticked by as I rifled through the thoughts in my head. “Can it really be that bad?” I thought as I reluctantly pulled my wallet out of my back pocket and pulled out some cash. “Yeah, fine. Let’s do it” I said as I handed the money to the man and did my best to prevent my assumptions from turning into premature disappointment. After hand over the cash the man stamped my hand and invited me to take a seat in the performance area. In response, I walked down a small hallway to my right and around a corner into a dimly lit room with a small platform at its far side. The chairs were empty except for one man occupying a seat in the front row. Feeling awkward about the whole experience, I made my way to the center of a third row and took a seat just before an introduction of the improv troop began.

Well, this is awkward

Over the next few minutes I sat and watched as an announcer in the back left corner of the room introduced each of the 10 improv performers in the Atlas troop. I honestly felt bad for the group as their numbers continued to swell with each new name bellowed over the speakers. Their crowd was 1/5 of their improv team, and that had to be hard to swallow. Despite that fact, each of the members of the improv team took the stage with enthusiasm and excitement, which gave me a greater degree of confidence the experience would still be worth it. That stated, things got a bit awkward again when the troop began looking over the empty room asking for ideas from the audience as they began the show. I chuckled a bit at the fact they weren’t addressing the two of us in the room directly before I gave them a few responses. In response, about half of the improv team set to work crafting a movie preview off of my suggestions. To my surprise, the group was actually quite witty and very funny. They didn’t seem to care there were only two of us in attendance, they were simply happy to be spontaneously coming up with the funniest things they could think of in response to my suggestions. Minutes into the performance I was laughing hard which quickly drove away my previous concerns and earlier assumptions about the night’s event.

This theme continued for some time as the improve troop moved into the next phase of the performance. As a part of the “Friday Night Double Feature” a member of the Atlas team explained the rest of the night would involve the team acting out two movies based on suggestions from the audience. After the man sitting in the front row gave them a few more ideas, the troop immediately broke into an improvised movie about a man, a chiropractor, the most popular girl in the world, and a motorcycle accident. The story that followed was equally as funny as the first few minutes of the performance, with members of the troop moving in and out of characters and bending gender barriers to work with one another in telling the tale. Much to my surprise, I was laughing hard and often, which made the experience entertaining and enjoyable. I was actually surprised to find nearly 20 minutes had passed when the troop wrapped up the first “movie” and prepared to move into the second.

On stage
After a change out of players for the second round of the improv, the Atlas crew moved into the second “movie” in the double feature. The other man in the audience offered some suggestions again, which set the troop into action crafting a tale about alcoholics anonymous and a medieval mace. While the majority of the group remained as funny in the second half of the performance as the players had been in the first, the second half of the performance was much weaker. Largely the result of one player consistently moving the story off track and adding elements with little-to-no humor to the store, the performance dragged on and offered little by way of laughs. There were a few funny moments in the second half of the performance, but it definitely didn’t hold a candle to the troop’s first effort of the evening performance.

Eventually, the improv show drew to a close with the conclusion of the horror themed improvisation, which brought my first experience with Atlas Improv to a close. Although the lack of attendance was originally off putting, I give the Atlas team a lot of credit for giving it their all to put on a show for a crowd of two people. For the most part, the crew was funny and entertaining, which was great to see and experience. While I don’t know if my schedule will permit me to attend another show at Atlas Improv in the near future, I will say the folks that perform in the Atlas troop deserve a lot of credit for putting on a good show. These folks know how to make people laugh, and they deserve a much larger crowd than the one I was in tonight. Overall, it was a good new experience, and I thank Rachael for being cool enough to let me have it on her special day.

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