Alternative comedy venue heats up in Austin
As two high school boys sit in detention, it is revealed that one of them is a 22-year-old father, before the scene evolves to focus on a chain of restaurants that serve animals dissected in science class.
All in all, it is just another night at the ColdTowne Theater, where improv actors create comedic, sometimes bizarre, situations on the spot in front of an audience. Since opening in 2006, ColdTowne Theater’s improv shows have led to too many ridiculous situations to count, laughed co-founder Michael Jastroch.
“Improv is really just grownups playing pretend,” he said. “And it turns out, when you put that in front of people, it’s extraordinarily funny.”
ColdTowne Theater was Austin’s first dedicated alternative comedy venue when it opened in 2006, Jastroch said. In addition to improv shows, the venue hosts sketch shows and standup comedy seven nights a week.
ColdTowne is one of Austin’s largest training centers for improv actors and sketch comedy writers of all levels. Many of the performances held at ColdTowne are put on by students from the classes.
“It’s really fun for me to see people from all different backgrounds come together and excel and put on really funny shows together,” Jastroch said.
ColdTowne is the brainchild of Jastroch, Arthur Simone and Justin York, three improv actors who moved to Austin from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. ColdTowne’s brand of improv is inspired by the trio’s experience at the iO Theater in Chicago, which teaches character-driven improv and has alumni such as Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and Chris Farley.
“There wasn’t a lot of that [character-driven] style of improv in town at the time [when we started],” Jastroch said. “It’s all about finding the moment, playing the comedy of the moment and staying truthful to characters.”
Austin’s improv community has grown significantly since ColdTowne opened, Jastroch said. While the Hideout Theater was the only other improv facility in town when ColdTowne opened, there are now five improv training schools.
However, Jastroch said he does not see the growth as a threat to ColdTowne.
“Austin’s a special place since it’s one of the only cities where all the [improv] theaters are friendly and work together,” he said. “Because we are all happy with each other’s success and not trying to protect our own little turf, we are able to spread the word about a lot of this stuff to audiences.”
Classes at ColdTowne
ColdTowne classes, which cost $225 and last eight weeks, are run by instructors who have taught and performed at comedy institutions such as Second City, iO Theater and Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.
The sketch comedy writing program teaches students the fundamentals of sketch comedy, while the improv classes teach the basics of long-form improv comedy.
The improv classes are more focused on how to collaborate and develop skills that are useful in the outside world than on teaching students how to be funny, ColdTowne Theater co-founder Michael Jastroch said.
“Improv training allows you to connect with other people in a very powerful way,” he said. “The skills that make a good improviser are great listening, unconditional trust in other people and saying yes more than you say no. Those skills, as you start to work them and practice them, start affecting the way you view the outside world.”
Austin Sketch Fest
During Memorial Day weekend, ColdTowne Theater is producing a sketch comedy festival that is scheduled to feature performances from multiple sketch comedy troupes.
“Our goal is to build a scene of people doing scripted comedy sketches and bolster that scene,” ColdTowne Theater co-founder Michael Jastroch said.
The festival features more than 10 different sketch shows from local and national sketch groups. SuperEgo with Paul F. Tompkins is scheduled to headline the festival with two shows May 24.
The festival’s opening day, May 22, is planned for ColdTowne Theater, and the following events are to be held at the Spider House Ballroom.
ColdTowne is selling a limited number of festival passes, which grant attendees entry into the shows happening during the festival. Tickets are also being sold for individual shows.
4803 Airport Blvd., 512-814-8696, www.coldtownetheater.com