The Ultimate Primer: Fatal Bus Accident’s Beowulf

By Thomas Crone

Seldom will this site post things of a bragging nature, but we feel comfortable in staying that this piece will serve, as the headline suggests, The Ultimate Primer of Fatal Bus Accident’s upcoming presentation of Beowulf. The production’s set for June 2 at the Improv Shop and info can be found by clicking this “hotlink.”

The quick version of the evening is described by FBA like so: “We are doing Beowulf, the oldest English story and second most famous English story about Denmark. Unlike literally every movie adaptation, we found a way to make it better, instead of worse. Get excited.”

For further information, we sent a series of questions to the show’s four creators: Jeremy Hellwig, Amy Milton, Stryker Spurlock and Jon Venegoni. In reading through them, you’ll get a sense of how this upcoming stage play came together and what to expect on the night of production, though Spurlock’s appear to clash with the others with some regularity. Within the context of all four, truth will be found.

What’s each of y’all’s background with Beowulf? Favorite story? Saw the movie(s)? “What’s Beowulf?”

Hellwig: Stryker and Amy started talking about doing a Beowulf adaptation over a year ago. I didn’t know much about the story, so I picked up the phenomenal graphic novel adaptation by Santiago Garcia and David Rubin. After finishing that, and doing some Wikipedia research, I became concerned that 1. The story is kind of terrible, and 2. I had no idea how the hell we were going to do it onstage. So, I asked Amy and Stryker how much they knew about the story. Stryker had seen the movie in 2008, and Amy read it back in high school or something. They literally knew less about it than I did. After some deliberating, we decided to scrap our original idea of doing a straight adaptation with our recurring characters playing characters from the poem (think Muppet Treasure Island, or when Family Guy adapted Star Wars) and instead wrote a show where the story of Beowulf happens to our characters (think the times that Bugs Bunny or The Animaniacs stumbled into a classic work or moment from history). Beowulf is a really old poem, in fact the oldest known story in English. In it, a monster attacks, a hero arrives, he kills the monster, then he fights a couple more monsters until it is over. Tolkien loved it. It is extremely influential. It is also a really dumb story that is structured more like a crappy video game than an actual story.
Milton: I read it as an undergrad, half-remembered how ridiculous it was, and didn’t give it much more thought until we started writing the show.
Spurlock: In 2007, I wrote a short story. A big time Hollywood manager told me it felt like Beowulf. So I watched the motion-capture cartoon and it was dogshit and I was offended. I wanted us to adapt it as revenge.
Venegoni: I had to read Beowulf in my Senior Literature class. I remember thinking it was water trash. I think I saw the movie in 3D and it gave me a headache.

Who are some new faces to appear in this episode? What are their roles and why did they seem good fits for said roles?

Hellwig: We have 4 guest actors in this episode. Meredith Hopping is making her first FBA appearance as Grendel’s Mom. We thought she would be really great at playing a character that is alternately passive aggressive and extremely angry, so we wrote the role toward those strengths. Nick Tacony is playing a couple different peasants in this episode, which are his first FBA speaking roles (he previously played a wolf). We thought he could look the part and do the accent we wanted. Casey Paulson will be playing Beowulf and Emily Hickner will be playing the monster Grendel. In both cases, they 1. don’t look the part at all, which we thought was funny, but 2. we knew they could pull off the exact kind of energy that we needed for the roles. After a week or so of rehearsals, all of them are already amazing in their roles.
Spurlock: This month, our cast consists of Emily Hickner, Meredith Hopping, Sam Lyons, Casey Paulsen, and Nick Tacony. I shannot tell you who they’re playing, but if you’re familiar with Beowulf and these performers, it should be obvious. As with everyone we cast, they are chosen by God to fit their roles perfectly.

Let’s dial things back, actually. Episodes and the like. If I’ve missed the last, say, four or five shows (confession: I’ve missed the last four or five shows), how difficult will it be to reacquaint myself with the feel and vibe of FBA?

Hellwig: It shouldn’t be difficult at all. We have serialized/recurring elements to the show, but we always work hard to make sure new audience members will be able to follow everything that happens. Plus, this is pretty much a standalone episode, and there will be narration. You don’t have to know anything about FBA or Beowulf to enjoy it.
Milton: Since the show is only very lightly serialized, you should be able to drop back in without confusion. The main changes in the past 9 months or so are 1. We’ve gotten better at writing around one central idea instead of trying to mash disparate ideas together and 2. We’ve gotten much more explicit about the fact that Jon’s character is a bird.
Spurlock: Not difficult at all. FBA is a font of wonder, for everyone to enjoy, whether they’re newcomers or old fans. Though you should feel absolutely ashamed for missing our best 4 or 5 episodes.
Venegoni:  First of all, I forgive you for missing the last four or five shows. I still love you. Since then, the show has grown a mustache, and you missed the episode when Skully got abducted. You will be fine! It’s always written to be accessible to everyone every episode. The advantage of seeing each one provides little easter eggs. It’s fun. Good stuff.

Writing for these is done how and by whom? Do guest performers have some improvisational room within this? Or would you like them at least somewhat-grounded in the script?

Milton: We usually spend a month or so writing as a group, and once we have a script, we do readings with the cast. If a guest performer has a better way of phrasing a line or an idea for a joke that fits with the rest of the script, we make the change. We work hard on the scripts so we like to stick pretty close to them, but we cast the people we cast because we want to hear their ideas and trust them to bring something to the characters.
Hellwig: Every show is written by Stryker, Amy, Jon, & me. Amy’s answer is better than the rest of what I had typed, but I would like to add that one of the most exciting parts of producing this show is seeing actors make unexpected decisions, such as accents, lines, or suggestions for their costumes, that make the show even better.
Spurlock: I write every script in my head and dictate it to the other three members of FBA, who tirelessly type for me. They work in shifts. They are good typers.
Venegoni: It used to be all them and I only did music and interrupted dialogue with silly comments, but they slowly guilted me into helping with writing the plot. We all contribute and argue equally. I’m really lucky to work with such talented writers. They have taught me a whole lot and have always been receptive to my ideas.

To what degree will elements like live musical accompaniment or pre-recorded video have play within this Beowulf edition? Or do we need to attend to find out?

Hellwig: We have one video segment. Also, Jon will be live scoring large portions of the show. We’ve had Jon play a decent amount of music in the past, but this will be our first time utilizing a score. As always, there will be a running slideshow the whole time.
Spurlock: We’ve all signed an NDA on this.
Venegoni: I am so excited and nervous for this one. I plan on live scoring the whole thing using my keyboard, iPad and loop pedal. I’m also in a narration role this time, so you’ll see me

This post is brought to you with the support of the Saint Louis Video Society.

True lightning round:
a. Single moment that stands out to you, either as performer or viewer, for whatever reason, be it profundity or hilarity?

Hellwig: My favorite single moment was Amy getting punched in the face by an eagle while “I’m Like a Bird” by Nelly Furtado played over heavy metal drumming and bird shrieks.
Milton: We had a show that was centered around the Pope (Pope Toby, played by Keith Hughes) visiting, and Jon converts to Catholicism because it sounds fun, but then he finds out about Hell and original sin and is distressed to find out that he is not a good boy because “good boys isn’t real.” I like that we were able to do a comedy show about religious participation that dealt with the pros and cons pretty fairly (in my opinion) without getting preachy.
Spurlock: During January’s Fatal Beach Accident, Ryan Dalton played Officer Holstein, the Cop Who Is Constantly Shitting His Pants. He threw turds at us and many people in the audience screamed, which brought me great happiness.
Venegoni: Performing FBA at Flyover Festival
b. Single performance by a guest that’s a standout in your mind?
Milton: This is a hard question because we’ve had a lot of great guests, but I’m going to go with Cameron Keys as Prime Minister of the World, Dr. Columbus Whaley, D.D.S., who has only appeared on video. Coincidentally, Cameron is the stand-up guest on the Beowulf show.
Spurlock: Andrew Mihalevich is one of our most versatile and dependable guest actors. In March, he played The Faun, a thief who haunts our stage, and he excelled at it.
Venegoni: Tom Cook killed it last show playing Alb Balbert.
Hellwig: This is so hard to answer. Oh wait, Amy said Cameron as the Prime Minister and I have to agree.
c. Story line (or even wisp of a thread of a gnat’s thought of a storyline) that was scuttled, but screams for a return?
Hellwig: Stryker will probably disagree with me, but we haven’t done a time travel heavy episode in a while. That’s an aspect of my character’s backstory that I am always trying to bring back.
Spurlock: We’ll do time travel over my dead fucking body, Jeremy. I will say no more, because every idea I like eventually gets used. As I said earlier, I am the sole author.
Venegoni: The mouth will rise again.
d. With all due respect to former space, what makes the current space “work” for the show?
Hellwig: The stage is much bigger, and there are overhead mics. I love Heavy Anchor, and I still do Sorry, Please Continue there, but FBA often has too many characters onstage to have them all using hand mics. Also, the main stage at IS seats a lot more people. We stuck with Heavy Anchor until we were consistently filling the room, then moved on to a bigger venue. Oh, and lastly, we didn’t realize how much nicer it would be having the projector screen to the side of the stage. It’s a lot easier to see the PowerPoint slides without stage lights shining on them.
Milton: The main advantage of the new space is the stage, which is larger and mic’d so we don’t have to have 5 corded microphones on stage with us while trying to do a play.
Spurlock: No one walking behind us to use the bathroom. A bigger stage to accommodate my big ole dick. And of course, tons of Improv Shop Boys to use as human furniture.
Venegoni: Heavy Anchor was our first home, and they allowed us to grow into what we are today. I can’t thank them enough for being the most amazing people and allowing us to do whatever. we. wanted. to. do. We got to fly drones in their venue with guests inside and had a drone attack on stage to kill a character. It’s hard to express how rare it is to find a place that will allow you the liberty to do such a dumb thing. They helped us to get to the point where we outgrew the venue. Improv Shop has treated us better than we could ever have imagined. Their setup at the venue has brought a level of production value that we couldn’t have imagined having access to. We are so happy in our new home.

And for any, where can folks find more information on this show, this concept, etc.?

Hellwig: The facebook event is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1874308115970459/
You can get tickets at http://theimprovshop.com/calendar/
If someone wants to learn more about Beowulf without having to read it, all the movies are dogshit and unhelpful. However, this made for tv cartoon from the ’90s is actually very helpful https://www.youtube.com /watch?v=QKjcoFZmKuA
Hey Stryker, what’s the link to the youtube channel?
Spurlock: The YouTube has not been updated in a while, but this is the link. Look upon the great works. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5OkBOURMKxofHH5Zdg36yw.

This post brought to you by the Saint Louis Video Society, dedicated to enriching the cinematic selection in St. Louis through screenings and, eventually, a lending library.

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Everything You Need to Know About Saturday’s “The Mom Show!”

Kelsey’s Mom

By Thomas Crone

Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 13. The day before Mother’s Day is Saturday, May 12. This is the more-important date, as Kelsey McClure’s prepared a second edition of The Mom Show!, hosted again by Blueberry Hill, within the cozy confines of the Duck Room. It’ll feature a tightly-reined, 120-minutes of entertainment, as described by McClure below.  (Event info.)

The Mom Show! is part of McClure’s continuing production work under the banner of Comedy Here. In the Q/A below, we discuss this show, in particular, but also her plans for coming events, current writing practice and some other odds’n’sods of interest.

I’m interested in going to your show. But I don’t understand how it works. Can you run me through the basics?

Sure. Mom Show! is a celebration of Moms. Imagine you’re watching Conan but instead of Andy Richter Conan’s co-host is his Mom. Think Jimmy Fallon with yes, you guessed it, his Mom. There are four interviews, all with a Mother/Child duo, a stand-up set and a segment I’m calling Story of the Mom where a few select Moms will spin a wheel with a variety of topics and share a personal experience. The show starts promptly at 8 p.m. and will wrap by 10 p.m. in consideration of bed times.

Last year’s poster.

Was this a concept adapted from another one, elsewhere? Another one here? Or did this escape your brain, as-is and ready-to-show-run?

I was listening to the Tig Notaro episode of This American Life where she talks about the joke her Mother-in-Law wrote and then wound up telling on stage at Largo when the idea started to overwhelm me. My friend Sarah and I were both doubled over in laughter and tears and I said, “All I want to do is a show with my Mom.” She looked at me point blank and said, “You should.” I drafted a pitch, she gave it a quick review and within minutes sent it out. Not a week later I had the date booked at Blueberry Hill Duck Room. I had a very basic idea of how the show would play out but mostly I just imagined Tig and Carol (the Mother-in-Law) coming over for lunch and us bouncing ideas off each other.

Thinking back on last year’s event, what really “worked” about the event? What would you like to see this year?

It was in fact the first show and it was also the first time after a show I’ve produced that the bartender came up to me after and said, “You have to do this again next year.” There’s been well over a hundred shows at this point too. I knew I had something special and it was insane to think someone else thought so too.

Mom & Kelsey

The chemistry between Mother and child makes the whole show. I billed it as a comedy show but wasn’t entirely sure it would be funny. As a standup comic I felt like I was setting myself up for familiar but my very basic understanding of improv reminded me, entertainment is always funny.

I honestly can’t say I had a favorite segment, there were momentous times during each one. What impressed me, other than the Mothers, who all but one had zero stage experience and absolutely crushed, it was the  audience. They were engaging and respectful and incredibly patient. Three-quarters of the people onstage that night hadn’t been on a stage since they walked across one to graduate, or for a few, ever. So the show doesn’t run with the same urgency as a comedy show. It’s much more relaxed, the whole process is happening right in front of you rather than just the final product.

This year we have American Sign Language interpreters for the show as one of the Mothers involved is deaf. So what I really want to see is how the show evolves and adapts through a form of communication. I haven’t seen sign language at a comedy show that wasn’t at The Fox or Pageant so I’m excited to open up an entertainment option for those who are hearing impaired on a smaller more intimate scale. I hope it brings out a more diverse audience and also reminds those who are frequent show goers how we can take for granted the thing we all desperately rely on, communication and understanding, especially when it comes to doing so with our Moms.

Let’s back up a bit. Tell us about your general show-running in town right now. What have you been working on? What types of shows interest you, as a producer?

I was running a multi-media friendly open mic that was the apple of my eye. Unfortunately the venue is no longer available so the search for a new space is on. 90-Minute Mic was every last Friday of the month in the garage at Gezellig (now in transition to become a pizza spot) that welcomed all acts but comedy was certainly encouraged. With it being on Friday it leaned to a walk-up audience so comics weren’t repeating jokes to the same crowd and comedy was being introduced to an audience that may not know to look for it.

I’m done seeking out comics to produce traditional standup shows. There’s more than enough people doing that in St. Louis now so I get to take my turn enjoying stage time, rather than creating it.

I think one-off, experience-based shows is the way to go. It’s been what’s happening in St. Louis in terms of music for awhile now and I feel like an idiot for not picking up in it. People love tribute bands. Comedy tributes no so much but they’ll take a risk on a beer and comedy show or themed show way before just going to hear someone tell jokes. Plus I’ve been bored by the traditional standup format since what feels like day one, and have been finding new ways to spice it up. For example, Giggle & Guzzle: A Comedic Beer Pairing is a standup show that pairs beer with comedians. It’s like a beer dinner but sub comics for courses that I’m producing at The Improv Shop for St. Louis Craft Beer Week. I’m still trying to figure out how to incorporate glitter cannons and fog machines into comedy but nothing has truly inspired that mayhem yet.

It feels as if you’ve traveled a bit of late, plus you’ve been day-gigging here and CoMo. Have you been enjoying some time for the craft of writing jokes, or have you been seeking out that time, of late?

I have been making time to write. A year ago I was dead set on recording an album. I set a date and booked gigs in LA to follow as an incentive to get it done. My goal was to knockout the album and then see if I could pull off those same jokes in LA. I wanted to find out if I was just funny in the Midwest or if I had a shot at actually going full comedian on the West Coast.  I didn’t want to do a traditional album and couldn’t settle on the format so I ruled out the album. I was also deathly afraid it’d be a pity plea. I was afraid that the crowd would be out to support me because they owed me a favor or something and not my jokes. I was afraid if I recorded the album in another city nobody would show up and that if I recorded it in St. Louis it wouldn’t be authentic. It would be a Kelsey’s greatest hits, material everyone has heard, already laughed at and asking them to come out and listen all over again would be too selfish of me. You can absolutely tell on a recording when someone is laughing to be kind and considerate to the performer and when they’re laughing because what they’re processing is funny. I didn’t want the former and didn’t think I could avoid it.

So: yes. I’ve been writing. I’ve been seeking out gigs and taking my time on new material. I want to produce fewer, better jokes just the way I’ve been producing fewer, better shows. I’m trying to figure out if I’m a comic or a producer because I can’t be both.

What else, generally, should we know about this gig? The 5Ws and H we’ve got, but why is this the ticket for Saturday night?

Mom Show! is a night out that’s quite literally like no other show in St. Louis. It’s clean comedy without the label. It’s an opportunity to enjoy a night out with the family that doesn’t involve a buffet line or having to put on a slacks. It’s quick, it’s early and it’s not going to break the bank. My Mother and I are incredibly different individuals, as are all of the duos on stage. It’s an opportunity to see how compromise can be a celebration and not settling. I promised not to swear and Mom promised not purchase matching outfits.

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Get Those Resolutions Done – Show Roundup 1/29 to 2/4

We’re at the end of January and by now you should’ve lost 35 pounds, woken up earlier every day, and finally fed your cat on a regular basis.  If you haven’t, you’ve got 11 more months tackle those resolutions, but you should probably feed the cat soon. Take some time off and treat yourself with St. Louis Independent Comedy shows this week.

Don’t forget to check out the Open Mic List to see up-and-comers and standup veterans at the popular price of free! Continue reading “Get Those Resolutions Done – Show Roundup 1/29 to 2/4”

Where did all the shows go? – Show Roundup 1/8 to 1/14

 

Where did all the shows go?  FUNNY you should ask.  They were all buried under snow and now they’re thawing out.  It’s the second week of January which means winter is wrapping up, but don’t worry, stable geniuses don’t believe in global warming.  After the thaw, we should have more St. Louis comedy shows.

Don’t forget to check out the Open Mic List to see up-and-comers and standup veterans at the popular price of free! Continue reading “Where did all the shows go? – Show Roundup 1/8 to 1/14”

Regular Winter or Nuclear Winter? – Show Roundup 1/1 to 1/7

 

It’s a New Year, it’s a new us!

Nah, everything is the same.  It’s just super cold right now, but we’re still bringing you all the hot comedy shows coming up in the St. Louis area.  It also might be a good time to build a fallout shelter.

Don’t forget to check out the Open Mic List to see up-and-comers and standup veterans at the popular price of free! Continue reading “Regular Winter or Nuclear Winter? – Show Roundup 1/1 to 1/7”

Warm Up with St. Louis Comedy – Show Roundup 12/25 to 12/31

A wave of cold and holidays has swept over St. Louis as of late.  Warm up with St. Louis comedy!

Of course, you only have a few options for laughter during the holiday season.  You already survived your family and now it’s smooth sailing into the new year.

Don’t forget to check out the Open Mic List to see up-and-comers and standup veterans at the popular price of free! Continue reading “Warm Up with St. Louis Comedy – Show Roundup 12/25 to 12/31”

Refill Your Prescriptions – Show Roundup 12/18 to 12/24

It’s coming!  Another holiday! Are your prescriptions ready?  Better get those filled.  You’ll have to brave a busy mall or the uncle who still votes Reagan.  Why not take a pre-emptive break from Christmas chaos and relax with some good laughs at any of these fine shows.

Don’t forget to check out the Open Mic List to see up-and-comers and standup veterans at the popular price of free! Continue reading “Refill Your Prescriptions – Show Roundup 12/18 to 12/24”

Get Your Tree Up – Show Roundup 12/4 to 12/10

It’s time to take down those Halloween decorations or put Santa hats on all your skeletons because we’re pretty sure no one decorates for Thanksgiving.  St. Louis Independent Comedy works through the holidays, so check out all these shows!

Don’t forget to check out the Open Mic List to see up-and-comers and standup veterans at the popular price of free! Continue reading “Get Your Tree Up – Show Roundup 12/4 to 12/10”