Front Porch Improv spent a year building their brand new theater and were a mere week away from the grand opening when COVID-19 hit. Unable to use the theater, but still needing to pay the bills, the Front Porch crew took their show online.
Fortunately, their hilarious improv skills transitioned exceedingly well to computer screens.
“We’ve got a brand new baby that opened on Victory Drive and it’s two thousand square feet and lovely — it’s got a stage and a rehearsal space, it’s got a little bar and lobby area,” said Brianne Halverson, co-host and co-owner of Front Porch Improv. “We were supposed to have a mixer for all of our Pure Barre friends and we were going to do a private show for them. That obviously didn’t happen because COVID struck, so the owners of Pure Barre were like, ‘Hey, do a show for us anyway. Let’s try it.’ It went so well that we were like, ‘Oh my God, why haven’t we been doing this the whole time.’.”
Using the platform Zoom, Halverson, her co-host and Front Porch co-owner John Brennan, and their friend Matt Nickley, have been performing a weekly improv show called “Front Porch Improv: Awesome, Live & Online” from Halverson’s home.
“My living room now has a semi-permanent curtain and lights strung up — my poor husband — but it’s been really fun,” said Halverson. “We’ve set up a computer and we also have a camera we set up and obviously the lights and the staging, some stools.”
The format of the show — which sometimes includes Zoomed in performances by their cast-mates — is a “Secret Show.” Viewers are encouraged to leave anonymous secrets on a Google form for the improvisers to draw upon for their scenes.
John Brennan explained, “The secrets absolutely vary in range from someone saying in the past year they had sex in a club bathroom to...”
“...‘I like Irish folk music.’ We love that they were embarrassed by that,” Halverson continued.
“What life do they lead that they have to keep it a secret,” added Brennan.View this post on Instagram
Party with us at 8pm! New live show tonight. Watch it from anywhere. All you need is a computer or smart phone. Link in bio for tickets. See you soon!
One of the challenges of performing online — and late night talk show hosts can attest to this — is not having an audience present to laugh at your jokes. Live comedy thrives on an audience.
“I think the first time we did a public show we had about a hundred people on it with us...and at the end you can’t see them while you’re performing,” said Halverson. “You’re kind of in it, and I was so scared that no one was going to be there and everyone stayed (laughs). You can’t hear them laughing, but people comment, and I think using their secrets keeps them engaged.”
“Organically, what makes it great about being live, whatever the audience is responding to, usually you follow that thread, so right know it’s like a rehearsal, because we’re just following the thread that makes us laugh,” Brennan added.
Although there are some challenges to online shows, there are also some interesting advantages. For example, having to rely on a camera allows for new ways for the audience to see the performers.
“The audience can sometimes be inches away from us,” said Halverson. “It’s a blessing or a curse, but that’s up to you to determine (laughs). But, we can stick our faces right up to the camera and it feels like we’re in their living room.”
“We did a scene last week and Bri was up high in a tree and was able to grab the camera and point down at her scene partner, Matt, and just that angle of Matt looking up, improvising up to the tree, was really cool,” said Brennan.
Oddly enough, Front Porch Improv’s Zoom performances have also given a way for audiences to connect with each other again in ways they may have taken for granted. Viewers will often click around and watch other people laughing.
“People say that when they’re watching our show, they’ll be watching it, but then occasionally they’ll just watch other people because it makes them feel like they’re in a big, crowded place and that’s been fun for them, and that’s something I wasn’t expecting,” said Halverson.
Although the theater hasn’t officially opened, friends and fans have been helping Front Porch Improv financially. Their GoFundMe campaign raised $5,000 and another fundraiser brought in $3,000. Now their friends are hosting a raffle through the Front Porch Improv Facebook page.
To thank the community and their fans, Front Porch plan to throw an outdoor social distancing show in a field on Memorial Day weekend.