I stayed up way past my bedtime last night, and I don’t regret it for a second. At 10:30pm, the lights went down at Phoenix Theater and the Blackout Improv team took the stage for an experience that everyone should have, preferably sooner rather than later. Kory LaQuess Pullam, Alsa Bruno, Joy Dolo Anfinson, Andy Hilbrands, and John Gebretatose founded this amazing all black improv troupe in 2015 (learn more here) but my first time attending a show was at the 2017 New Griots Festival.
Kory, Joy, and John performed at this show, along with Ashawnti Ford, Nimene Wureh, Theo Langason, and Denzel Belin with the assistance of the versatile and ever-talented Eric Mayson on keyboard.
The first half of the show involved a rap battle where teams of two improvised a rap on the spot. Well, three teams rapped and one sang a folk song… Blackout had invited four non-black performers to join so while Jill Bernard and Joe Rapp rapped, Lauren Anderson and Mike Fotis went folk, all equally hilarious. And I will forever refer to Kory and Theo as Hot Grease now.
A member of the audience was also asked to share what they had done that day so the group could improv based on that, and the person’s day basically involved seven hours of playing Diplomacy with friends then eating dinner with a significant other. The improv part morphed into a set of awkward but silly love triangles, and they all had me giggling.
During the brief intermission, audience members were asked to write down prompts for the second half of the show for audience members to draw out of a hat. The prompts selected were Sean Spicer, Brutal Honesty, and Atheism. Now here’s where Blackout differs from other improv that I’ve experienced. The group takes a couple minutes to share their individual thoughts on the topic before they jump into improv. It feels part round table discussion/part group therapy, and it adds an incredible amount of depth to the show. I love that you can hear the performers’ perspectives and see where they differ and where they intersect. It’s relevant while still immensely entertaining.
If you’re not black and feel like it would be uncomfortable to go to something like this, set those feelings aside because it’s more important than ever to support black artists (and artists of color in general). Also, the sold out audience was incredibly diverse so it was awesome to see Blackout bring so many different kinds of people together. All too often when I attend theater, I’m quite aware of the whiteness of the crowd so this mix was pretty refreshing.
Do yourself a favor and go see Blackout at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. You won’t regret it. Feel free to go all five times since the show will be different every time! Also catch them at Phoenix Theater the third Friday of each month.
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