Improv With Coldtowne Theatre

Chris Trew, the ringleader behind the Coldtowne Theater, invited The Soup Peddler to act as a "stool pigeon," which is an inside improv-er term for someone who tells stories upon which the troupe will base their flights of imagination. The invitation required roughly 3.4 seconds of careful deliberation before Ansel responded, "Hell yeah, I'm there."

The Coldtowne Theater is a teeny little space behind I(heart)Video on Airport Blvd and is home to an energetic group of goofballs who take their improv very seriously. The group practices a litany of ritualistic customs before each show, including top-secret warm-up games and an involved system of back-patting, to symbolize that each member "has got the other's back."

One of the most basic principles of this sort of long-form improv is that one should never do anything that does not propel the narrative... that is, you should always give your partners something to work with and never leave them to carry more than their fair share of the load. Also, you must have complete trust in your troupemates and should never negate the intended direction established by one of them. It is the ultimate in teamwork, and quite inspirational.

The photo above was taken during a segment of the program when Ansel demonstrated his powers of levitation.

The first monologue was a description of Ansel's arrival in Austin in 1998...

I first visited Austin in July of 1998 and was trying to find a place to live. It was a real authentic introduction to the city, to be sure. It was 108 degrees and I was apartment hunting. I had always lived in group houses so I wanted to find a place where I could be part of a home instead of living alone. It also narrowed down the search a bit... the first place I visited was north of the old airport and was your basic dump... empty liquor bottles lined the windowsills and the top of the refrigerator, a badge of honor so to speak. I thought not. The next place was out in Rollingwood, up by the swimming pool and it was this big Brady Bunch sort of house. I started noticing the first twinges of Austin weirdness there... it was the home of a recently divorced family, but instead of one of the parents moving out and shuttling the kids back and forth, both parents moved out and the kids stayed... the parents would take turns living there. I thought that was kind of weird but cool. The father prided himself on being a Mr. Mom kind of character and told me about his brilliant improvement on the classic PB&J sandwich. You know how your sandwich always gets shmushed in your lunch bag and the jelly gets the bread all soggy? Well, he demonstrated his technique for putting peanut butter on both slices of bread and the jelly in the middle, so that the peanut butter would act as a moisture barrier. The last place I visited that day had to wait, because the owner wanted me to "come visit the apartment at sunset." Again, weird. But I went with it. The apartment was in one of the more modest buildings on the Bremond block, where all the old mansions are downtown. Before even showing me the apartment, we climbed the fire escape all the way to the roof to catch the sunset, all violet and pink in that classic Austin way. We got to know each other... he was this film director type and had to spend half the year in New York. He wanted me to sort of be the caretaker of his apartment and also be his stand-in with his group of friends, to kind of keep his seat warm while he was away. We walked over to the Whole Foods to introduce me around and I thought it was crazy how everyone seemed to know everyone else. Then we walked along Shoal Creek and he told me about this bicycle guy that always would ring his bike bell on the trail instead of saying excuse me or whatever, and how he couldn't stand that guy, that he was sort of a buzz kill with his bike bell. One time he finally flagged him down and asked him about the bike bell and they had this big heart to heart about it and he finally understood that the guy was ringing it in a friendly way but he had just misconstrued it or something. And now he has a bike bell too and he uses it all the time, in a friendly way. Yeah, so that was my first day in Austin...