Stomping Ground Comedy Theatre's newest sketch show, Consumed as Directed, will travel down some dark paths to find its laughs when it opens Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts a new state-run children's show. An ardent Second Amendment supporter debates an elementary school-aged kid about gun violence in America. A family-run funeral home markets its services to a younger, more modern clientele.
The paths they take aren't purely for a shock. They are just mirroring dark corners of the world fueled by catalysts, like ignorance, tyranny, consumerism
"It feels really good to laugh," says Consume as Directed director Ashley Rountree, who also serves as Stomping Ground's director of outreach. "It feels good to see it, point at it and go 'ha-ha.'"
That's how good sketch comedy is supposed to work, but this is Stomping Ground's second foray into sketch following its successful summer run with Tech Tech, and it's a bold step that has a lot to say besides just punchlines.
"That one was so much lighter than this one," says actress Diane Michelle, who performs in Consume as Directed as well as the first sketch series Tech Talk. "It was lighthearted and airy, and then we come to this one and it's all death and dark politics. It's still funny, but it's funny in our own way."
The group relished the challenge of exploring some darker sketches with satirical themes from the writing to the final rehearsals. Writer and actor Cotton Hensley
"In improv, it can get bad real quick, but if you've crafted sketch comedy with it, you can make it pretty tasteful and smart, and that's what we wanted to do," Hensley says. "We wanted to make it pretty smart and didn't want to hold back."
The writers, Hemsley, Liz King, John Wenzel and Nick Melita, who also perform in the show, dived into those heavier themes early in the process. Hensley says the group wanted to do something that explored more existentialist ideas and topics and produced five or six sketches that went darker than usual. So they decided "Why stop there? Let's just keep going and explore this rabbit hole."
"If we're going to do it, let's go all the way," Hensley adds.
The group also had access to better camera equipment thanks to Melita, who co-owns a production studio called Cinderblock. The partnership helped them produce their more ambitious sketch ideas.
"We would only write ideas that meet the budget, but Nick was there and they helped bring some of those ideas to life," Hensley says. "So we're lucky that Nick was there in the first place."
Rountree says the addition of video productions can only help the theater's sketch shows and class curriculum.
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"In sketch revues, it's usually very bare bones," Rountree says. "This gives us the chance to be more extravagant with the hopes of doing more shorts and videos."
It also gives the sketch show a more eclectic feel than just watching performers on a stage and increases the audience's focus as their pieces present some interesting questions and concerns about these dark times.
"It's just unmasking a lot of stuff in a way that's a lot of fun," Hensley says.