The Laughter To Audience Ratio And The Importance Of Bad Theatre

Bad Comedy Well-Attended—Good Comedy Under-Attended

May. 2, 2010
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Thus far, this weekend’s been a study in contrasting comedy. Friday night I saw a reasonably large number of people attend a relatively large comedy in Waukesha. The comedy in question wasn’t that funny. Clearly there had been thought and effort put into what was essentially a pretty bad script (written by Caroline Smith.) Last night, I saw a much smaller show with far fewer people in attendance. There was almost no set and very little in the way of a budget. The script in question (written as it was by Charles Sommers) is exceptionally funny light comedy. The show in the suburbs will be attended by far more people than Radio WHT’s Carmen The script of the comedy in Waukesha (which features the solid talent of some pretty good people)isn’t offensively bad. People seeing it will likely have something resembling a good time, but Wisconsin Hybrid Theatre’s Carmen does a great deal more with a great deal less.

Charles Sommers’ Wisconsin Hybrid Theatre has consistently good, consistently light comedy. It may not have a whole lot of depth to it, but the shows never fail to be a lot of fun. Though this latest trip to the stage with WHT may be its most sparse production yet, but the comedy works because talented people make it work. It’s just six people onstage in costume evidently reading from scripts with a few props for sound effects. In eliminating all the extraneous stuff that would distract from the comedy, the basic mechanics of a full-cast comedy rise to prominence.

After the show, I found myself talking to a few people at the bar. Amidst a conversation with an actress that also included discussion of similarities between Polish and Latin folk music and the beauty of flannelgraphy, there was some discussion of theatre. If I recall correctly, she suggested that a growing theatre community is only as good as the quality that it consists of. Too many different projects can dilute the talent base in a given community. There’s a lot of stuff, but not much of it is very good. Okay, granted, it’d be nice to be able to assemble casts for projects that included only the best of any of the smaller theatre companies, but invariably there are going to be relatively bad shows in any theatre season. The bad stuff is every bit as important as the good stuff because it keeps people working and establishes an economic base that helps maintain a community.

There is plenty of money in the community for people to see relatively bad comedy. The movie ‘80’s retro comedy Hot Tub Time Machine grossed $45 million in the U.S. Milwaukee, like any other metropolitan market of its size, contributed its fair share of ticket revenue to a forgettable retro comedy. If locally based ‘80’s retro stage comedy 8-Bit Warrior (which was far more sophisticated, likely far funnier and no less commercial) had some sizeable fraction of that Milwaukee ticket revenue, it would be a HUGELY successful local theatre production. If people are resigned to seeing shows (like Hot Tub Time Machine or anything by Adam Sandler) and don’t care if they’re seeing something far better (like 8-Bit Warrior or a WHT show) then they may as well be seeing something that helps give stage experience to local talent. Yes, a lot of it’s going to be pretty bad. People can be just as happy sitting through mediocre comedy that’s performed by inexperienced actors in Waukesha as they are in watching a group of West-Coast SAG talent try to breath life into some tepid comedy. We just need a local community that’s willing to take the chance on local stuff. I’m willing to bet there’s a higher percentage of genuinely good stuff coming out of local theatre. For every Kitchen Witches, there’s an *-Bit Warrior or a WHT show that’s really good. For every Hot Tub Time Machine or The Back-Up Plan or Death At A Funeral or Why Did I Get Married Too? or Cop Out there’s a . . . Date Night that’s pretty good. Making people aware of that is a big part of establishing a bigger theatre community.


Kitchen Witches runs though May 16th at the Waukesha Civic Theatre.   

WHT’s Carmen  runs through May 9th at the Alchemist Theatre.

Comprehensive reviews of both shows  appear in this week’s Shepherd-Express.   


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