With roughly ten minutes to go before the final rehearsal is scheduled to start, Joshua McNew, Producer and Production Manager, stands outside, taking a few deep breaths. After months of preparation, tonight, Saturday, October 12, marks the opening endeavor of STL Up Late, a new live comedy show aiming to provide some much needed entertainment with a mix of "Saturday Night Live meets Conan O'Brien" type of humor.
Though this first show is intended as a trial run with mostly friends and family in attendance, the stress and anxiety of pulling off an hour-long show in front of a discerning audience is still very real. But while McNew, show host Eric Christensen and the rest of the cast and crew are collectively scrambling a bit, it's clear neither nerves or pressure can dampen the mood -- because everyone in the room just keeps laughing.
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STL Up Late is a combination of sketch comedy, video shorts, interviews and musical guests, and, again, it's all live. The show takes place in a non-descript building at 3003 Locust in Midtown. McNew explains, "We went through a lot of places and this was basically the only space that would allow us to come in only on Saturdays." If the room isn't necessarily perfect, it's clear that a great deal of work has gone into transforming the space into an intimate setting where audience and actors are separated by only a few feet. By the time the stage lights kick on, the high-ceilinged art gallery suddenly feels like a true theater.
The whole production is the brainchild of host and general overseer Eric Christensen who took inspiration from live comedy shows in Chicago. Christensen serves as an instructor at the Improv Shop, an improvisational comedy theater in St. Louis, and thus saw an opportunity to start something similar with the talented people already assembled around him. Seeing the potential, McNew quickly jumped on board, along other familiar faces from the Improv Shop. "All of our sketch writers and actors went through the Improv Shop program," says McNew. "We basically tried to pick people we thought would be good for the show."
Continue reading to find out how you can watch STL Up Late and get free donuts. It's a hectic schedule that requires creativity, but also careful planning. The biggest challenge is mainly just making it all up as they go -- you know, improvising. Christensen explains, "There isn't a manual out there on how to create a live sketch comedy talk show, or at least nothing came up when I googled it." As McNew, who obviously has the whole program arranged in his head, outlines, "We meet on Sundays, performers pitch their sketches and if we it like we say, 'Go write it,' spend the week writing before coming back to perform it, and give feedback. Sometimes we'll even test it out on a Monday at the improve shop."
From there, sketches and shorts are quickly absorbed and prepared for Saturday night. If it all doesn't go perfectly, that's okay. Live comedy builds off awkwardness and converts it into hilarity -- that's where improv training comes into play. Still, as rehearsal begins, procedural questions, like should the host emerge out of the curtain or not? remain somewhat nebulous and a subtle tension hovers over the room. But that edginess gives off its own energy, and the cast and crew remain relatively calm -- in fact, they mostly just try to crack each other up.
The show begins with a pretty stellar montage that introduces the night's guest, poet Henry Goldkamp, and music by Palace, while various shots of St. Louis in all its glory are projected on a screen hanging above the stage. There's an opening monologue with a few rim-shot topical jokes, a couple well-done video shorts and sketches that are all about timing and delivery. Self-appraising at the end of the night, Christensen says, "I thought the preview show went amazingly well considering all the moving parts that we were dealing with. The only time that we had a chance to run through everything from start to finish was when the lights came up and the show started."
Beyond the written-in laughs, it's also extremely fun to watch talented locals perform and create, breathing life into a Saturday night in St. Louis. And now, with the first trial run out of the way, STL Up Late will prepare to kick off a full schedule of shows, beginning Saturday, November 2, with the creator of Strange Donuts, Corey Smale (all audience members will receive a free donut from Strange Donuts), and musical guest, Yankee Racers. Tickets are available at www.stluplate.com