12 February 2014 // JRA Culture

The Art of the Sketch, by Colin Cronin

You may not know that by night, designer and JRA+blog contributor, Colin Cronin, is a sketch comedy artist!  His troupe, The Company Productions, unveils their Valentine-themed show “loveprobably” this Saturday, so we thought we’d ask him a few questions on the intersection of design and comedy, because we all know that sometimes, the process of designing an attraction can be pretty darn funny.

1. Tell us a little bit about your theater company (how it started, the kinds of people involved, etc.).

Well, I’ve been involved in community theater with a number of groups for almost my entire life. I think my first production was at age 6 or 7. I’ve met most of my close friends through these groups, and it’s become an integral part of my life. Over the last few years, myself and a few of my theater-minded friends have moved more into the production side of things – producing, directing, and designing shows. We started to come up with tons of ideas and concepts for the types of shows we wanted to do, but no one was really putting on those types of productions. Well, after complaining about it for a while, we decided to just man up and create a new theater company.

We formed The Company Productions late last year. Our mission statement is that we “create and perform the theater we love with the people we like”. Starting out, we’ve been writing and performing our own original sketch comedy, and we hope to put on our first full production later this year.

2. Much like with a new design, in comedy writing you’re not really working from something that exists. How do you create something from that blank piece of paper? What kind of research do you do to stay current?

Well, the topics of our sketches are extremely varied. We’ve done scenes based on properties like Harry PotterStar Wars, “Game of Thrones”. The way our writing process works is that anyone can bring a concept to the table, and we all start riffing on the idea, and seeing what jokes come out. Some of our best sketches have really been written by a couple of us just acting out scenes and seeing what sticks. The advantage of this is that really by just being a part of popular culture, we’re already doing our research. You’ve been watching a lot of “The Walking Dead”? Write a sketch. Had a weird experience at the DMV? Maybe there’s a sketch there. (In fact, we’ve started to use “maybe there’s a sketch there” as our mantra. Really, anything is up for grabs.)

3. In design, feasibility is always a big concern, as is matching the exhibit or ride mix to the target audience. You’ve mentioned that you’ve needed to cut jokes form time to time based on your audience. How do you determine your “joke feasibility”?

Well, if anything, we sometimes skew a little too “nerdy” with some of our sketches. But in general, our group itself is a mix of people from different backgrounds, with different likes, dislikes, and senses of humor. And just like an attraction like a theme park, it’s not like every sketch needs to appeal to every person. Just like there are rides for families, and thrill-seekers, and kids, there will be sketches featuring sarcasm, nerd humor, or maybe something a bit cruder. There’s something for everyone!

4. Right now, making guests part of the experience is a hot topic from design. How much audience participation do you do, and how do you think it enhances the experience?

It’s very important for me as the MC of our shows to keep the audience engaged and an integral part of the experience. We have an interesting format that helps us do this – the audience picks which sketches we do. While we have written and rehearsed everything over the previous month or so, we don’t know what order everything will be performed in. Not only does this make the audience part of the show, it also adds an excitement and a freshness to the show. Every performance is different.

We’ve also done some fun things such as pulling audience members into sketches, having sketches that take place in the audience.  We’ve even done “Mad-Lib”-style sketches where the audience will fill in the blanks in the dialogue.

5. In what other ways do you find sketch comedy akin to design?

You know, if you’re looking for the “common denominator” between these two rather different disciplines, it would probably eventually come down to something like this: “In both design and comedy, you take a collection of disparate elements, let them rattle around in your brain for a bit, and then create something completely new that’s even better than the sum of its component parts.”  Huh.  That’s not half bad.

Thanks, Colin!  And to our readers, check back to this blog and on Facebook next week for photos from the performance!