The city of Fremont is about to get a whole lot funnier.
That’s because a group of Fremont residents – Dustin Seidler, Steve Seidler, Ben Stephens, Bobby August and Sean Taylor are tapping into the untapped. In the cosmopolitan Bay Area, with San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley to the North, as well as San Jose to the South, people don’t often look to Fremont or the Tri-City area to wet their live entertainment whistles.
The five friends who call themselves “Five Play Improv,” are the new entrepreneurs of “Made Up Theatre,” a long-form improvisation and sketch comedy troupe who now take up residence in their new souped-up theatre which was formerly a warehouse. A grand opening on Friday, Jan. 21st will officially launch the fledgling company into the ether, and if the group has their way, this will be the start of something huge.
Improvisational comedy is a fast-paced, off-the-cuff theatre form that works off the energies of the crowd. Suggestions from the audience are given to the quick-thinking performers, and before you know it, to paraphrase Stephen Sondheim, “they make a scene where there never was a scene.”
And now, there is a company where there never was a company.
“Obviously, we’ve been putting in a lot of work for a long time, and it’s a dream come true for us,” said August, who also spends time working on short films and is a math professor at Las Positas College in Livermore. “We never thought we’d have our own theatre and our own company. Our grand opening is kind of the beginning and the end of all this hard work, and it’s scary because it’s kind of a new thing.”
“It definitely feels like there’s a lot riding on this,” said Dustin Seidler. “We want to have successful shows, which is almost a direct reflection on how far we’ve come over the past year.”
Iconic improv companies are major players in every major city in the country. Whether it’s Second City or the Annoyance Theatre Company in Chicago, Improv Olympics and the Groundlings in Southern California, or Comedysportz in San Jose, Made Up Theatre is ready to grab a foothold in the Bay Area’s eclectic theatre market.
“We want to build more of an improv community,” said Dustin Seidler, an Irvington High School alumnus. “A few of us went out to Chicago and there are lots of different schools there where they perform with others, which contribute to more of that improv community. We don’t want to try to compete with other companies, but we want to try and grow the communities together.”
All five of the performers were in fact members of Comedysportz San Jose, but ended up breaking away from the group back in January of 2010. When the members found an opportunity to go in a new direction and build a new audience in the East Bay, they decided to get serious and seize the moment.
“This is a golden opportunity for us because there is so much we can tap into,” said Taylor, who is a Washington High School grad. “We wanted to make our own thing because there’s not a lot to do in Fremont. There are a lot of college students in the area looking for stuff to do and looking for cheap entertainment.”
The improvising was the easiest part of the whole business venture thing. And getting a rehearsal space for the first five months was a piece of cake, since all they had to do was get out of their beds and walk to the living room - everyone except Taylor was roommates. So much of running the business was pretty simple, except for one small thing – actually running the business.
“We all have a lot of inexperience running our own company,” said Taylor. “We had a lot of stuff we had to look into, and we’re still getting our wings as far as the direction of the group. We often say, ‘I wanna do this, I wanna do that.’ But that’s when we all have to just take a deep breath and say, ‘Let’s get to this first,’ and we try to become more organized, which we are starting to do now.”
August, for one, might not have been initially sold on building a company, but knew, along with the others, that a crossroads had been reached.
“We felt that if we really want to do it right, we need to have our own theatre,” said August. “I guess probably early on it was more of a pipe dream. But everyone jumped in together.”
The format for their main stage show is a mixture of improvisation and sketch comedy, targeted at a more mature crowd. The improv is of the long-form variety, where one small suggestion from an audience can explode into a half-hour show with a bazillion different directions. The sketch comedy, however, is a fairly new form for the company, and the ability to delve into a new genre is pretty exciting.
“For me, a sketch is something like your baby,” said August. “You’ve written it, rehearsed it, and lot of people that live here want to go to those kinds of shows. We’re hoping to provide that.”
Something else the company really wants to provide is options. With local institutions such as Ohlone College and California State University, East Bay sitting a stone’s throw away from their Durham Road/Auto Mall Parkway location, as well as adults who might not want to travel to a bigger city on a Saturday night for some live entertainment, the group strongly believes that their show can and will fill a void for artistic amenities.
“I think we have a really strong product,” said Dustin Seidler. “We have a show I would say is high-caliber and we’re bringing it into an area with nothing quite like this.”
Each of the members is in it for the long haul. Finding and blazing a path for a true improvisation and sketch comedy collective would be a dream come true.
“We would want to be as big as Annoyance or Second City here, or Improv Olympics in Los Angeles,” said August. “It would be great to be one place where you can come and see any type of comedy. That would be ideal.”
It would also be fitting. After all, the city of Fremont is named after Civil War general John C. Fremont. His nickname?
“The Great Pathfinder.”