When Weehawken resident Theron Steiner first joined the comedy troupe Freedumb six months ago, he wasn’t thinking about festivals. He was thinking ordinary things that a comic has to think about: Is the group funny?, Will the audience like me? Will people laugh?
Yet for Freedumb, the laughs come easily enough so that the group, which was the only comedy group from Manhattan picked in a recent festival, is now going to Chicago.
Competition is fierce in comedy. To get picked for a slot for a festival is coveted.
The road to… Freedumb
A first glance at Theron Steiner might not immediately tell you he is a comedian. He has no facial tics or obvious gestures that other comics have as part of their persona. Off-stage, he looks like a nice guy. It’s onstage that his talent at transforming himself comes through, to the point that you might not recognize him.
Steiner studied at Indiana State University for drama. After he finished school he began auditioning for parts, which eventually grew frustrating. He turned to standup.
“I was tired of auditioning for stuff that I really didn’t want to do anyway,” said Steiner. “I thought that comedy was more immediate. I’d have to live or die on my own material. I definitely died.”
According to Steiner, he wasn’t very good at standup.
“At my first show I had 25 people there that I knew,” said Steiner. “I could do no wrong as far as they were concerned.”
Then he moved into character based standup, which has more of a story and something to fall back on if the routine isn’t going well. “I think I like sketch comedy the best because it blends my acting background with comedy,” said Steiner.
Six months ago Steiner joined the group when a slot became available. Since then they have been working together to finesse the material they have, which includes 12 sketches that have been performed and about 6 to 10 that are still in production.
Every member of the seven-person team is required to write skits to submit to the group. First, they read through it and if the piece is accepted, then it is cast by the writer.
When they start rehearsals, that’s when the magic of improv happens.
The other six cast members are seasoned actors including: Andrea Alton, Robin Gelfenbien, Laura Crocenzi, Allen Warnock, Marshal York, and David Spiecher. The skits are directed by Jay Duffer. They have performed at well known venues like, Caroline’s, Gotham Comedy Club, and Juvie Hall, and a few of the members have performed on Saturday Night Live.
The group recently finished a month-long slot at Juvie Hall in Manhattan, where they have been perfecting their craft in anticipation of the Fifth Annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival in January. Before they were selected for Chicago, they performed at the “2005 Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival.”
According to Steiner, everything did not go perfectly in Canada, which was scheduled over Thanksgiving weekend. Instead of the regular 40-minute time frame, they were asked to perform a 20 minute sampler. When you have to cut your work, how can you decide what stays or goes?
On top of that, Steiner forgot a fairly major prop in New Jersey, and the tech person that was assigned to them didn’t know what a “blackout” was. Yet, the show turned out better than they expected and gave the group a taste of what the much bigger festival in Chicago will be like.
They will perform in Chicago on Jan. 13 and 14, which are good slots for a festival that begins on January 5. If they do well, it could boost all of their careers. If they do badly, they’ll lose face. In comedy you are only as funny as your last performance.
At their show last Thursday at Juvie Hall, the group performed the sketches they will bring to Chicago. Freedumb was one of several groups performing, yet also had the biggest crowd.
The young, energetic troupe all came out for the opening number with “Freedom” by George Michael playing in the background. The crowd can see that they are happy to be there. But then it comes down to the 40-minute show and the question on everyone’s mind is: Are they funny?
In a word – yes.
They seemed to have found the right balance of high and low-energy sketches, and the writing in some is incredibly witty. “Spin Cycle,” which was written by Steiner, is a skit set in a laundry mat. The owner, Jeff (played by Steiner) tells customers that the colors have to be taken to the back. When a customer gets offended Jeff said, “Shirts might have been created equal, but they get treated different.”
“Yours, Now and Forever,” was written and performed by Andrea Alton, who cast Robin Gelfenbien in the skit. The scene involves two women, one from the past and the other in present day, both writing letters to their lovers.
The talented Alton, playing Beth Ann, got plenty of laughs just on the inflection her voice. This scene ended with Beth Ann saying that she would wait for him forever. Then she dies, only to have her lover Joseph finally return home.
Other notable scenes include: a solo performance by Marshall York in “Kitty Porn” a public service announcement fighting for cat rights complete with a video presentation; and an art gallery scene called “High Fart,” which was an ensemble piece, that features a snotty curator played by the excellent Warnock, who also wrote that skit.
The audience at Juvie Hall loved them. So now it’s on to Chicago. When they return, they will start working on new material for upcoming shows.
For more information on upcoming shows, please visit www.freedumbsketch.com.