BWW Previews: DAMAGED GOODS Takes Local Improv Nationwide
Quick: think of three things. Ask the person next to you if you need to.
Now make a story out of them.
And make it funny.
Not the easiest endeavor in the world. But the group of actors who make up Louisville's Damaged Goods improvisational comedy troupe do it on a regular basis, and improv fans far beyond Louisville have begun taking notice. The trio brings their distinct brand of short and long-form improv in their latest production, "Don't Get Got!" to The Bard's Town on Aug. 2.
Damaged Goods formed out of experience with another type of theatrical experimentation. Parker Bowles was a performer in "Elevator Plays 2″ with the now-defunct Specific Gravity Ensemble, a performance troupe that specialized in creating theater in nontraditional spaces. Bowles had been cast in Stefan Gearhart's short play, which called for a significant amount of improv. Bowles had no experience improvising, but Gearhart noticed he had a talent for it and invited him to audition for his then-current troupe.
"The funny thing is, when I first auditioned, they turned me down!" Bowles said. "They gave me some notes and told me to try again in a month."
Bowles made the cut. Within a year, the group headed to Los Angeles to try their luck in one of the nation's acting capitals, but things fell apart. Bowles returned to Louisville and Gearhart moved to Toledo, Ohio. The two stayed in touch, envisioning a two-man long-form improv project. But they did not want to completely move away from the short-form games they loved, so they planned a second, larger group as a side project.
Gearhart moved back to town, but the long-form project never came to be, as they put together the first incarnation of Damaged Goods. Some cast changes led to an open audition in 2010, where they met Rocky Williams. Williams and a few new faces were selected for Damaged Goods, Version 2. The group dynamic shifted again in 2012, leaving Bowles, Gearhart and Williams as the Damaged Goods that continue to improvise to this day.
"At the time it was a pretty big hit," Bowles said. "The truth of the matter is, none of us were certain that Damaged Goods would survive. But what we realized was we were left with three guys who all had hopes and dreams and goals that were so much bigger than that original version of Damaged Goods would ever allow them to be. So we decided to pick up the pieces of what we had left and form a brand new idea of Damaged Goods. That's proven over and over again to be the best decision we've ever made.
"We weren't exactly sure where this new Damaged Goods would lead us, but we knew we weren't done," he said. "In fact, we had only just started."
Their efforts and ambitions began capturing attention outside of Louisville in 2013. The team submitted a video to audition for the Chicago Improv Festival, which takes place each year in the hotbed of improv comedy, home to such well-regarded training and performing groups as Second City and Improv Olympic.
"We were confident in our product, but this was probably the first true test to see if anyone else was," Bowles said.
Damaged Goods was accepted and performed at the Chicago Improv Festival in April 2013. The opportunity exposed the group to improvisers from around the world and brought them a massive new network. The group began touring in earnest in 2013, playing clubs and festivals in Nashville, Detroit, St. Louis and a second time in Chicago over Thanksgiving weekend with had a sold-out run at the Laugh Out Loud Theater. The tour continued in 2014 to such stops as Western Kentucky University, Eastern Kentucky University and a requested return to the Chicago Improv Festival. The group just returned from The Big-Little Comedy Festival in Cleveland and will return to Detroit, debut in Cincinnati and do another November engagement at the Laugh Out Loud Theater. Damaged Goods will headline the Compass Improv Festival in St. Louis in October.
"Taking Damaged Goods to other cities has done quite a bit for us," Bowles said. "It's made us tighter. It's made us more confident. It's given us the opportunity to get feedback from people who don't normally have a chance to see us perform. We're so incredibly thankful for every single one of the opportunities these festivals are giving us. We're grateful for every chance we have to perform in front of new faces in new places."
Damaged Goods Presents: Don't Get Got!
Live at The Bard's Town
1801 Bardstown Rd
Saturday, Aug. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
$10 cash at the door
From This Author Todd Zeigler