SketchFest Preview at Bumbershoot Hints at Big Things to Come

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Seattle’s SketchFest is the nation’s longest running sketch comedy festival. They’ve hosted acts from all over the United States as well as international performers, and of course many local sketch groups and comics. This year, riding what they see as the crest of the wave of interest in the art form, the festival will be split over two weekends, starting 9/28 with a local showcase at Annex Theatre, and ending on 10/6 with the final show at the Theatre off Jackson. (More information, schedules, lineups, and tickets available here.) All of this will be ushered in by a preview show at Bumbershoot on 9/2 at the Theatre Puget Sound stage from 3:45 to 5:00PM with local groups Charles, Ubiquitous They, and The Entertainment Show.

I sat down with Managing Director Kate Montgomery and Artistic Director Clayton Weller and talked about the current comedy boom, and SketchFest’s place in it.

Tom Mohrman: What’s new with the SketchFest Festival this year?

Kate Montgomery: This year we spanned it out between two weekends. So we have the local showcase on 9/28 at Annex Theatre, and then we have the Film Challenge night on 9/29 at Central Cinema. And then the other part that we have for sure is on october 5th and 6th at the Theatre off Jackson.

Clayton Weller: It’s funny, because last year it was definitely a one weekend thing, and it has been for the last couple of years – or a one week deal. And this year it’s kind of turning into a four weekend thing.

KM: Our thinking was, “Okay, we’re going to expand to two weekends,” but then we kept coming up with other stuff. The first weekend of the festival, the second weekend of the festival, the mashup.

TM: So what does that mean in terms of fundraising?

KM: Because we are a festival, a large portion of our budget comes from 4Culture and the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. So big shout-out to them! They are awesome.

CW: A large portion of our revenue comes from applications. It’s not a lot for the performers, but it means alot to us. It allows us to pay our out of town performers when they come, which is something that we pride ourselves on. We’re one of the best paying festivals in the country. Also box office sales are good usually.

KM: We’re hoping spreading the two communities will help a lot. We’ve mostly concentrated in the International District, and Theatre off Jackson is a wonderful theater run by really great people, but it’s just in the International. District. So we’re hoping by moving into Capitol Hill as well that will help a lot.

CW: Another thing that has slowly been helping with our financial state is our Education Director Natasha Ransom.

KM: She’s the person who put together our workshop series. We do charge for our classes, but you’re definitely getting your money’s worth.

TM: How did this year’s “Boot Camp” series of classes go?

KM: We did really well. We got really good feedback from it. Everyone was very very happy, which was nice. We had awesome teachers.

CW: Instead of having the normal model where you have one teacher and you kind of squeeze all the juice out of them in a five week thing, having the teachers come in and know that they have one class to say what they really think is important on a very specific subject led to some really awesome information that no one was getting.

TM: What is the main focus for SketchFest?

KM: The festival is the main focus, but we’ve been working really hard to get our name out there. We’re still considered very small. So we’ve been really focusing on trying to have classes and workshops and various other shows throughout the year so that people see our name.

TM: You mentioned a Mashup earlier. Tell me a bit about the Mashup.

CW: Initially it was that everybody was here for the week of the festival, and the performers got together and wrote a show, and rehearsed and performed the show during the week of the festival. So like one person from Chicago, a person from Seattle, a person from LA – they’d all be in a scene together. The thing that we found was that people were exhausted by the end of that process. Especially if they live locally and have a job. So what we did is we figured that people had really good experiences doing that, and that if we did those during the year and brought in new people, it would help foster the scene.”

KM: The next Mashup is October 12th, 13th, and 14th. The performance will actually be on the 14th. It’s part of Arts Crush.

CW: It’s going to be at Wing-it Theater, formerly the historic University Theater.

TM: Tell me a bit about your involvement with Arts Crush.

KM: Arts Crush is a great thing that goes through the month of October. It’s actually run by Theatre Puget Sound. It’s something to get people to come to different performances whether it be theater, or comedy, or opera, etc. You might not necessarily know about it, or might not be able to ordinarily afford to go. So there’s free date nights. September 23rd there is going to be a big event where people can come and see tables and booths from different institutions in the Fisher Pavillion at the Seattle Center. Sketchfest is going to have a table, and this awesome company Freaking Genius is going to be helping us out with some interactive stuff.

The thing is there are going to be people from all over the arts community at Arts Crush. The Friday nights are the “date nights” where you can get half-price, or even free tickets to stuff all over town. The whole point of Arts Crush is to get people to know about the arts community in Seattle.

TM: So what’s in store for Bumbershoot?

KM: Bumbershoot is very exciting. It’s 9/2 from 3:45 to 5:00PM. It’s going to be on the Theatre Puget Sound stage, which is part of the Center House on the 1st floor. It’s also the home of Book-It Repertory. There’s a lot of really great funny stuff going on on the TPS stage this year. Representing us this year we have Ubiquitous They… not all of the members.

CW: No, not all eleven. Spike and Jason are doing their living room tour, which they kind of had the inception of at last year’s SketchFest. They’ve been traveling around. They set up shows in people’s living rooms, and just perform their show there. They’ve had a really good response from that.

TM: That’s really cool. I’ve heard of bands doing that, but not sketch, or comedy.

KM: Well Tig Notaro did that. It was amazing. It’s one of the reasons Tig Notaro is so beloved… The other two groups we have performing are The Entertainment Show and Charles. It’s kind of our power lineup.

TM: That should be a great show! What else is new with SketchFest this year?

KM: One thing of note is how large our local night has become. This year we have one whole night dedicated to local groups. We have an explosion of local groups. The sketch scene is blowing up right now. It’s exactly what we’ve been hoping for for the last couple of years.

CW: I think it’s almost doubled in size from last year, which is really unprecedented. Seattle has a history with sketch comedy where it’s kind of gone in waves. The first wave was I think in the early 90’s. Almost Live came out of that. So there’s all these sketch comedy groups and then one of them made Almost Live, and then it fizzled out because it wasn’t in vogue anymore. And then there was a mid-90’s resurgence, and that’s where Cody Rivers came out of. So that was a boom, and Cody Rivers was kind of on the tail end of that.

KM: So Cody Rivers is made up of Mike Mathieu and Andrew Connor. Andrew was Artistic Director of SketchFest for a long time. He’s what made SketchFest a nationally recognized name.

CW: There’s this third boom that’s happening now. I think it’s coming out of people trying to develop a Seattle style.

KM: I think one of the nice things that’s happened too, is that there is a lot of merging between the improv, sketch, and stand up communities. This is the first time that there has really been so much intermingling. It used to be that if a stand-up went to “sketchy camp,” they were a little out of place. I don’t think that would be the case anymore.

CW: There’s a robust support community that just wants everyone to build their skills across the board. We’re working with Wing-It, and Unexpected Productions – there are a lot of organizations that are all working together to get this stuff out.

KM: A nice thing about Seattle is that it’s a really nice community. We should be an artistic community giving the people culture, so we work together, which is awesome.

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