The Hideout Theatre’s Local on the Eights

Improvised local news for the fictional town of DeWitt turned up some big stories (and funny ones) before and behind the camera

News you can use to amuse: (l-r) Sushant Sethi, Jennifer Banister, and Scott Rose
News you can use to amuse: (l-r) Sushant Sethi, Jennifer Banister, and Scott Rose (Photo by Steve Rogers Photography)

The fearless hosts of Local on the Eights ask, "How does the place you're from inspire you?" And the Hideout audience delivers, hurling an avalanche of answers at the stage. After a couple of quick negotiations, the performers settle on some themes for the evening and decide on the name of a small town in Anysville, USA. (DeWitt was the winner.)

For the next hour and a half, the cast of Local on the Eights invented the news in the not-so-sleepy hamlet of DeWitt, then they turned that news into an actual local broadcast, complete with onscreen titles. Absolutely nothing in the show is scripted, and the performers – as well as the camera operators and folks in the light and sound booth – are flying by the seat of their pants.

Here's what they came up with:

Channel 8 news in DeWitt has their work cut out for them. Carl, the showrunner, has been placed on the notorious "Red List" by Roger, the company darling and head of human resources. But what the hardworking news team at Channel 8 doesn't know is that Roger longs to move up from weatherman to co-anchor. The only person that stands in his way is the current co-anchor, Phineas, newsman extraordinaire and intellectual maven (who is in no way into popular culture and chess clubs and who is certainly not spending time in dark closets in the building dictating Lovecraftian leviathan-meets-Transformers fanfic). Roger ropes Carl, desperate to get back in the network's good graces, into a plot to murder Phin­eas. And if the behind-the-scenes mess at the station wasn't enough, this small town's got some big stories brewing for tonight's broadcast. Three brave reporters (one of whom has possibly committed manslaughter) and two camera operators (see previous parenthetical) investigate an East vs. West side chess war that's spilled off of the marble and onto the streets, a rash of softball thefts that have been plaguing the Dewitt tri-county area, and an investigative piece about a foul odor coming from a local toy factory. (Spoiler Alert: The smell is actually DEMONIC TOY POSSESSION.) The broadcast also included the local eccentric Professor Big Bobby Science, who, after decades in seclusion, was unable to unveil his eight color-two pages per minute facsimile machine to the world due to the absence of a landline. And then everyone on the news team dies.

So, was it funny? Yes, it was super funny. And entertaining, too.

Did it all work? It doesn't matter.

Because here's what makes me fall ever deeper in love with improv: It's not about perfection. It's about listening to your gut while listening to the rest of the folks onstage with you and just going with it all and trying anything – which means the actors won't always land on their feet (no one would). Sooner or later, something will flop. And not just flop, but flop on a stage in front of an entire audience. And then these thick-skinned thespians shrug it off and immediately let it go and get up and go on and try again until magic happens.

Watching the seasoned performers at the Hideout do this work is so powerful, y'all. For starters, it is really, really fun. It's reassuring to watch someone strike out onstage and not only survive it, but turn around three minutes later and bring the brilliance. The show will inspire you to take bigger risks (as well as be more forgiving of yourself when those risks don't pan out) in your own work.

So here's to you, Jennifer Banister, Caroline Gorman, Marissa Macy, Amanda Chang, Jeffery Chatman, and Scott Rose. I had a great time at Local on the Eights. Thank you for your talent, moxie, and grace. It was an evening of messy failures, breakthrough moments, and brilliant successes that left me with a deeper respect for improv artistry, and for improv artists as well.

Local on the Eights

The Hideout Theatre, 617 Congress, 512/443-3688
Through Dec. 23
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.

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Hideout Theatre, Austin improv, Jennifer Banister, Caroline Gorman, Marissa Macy, Amanda Chang, Jeffery Chatman, Scott Rose

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