I know that we all have cultural blind-spots and people resent having those spots pointed out, but I'm going to point anyway.
If you think you've got your finger crazy-glued onto the pulse of Phoenix, and you've never been to a Torch Theatre improv show, then you need to get your fucking eyes checked, because you could sail the Titanic through that blind-spot.
If one were to compile a list of some of the funniest, smartest, and most talented folks living and doing their thing in Phoenix, smart money says at least 75% of them are either graduates, students, or regular audience members of the Torch Theatre. The fact that they don't get written about more often isn't too surprising, unfortunately; improv as an art form is a hard thing to document.
For the last few years, the Torch has been a free spirit possessing many bodies, doing classes and shows at Burton Barr, the Trunk Space, and Fractal, among other venues. But the one place they kept coming back to was Space 55, where the majority of their shows took place and where every Saturday night they would host a Cage Match where two troupes would compete to see who could deliver the better, funnier, more-shock-and-awesome performance. Now after years of floating, they're finally getting a home to call their own, as next month the Torch Theatre will be opening a theater on 4721 N. Central Ave.
On Friday June 25th the Torch wrangled up a posse of troupes to do a "Farewell Show" and leave the nest. Your humble correspondent, being tied up watching a play reading earlier in the evening, missed the first few performances. Two of the older troupes, Galapagos and Mail Order Bride, went on before I arrived, much to my regret; I've seen a few of their shows and they have always been stellar. But the rest of the acts made up for missing them; there wasn't a bad performance that night.
Searching For X came on as the Light Rail Pirates ended their set, asking the audience for a suggestion of a top 10 list. After someone shouted out "things you don't want to buy with your mother", the X took that idea and turned it into a performance that included swimming across moats and killing sharks, buying cock-rings with your mother, and God trying to explain to a clueless worshiper the difference between praying and wishing wells.
If Unicorn Warpath were a dog, I would have awarded them Best In Show for the evening. Maybe it was the hysterical line about how "tether ball was a Darwinian struggle". Maybe it was the recurring gag of the despondent college student being smothered with love by his omnipresent mother. Or perhaps it was jock-hating Unicorn Tom Winker's rant about the Apollo Moon landing: "they should have sent poets and artists who could look down on the earth and say something transcendent about the experience... instead they send those ego-maniacal test pilots".
The Empty Frames Experiment used their "Cyclops" style of improv, turning off the lights and playing in the dark, using only flashlights, candles, and lights mounted on their foreheads to illuminate their performance. Chairs were thrown, a pair of crying "girls" were called silly cunts, and we were told the story of escaped ape Bongo, who used his long-dick as a gun and single-handily tamed the Wild West.
Closing the show was The Foundation, a troupe composed entirely of Torch instructors. They combined two shouted suggestions into a comedic Voltron of inappropriateness: "Pineapple Doggy-style". Thanks to this set, I'll never be able to hear the phrase "doggy-style" and not hear someone bellowing "BEAST MODE!" in my head for the remainder of my days: "When you flip her over for doggy-style, NEVER EVER EVER say 'BEAST MODE'. Because you will end up having to call a cab".
While this was called the Farewell Show, the Torch will still be doing the occasional show at Space 55, and they've still got Cage Match going on there every Saturday night for the next few weeks. But in a few weeks, once 4721 opens its doors, it will be the end of a remarkable chapter in Phoenix's cultural history, and if you haven't had a chance yet to see the valley's improv best doing their thing in their old stomping grounds, you should do so now while you still can. Remove those spots from your eyes and see the amazing things happening under your nose.
There will be a Cage Match tonight at Space 55, $10 at the door and starts at 11pm. Mail Order Bride will be performing with Apollo 12 at the Trunk Space at 8 pm on Wednesday, June 30th for $5. And several of the Farewell Show's performers will be performing in a Torch Student Showcase at Space 55 on Thursday, July 1st at 7pm, $5.
This post has been edited from its original version.
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