How A Goofy Idea Became An Award-Winning Show
n late 2015, I was sitting with some familiar faces (Regina Soto, Adam Mengesha, & Ben Howell) in the foyer of The Institution Theater. We were talking about the climate of Austin comedy and about how we wanted to do something different. I tossed out an idea for a show that was like Magic Mike, but with real men dancing. Like any good group of improvisers, the bits heightened and heighten until it all started coming together into something we were really excited about. Hard-ish Bodies went from a goofy idea that had initially been rejected to a project that just might work. With the basic outline of the show formed - real men doing real dancing in a really sexy way - we presented the show once again and this time this lovely theater that had become my home away from home agreed to produce it.
Holy shit! My first show that I created was going to be produced. I had no clue what that actually meant and how to put it all together. All I knew was I had a vision for the show and the rest would eventually figure itself out…right? Hahaha….not at all. The whole process was pretty intense.
We had three months to prep the show, learn some dances, develop a format, build trust and vulnerability amongst the cast, and a ton of other things I never knew went into developing a show from scratch. We landed on a modified Harold format I dubbed, The Waltz. Each night would feature a different male dancer as the night’s hero. To fill out the world, we had both men and women play supporting characters. There would be planned and improvised dances as we flipped from live performances at the fictional club, Stoney’s Rock Hard Palace, to the narrative story of the hero.
On March 18, 2016, Austin’s first improvised male-stripping show opened to a sold out house. We had no clue what to expect. From the first few bars of our opening song, the crowd went wild. They were roaring with excitement. Standing backstage, we all knew this show was something special. Our first show revolved around city council members trying to close the club because they didn’t like the men walking through the city park that was near the club. The show ended in the men and women of Stoney’s needing to get petition signatures in order to save the club. So for the final dance, all of the cast stripped down and ran around the theater getting audience members to sign our bodies. I’ll never forget it. I’m still getting chills just writing about it now. The rest of our first run followed suit. We sold out every show and squeezed in as many people as we could fit - even having some sit on stage for a couple shows. Each show was unique to the “hero” dancer who was featured and it was all improvised. Click here or here for some pics of our first run.
It was the first time I felt like I was finding my artistic voice and people not only accepted it, but loved it. I was putting on a show I wanted to see and was creating the art I felt was missing. By the end of the first run, we knew that not only were we, as cast members, owning our bodies in a way we never had before, but audiences were connecting with these vulnerable and funny stories in a way that took Austin by storm. We had audiences laughing and crying and joining on emotional journeys. It was the first time I realized how everyone is in need of body-positivity messages. This show was affecting people in a positive way.
After the first run, we were invited to do a few one-off shows and even headlined one of the first nights of Out Of Bounds Comedy Festival. The whole time people were asking us when the show was returning for another full run, so we listened to our audience and decided to bring the show back for a second time. If you’ve every done anything that was good and brought it back for a second time, you know there is a lot of pressure to try to recreate it. To make matters worse (or better), we wound up being nominated for four B. Iden Payne Awards - Austin’s version of the Tonys. Now it wasn’t all perfect. There were some tough conversations and many stressful nights leading into the second run of the show. Full disclosure, there’s some stuff I’m not mentioning on purpose.
Anyway…as luck would have it, the Austin theater community voted us to win the top honor of Outstanding Production of an Improv Show from B. Iden Payne Awards Committee. Holy shit…again! We won. I could not believe it. Much like our opening night, it’s a moment I’ll never forget. I was up on stage with some of my best friends with my amazingly supportive girlfriend watching along with Austin’s theater elite as I gave a super sappy acceptance speech where I was basically screaming into the mic, “Don’t let people dictate the art you want to create!” I can’t tell you how it felt to not only have the validation from our supportive audiences, but also that of the Austin community. Wow.
Even with the pressure to recreate a now award-winning first run, our second run was phenomenal. We once again sold out every show and had audiences that begging for more. My favorite part of the second season was that Roxy, our MC, had her own “hero” night - complete with her own amazingly choreographed dance featuring the other ladies Hard-ish Bodies too. This second season really solidified her as our audience's “spirit animal.” She is unapologetically sensual and seductive - owning every bit of that stage in a way that commands your love and respect. I can’t think of a more powerful woman I’ve seen grace the stage. It’s powerful. She’s powerful.
We ended our second run on December 16, 2017. The experience is still surreal. I can't believe this show that started off as a goofy idea has become what it is today. Our audiences and the cast didn't want the show to end, so we've been working since the second run on adapting it into a short film.
Next week I'll talk about the launch and what it has taken for me to not let fear overcome me and stop me in my tracks.
If you're in the Austin area and are free on Monday, January 23, 2017 from 7-10p please come join us as we kickoff the Seed&Spark crowdfunding campaign for the Hard-ish Bodies short film.
You might Also Like
Mood Board: How We Want It To Feel
I wanted to show you some of the work we’ve done for pre-production, so far. When talking with the cast and the crew, I wanted to be able to give them a sense of what was going on in my head. So after scouring Pinterest and a thousand other sites, I put together a mood board. Below are the style of the film and the different tones for each location.Read More
You Down With B.D.D.? (Yeah, You Know Me)
James C. Leary shares his jounrey with Body Dysmorphic Disorder. "I loved the idea for Hard-Ish Bodies the second I overheard Mike and Regina talking about it one day in the lobby of The Institution Theater. I don’t remember who it was but one of them said “Yeah, it’s gonna’ be improvised “Magic Mike” but with, you know, like, regular body type guys.” I stopped listening after “Magic Mike” ‘cause the first thought that popped into my head was – SWEET, THIS IS A CHANCE FOR ME TO DO MY MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY IMPRESSION!! - Which was really all I cared about.I went to the auditions, had fun, did a silly little goofy dance and managed to get cast. It wasn’t until our third or fourth dance rehearsal that reality slapped me in the face like a gold lame banana hammock – I was going to have to dance in front of people practically naked. Oh. Fuck. I had a full blown panic attack driving home that night."Read More