Chowdah Sails into Uncharted Territory

"Don't be afraid to grab and push and force" said Shira Danan CC '07, director, writer and actor of Chowdah sketch comedy group, as she instructed her fellow actors Monday night during a tech rehearsal for the upcoming Black Box Show tonight.

"That's what she said", quickly retorted a lounging Chowdah member, Martha Ruth Norrick, BC '07, from offstage.

Content laughter rippled through the theatre.

Chowdah boasts the title of Columbia University's only sketch comedy group. In only its third year of existence, it has already graced the humor mecca, Caroline's, and brought laughter to the fondly remembered West End.

So the upcoming show at the Black Box Theatre is an exciting and anticipated change of venue for the group. The new space does not come without challenges, however.

"We're used to being in Wien Lounge, which has a very wide stage area and absolutely no technical complications" noted Danan. "We can't even turn on and off the lights there." But these obstacles are worth the "polished look" that Shira and Matt hope for the show.

In fact, when asked to describe the theme of the show, Mike Lynch CC'07, producer, Webmaster and writer, had three words: "Black Box Show."

Indeed, the group has made ample use of the space's facilities, incorporating sound and lighting effects into almost every sketch. "Expect death, nudity and black outs!", promoted Lynch. Audience members can also look forward to sound bytes from Justin Timberlake, techno lights and a hilarious slide show.

The creation process for this upcoming show has been a largely democratic one. Over the course of a few weeks, the Chowdah writers conceived a surplus of ideas for sketches, which were eventually voted on by all 18 members of the group. The collaboration continued into rehearsals, as members freely offered Shira suggestions on blocking and timing.

The surviving sketches tend not to satirize actual events, but, rather, are based on the imagination of absurd circumstances. The Chowdah writers avoid using campus scandals and politics as their inspiration, leaving such expertise to the Varsity Show. Instead, Chowdah adds a dose of slap-stick comedy and exaggerated stock characters to turn everyday situations into humorously nightmarish predicaments.

The show runs an estimated 76 minutes. While not every sketch is laugh-out-loud material, a few moments will leave you fairly impressed. Michael Grinspan, CC '09, does a farcical rendition of a Vicadin-poppin'-love-sick song seductress as a hilarious hybrid of Jack Lemmon's cross dressing in Some Like It Hot and Norman Bates's mother-on-crack. The audience will be impressed with his choreographed performance and fearless feminine singing.

The meaning of the name "Chowdah", however, remains unclear. Perhaps it serves to add a dash of enigmatic appeal? Is it the name of a new designer dog? The mumbles of a toothless man asking for soup? Or the drunken grunts of a beef-jerky eating bro?

When asked what Chowdah stands for, Danan responded with an impromptu "Comedy Has Once Won Dazzling Audiences Hearts". This Thursday, the Columbia community will have a chance to judge for themselves whether it still does.

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