An Interview With Two Comedians Locked In A Theater For Ten Days
A few weeks ago, eight comedians locked themselves inside of The Annoyance Theatre in Chicago. They committed to living there for 10 days straight without ever leaving in order to make a sketch comedy show for which they would then perform to an empty audience (and live stream on Twitch in an effort to raise money for the theatre).
Now I'm someone who regularly writes and performs sketch comedy. I love it. At least, I thought I loved it, because when I heard about the "QuaranTeam" (as they had dubbed themselves) I thought "what in Lorne Michaels' name is wrong with these people?" So I decided to interview Mick Napier, the Artistic Director and Founder of the Annoyance and Jennifer Estlin, the Executive producer of the Annoyance, to learn about their experience in what had to be one of the strangest quarantines ever.
Dan: I'm someone who loves sketch comedy. But even as someone who loves sketch, I want to start off by asking, why in the love of God would you do this?
Jennifer: When I heard what was going on in Italy, I kind of saw the writing on the wall and was trying to sort of brainstorm what we might do to help the Annoyance survive and create income. While I was thinking about it, I remembered that the Annoyance had done a lock-in back in 92' for fun where they had created a musical in seven days. And Mick had directed that.
Went to Mick and said "What do you think about doing a lock-in again if it seems like we're headed toward a quarantine? If we ask early enough we can get a bunch of people to shelter in place and all come to the theater, all on an agreed day and create something." So that's what we did.
Dan: How did you come to pick who would end up sheltering in place?
Mick: We asked a bunch of people who we knew were going to be in town and we actually had six people -- but one guy, his girlfriend got sick the day of, so we had to replace him. By the time we had to replace him, we asked about 15 people that said "No."
Jennifer: We did get most of our first choices, but we had to add and then people would say "Let me think about it," and then come back and say "No."
Mick: I think if we had waited three more days to actually start we wouldn't have been able to do it. We had to time it just right.
Jennifer: Yeah, because as it turned out we started on Wednesday and the shelter in place order came in on Friday -- two days later.
Dan: What would you guys have done if a state order came in saying "wherever you are you must shelter in place indefinitely." Were you prepared to shelter in place at the Annoyance forever?
Jennifer: In a way. I mean we talked about that kind of jokingly, but also like it could happen. It's not as comfortable as home necessarily, but it actually ended up being pretty comfortable.
Dan: How did you eat? Where did you sleep?
Jennifer: Primarily we got a shit ton of groceries prior. But there were a couple of things we needed technically for the live stream that we had to have delivered in. Duke Harbison, who did tech for the production, also helped me with cooking and prepping meals except for a few meals here and there.
Mick and I slept in our office. Two people slept in the small theater and then everyone else slept downstairs in the classroom studios.
Mick: But everyone had a nice mattress. It was crazy, but we hung out together and watched tv at night in the bar -- and we played games in the bar at night. We wrote during the day. We had a rehearsal during the day, then we broke and had a rehearsal at night.