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Park Hills Native is Going for it in Hollywood, Returning Home for Improv Festival

The first time Carla Cackowski ever did improv was in theatre class at Notre Dame Academy.

“I remember the teacher said we had to say yes in our scenes, so when someone told me we were stopping at a gas station so my character could go to the bathroom I said yes by going into the corner of the classroom and pretending like I was peeing.”

Back then, Cackowski was Carla Snowden, who was born in Ft. Thomas, grew up in Park Hills, and returns to town Sept 6-11 as one-half of a headline act in OTR Improv’s third annual IF Cincy (Improv Festival of Cincinnati.)

She and husband Craig Cackowski are Orange Tuxedo, coming in from Los Angeles, one of the top national improv troupes taking the Know Theatre stage, including companies from Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Minneapolis and more.

Several local improve troupes from the growing regional scene will be showcased during the festival. Find a complete schedule of performances and workshops at www.ifcincy.com.

“Craig and I will be doing our version of what's called, Close Quarters, a form in improvisation that is typically done in a larger ensemble, but we have modified it for the two of us," Cackowski said. "We'll get a suggestion and show you 8 to 10 different characters who are occupying the same location around the same time of day. We have a tendency to start patiently, really trying to figure out those relationships and what the characters mean to each other, and then finding ways to connect their stories somehow in the end.

“It's a fun and challenging form and I think if the audience is willing to go on the journey with us, they will feel satisfied by the time those characters leave the space! We try to think of it like, "Hey, we're going to spend time with these people today, let's do our best to honor what they have to say and not judge them too much. Also, let's have fun!

“Improv isn't a perfect art, meaning that because we are making it up, anything can happen, but when we are being patient and listening to the characters, things tend to work out.”

Orange Tuxedo will perform in the Saturday, Sept. 10, 9:30 p.m. mainstage slot, sharing a bill with The Improvised Sondheim Project from Chicago.

Cackowski assures that she was the funniest person in town as a kid, “unless you ask my brother. In which case he'd say he was the funniest. And he'd be right.”

She gives a tip of the hat to that high school class, where she first started developing her improve chops, or, as she defines it, "making mistakes and learning what it feels like to elicit groans from the audience."

She liked it enough to move to Chicago when she was 18, “but it wasn't until I moved to LA and was super lonely and needing a community that I fell in love with improv.

“I was in my early twenties and not coping well in Hollywood, but the improv community was so fun and welcoming and I knew, This is for me! All of my closest friends for the past 12 years I’ve met through improv and any job I've gotten since I was 25 came through my improv connections.

“Improv is also how I met my husband. Basically, if I didn't have improv in my life, I would be a shut-in who hides behind closed doors and yells at the neighborhood kids to get off her lawn. (An exaggeration. Nobody has a lawn in Los Angeles.)”

You won’t be surprised that Cackowski’s advice for the lonely is, “Take an improv class!”

It was never the plan to form an improv duo. “My husband is a generation ahead of me in the improv world (and the real world, too), so he was already established and in his own improv groups when we first got together.”

Orange Tuxedo only started touring and performing regularly last summer (nine years into their relationship) as a way to travel together and teach workshops together.

“It has just kind of taken off in a really fun and exciting way. We've played and taught together in Austin, San Francisco, Phoenix, New York City, Portland, Detroit and now Cincinnati. And this fall we're going to Denver, London, and D.C.," Cackowski said. "We have a regular show at The Second City in Los Angeles. If we had known we'd get so much work and have so much fun, we'd have done it sooner!”

Cackowski’s very full improv schedule includes directing shows, teaching classes and coaching improv groups for Second City.

“It's the best gig in the world and I wouldn't trade it for anything,” Cackowski said. “You can make money doing improv! You can't own a home in Los Angeles and you will probably drive a used car for the rest of your life, but it does help you eat and pay rent and even own a dog!

“Also, you will travel a ton and meet people from all over the world. And it will be awesome.”

Also awesome, Cackowski wrote scripts for a couple of years for Lishy Lou and Lucky Too (on PBS Kids) and wrote on another kids’ sketch show this summer for Dreamworks TV. She’s looking forward to watching when they’re released.

“I'm always working on something new on my own and trying to find ways to get it out into the world. That's just part of living and trying (not dying!) in L.A. - always creating, always producing, always putting it out there.”

Her monologues have been published in anthologies by Applause Books, and she’s a member of the theater company The Solo Collective and much, much more.

Cackowski hosts the podcast Improv Yak on iTunes, which is everything improv. At the end of each show, Cackowski and her guest improvise a scene in which she “attempts” to utilize the technique they’ve discussed.

Improv Yak will record its first live episode at IF Cincy.

“We just hit episode 40 and it has been such a blast. Improv Yak has opened up a lot of opportunities for me, and I'm always stunned when I receive e-mails from people all over the world who listen to it. Someone recently emailed me from Iceland! Or when people approach me at festivals to tell me that they love it.”

The IF Cincy episode will be released in October. “I'll do my best not to screw it up!”

Cackowski will lead a workshop on ensemble building Sept. 10 from 10 a.m. to noon at Know. Participants will be led through a series of exercises building ‘group mind.’ “It’s great for established improv groups, as well as individuals looking to start an improv group or take the exercises back to rehearsal for their existing group. "

Appropriate for all levels, the cost is $30.

Cackowski has loads of relatives in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. That ‘loads’ isn’t an exaggeration.

“Just on my Dad's side there are something like 50 cousins. I've never performed at home before so this will be the first time most of them see me improvise.

“Assuming they come see the show...Hear that family? Come see the show!“

Check out Orange Tuxedo on vimeo and Improv Yak on iTunes.

3rd Annual Improv Festival of Cincinnati (IF Cincy), Sept. 6-11. OTR Improv, Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine. Tickets Single events: $5 Tuesday, $10 Wednesday, $15 Thursday, $20 Friday and Saturday. All Access Pass: $75; Weekend Pass: $65; One Night Pass: $35 (Friday & Saturday).  Complete schedule of performances and workshops at www.ifcincy.com.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
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