Saturday, August 27, 2016

IndyFringe 16: Acting a Foo Is Only Half the Story: Local Comedians Share Some of Their Dreams and Struggles

We remember the first time we saw Act A Foo Improv Crew (AAF) at IndyFringe. The year was 2012, and we had just seen a couple of affecting but heart-wrenching dramas. We figured it was the perfect time to let off some steam and remind ourselves what a good belly laugh feels like. Turns out we saved the best for last.

Since then, we have seen AAF perform in every IndyFringe festival plus a few of their Sunday night shows and their Halloween and Christmas parties. We invite friends along to every AAF outing because the band of lovable misfits of AAF have a way of making everyone--especially women (hey, it's their gift!)--feel like the guest of honor. 

"Les enfants terribles"of AAF are always the life of the party at IndyFringe. (From bottom left: Daniel Martin, Ennis Adams, Joshua "The Girth" Owens, Jocque Carey, and Joshua Short.)

I was curious about this animated group whom I'd heard had all grown up together in Indianapolis, but I'd never met any of them in person. And here's the beauty of Fringe. It literally breaks down the walls of a guarded society.  Even the most timid can approach a stranger and walk away a friend. Thus was the case in 2013, when I was stepping out of IndyFringe theater, feeling a post-stage rush, when I spotted the enfants terribles crossing the street. Not knowing any of their names, I began to call to them, "Hello, Foo! Mr. Foo! Mr. Act A Foo!" A gentleman turned around and smiled as I ran up to greet him. It turned out to be the MC of the group Daniel Martin, and with one spirited greeting from a stranger on St. Clair Street, I now have a friend for life. 

Since then, we have had the joy of seeing these gentlemen perform in various plays and venues around town, and Larry and Daniel even wound up together on the set of an industrial film last year. Truly one of the greatest gifts of being involved in various capacities at IndyFringe for the past twelve years is the sheer number of people from all over the globe with whom I've crossed hands.

It's our last post of the festival, so I will impose on readers to enjoy a post that I hope will be more meaningful than sentimental. It seems a fine way to end our coverage of IndyFringe '16. 

I caught up with Martin this week to discuss their troupe, their sense of place in Indy, and their hopes as performers. My one regret is that I couldn't interview the whole group. (Future post idea: A night on the town with Act a Foo.) Make no mistake: although Martin takes the reigns of the group on-stage, this is a 100% team effort by all members, and each of them contributes equal effort and talent to their great success.

Maybe you're like us and have watched them slay the audience and wondered, "What were they like growing up? What did their poor mothers do?!" Incidentally, I mentioned this to member Joshua Short once, and he responded in all seriousness, "Please pray for them!" (Future post idea: Let's talk to the Foos' mothers!) 

In Carey's case, his mother sent him to Asante Children's Theater. As explained by Martin, Carey was "hyperactive" (his mother's words) as a child, and rather than squelch his enthusiasm and interest in making people laugh, she helped him find a way to channel his energy. It was here that Carey met Martin, Adams, and Short.

Martin and Owens met by way of church, and telling me so made Martin crack up. "Why is that funny?" I asked. "Because the two of church. Talk about not fitting in!" The plot thickens: It turns out that Martin was not just a member of Harding Street Church of Christ--his father, Peter N. Martin, Sr. is the minister. Martin and Owens are still members of this church.  (Future post idea: What is it with Preachers' Kids growing up to be Fringe Artists?! One half of this duo--the handsome, debonair one--also falls into the category of PK-turned-Fringe Artist.)

Sidebar: We would be remiss not to include this tidbit. Martin's grandfather was journalist Fletcher Martin of the Chicago Sun Times, a WWII correspondent who also had the honor of introducing the city of Chicago to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. during a civil rights conference. Fletcher Martin was also the recipient of The Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University--the most prestigious journalism fellowship in the U.S.  

AAF started performing professionally as a group about seven years ago. Before that, they constantly "performed" for friends and family in various living rooms around Indy. When asked how they came with their name, Martin replied, "We figured we'd give ourselves a name that would give people an idea of what to expect at our shows. And that's just it. We invite people to 'act-a-foo' with us."

"I figured it was an admonishment administered by your mothers growing up," I offered. Martin laughed, "Well she was rather fond of saying to me as a boy, 'You act a foo' now, I'm gonna act a foo' later!'" Since launching professionally, members have come and gone from the group, but the current five foos remain thick as thieves.  

Each member of AAF continues to perform in various capacities around Indy. Adams recently appeared in Blues for an Alabama Sky at Spotlight Players; Carey is a frequent director of Asante Children's Theater; and Martin recently turned in a stunning performance as Tom Robinson in the sold out run of To Kill A Mockingbird at the Indiana Repertory Theater. 

Recently, however, Martin and Carey have set their sights on bigger markets. After years of dreaming about taking things to the next level, they took a leap of faith and moved to Atlanta, a burgeoning film and theater city. "One day, Jocque said, 'That's it. We gotta stop talking about it and start doing it. Come June, we're out of here,'" Martin explained. "Jocque is a schoolteacher and wanted to finish out the year before moving. By March, I realized he was serious, and I was like, 'I have got to get on the ball and make this happen!'" 

One might question the timing of such a move. Things have been going well for AAF these past few years. Martin shared the reason for their move. "We want to be professional actors. Not just comedians. We love bringing comedy, but we are also serious actors. We're always surprised that people are surprised that we also do drama.'" (It's this writer's opinion that comedians often make the best dramatic actors.) Although they have climbed the ladder of success in Indy, it does, unfortunately remain a small market for professionals. "In Atlanta, there are greater opportunities," and he adds somewhat ruefully, "More opportunities for actors who happen to be African American." 

Carey and Martin have settled in Atlanta but point out that Indy is just a "quick" (their words, not mine) eight-hour drive away, so they can still stay involved with AAF. For the past couple of months, they have been focused on the bare bone necessity of survival, which has thus far taken precedence over networking and auditioning. After IndyFringe closes, however, they will meet with directors and theaters, including Alliance Theater, which is Atlanta's equivalent of the IRT.

When asked what he misses about Indy, Martin quickly responded, "I miss being comfortable! We could always find work here, and now no one knows us. We are starting all over. It is going to be incredibly difficult and expensive to get established. I miss my family and friends and performing in Indy, but honestly that comfort  kept me here longer than it should have." Martin, although not starry eyed about his future as a performer remains hopeful. "I need to get my feet wet in the film industry. I still prefer the stage. It's more thrilling. You don't get to do several takes on the stage. You have to sustain your range and depth of emotions night after night. You have to reach so much deeper. But working in film will give me more experience and credibility. And right now my main goal in life is to be as uncomfortable as possible." 

Martin still feels inextricably connected to Indy and plans on returning often for the foreseeable future. "We're (AAF) grateful to Indy for supporting us and for all the publicity we've been getting." He takes a deep breath, and gets lost in a thought. "What it is it?" I asked. "I just--. Can I be honest about something, just speaking something from my heart?" 

He continues. "We are so excited to be featured on local TV stations and various local media outlets. We couldn't be more grateful for that coverage--really we are very thankful. But the truth is, we are constantly referred to as an 'African American' Comedy Group.' Every time it happens, we shake our heads and wonder why people continue to see things in terms of race. The problem with that kind of descriptor is that it suggests that our comedy is only for African Americans, and that is just not the case. At various times, we've had white people in our troupe, so it's also not accurate." 

I encouraged Martin to continue. "We want to be known for our art and craft, not our skin color. We just want to make people laugh, and the truth is, we're pretty darn good at it. If people who have never seen one of our shows see us described as 'African American Comedy Group,' they might not feel welcome, thinking that we have a preferred audience. You know, we're just grown men who grew up together around Indy. We represent Indy, not just certain demographic groups. I say this not to complain or create friction. We just want everyone to know that all are welcome to come play with us and make art with us and act a foo with us!" 

Although there a couple of other improv groups in town, AAF takes pride in the fact that they built their group one by one over the years. They didn't have a theater to support them. They had to find their own venues and figure out how to reach the most people without an established audience. IndyFringe has gone a long way in helping them grow their audience. 

Martin concludes, "In a Fringe setting, it's okay for anyone to talk to anyone. When it's just me--just Daniel--outside of Fringe, I'm always open to meeting people on the street. But at Fringe, people feel more open to greet me. It provides a safe place to get out of your comfort zone." (As Larry puts it, "Fringe audiences just don't have the 'ol broomstick up the ass.") 

Now if you really want to get over your comfort zone, head down to IndyFringe for AAF's closing weekend to get a belly ache from laughing for your foo' head off.

Saturday 8/27 3pm
Sunday 8/28 1:30 pm

Don't be a stranger now. If you see one of the foos out and about, say, "Hello, Foo!"

Daniel capturing a selfie--or an "ussie" for plural, we decided, at last year's AAF Halloween party.


  1. This is an amazing article! Truly! First time I felt like we actually captured! Thank you!

  2. This is an amazing article! Truly! First time I felt like we actually captured! Thank you!