Nestled on the east side of Anchorage, Out North Contemporary Art House has faced a rough couple of years. Since the non-profit laid off its employees and shut its doors in 2013, financial problems, internal politics, and musical chairs among board members have plagued the venue. The mission to “produce and present art that challenges and inspires” has taken a back seat to figuring out how to keep the lights on.
Out North would like to change that, and they have enlisted the help of a new comedy troupe. This Saturday night, Out North will be embarking on what they hope to be their comeback with “an evening of fine sketch comedy” with Herman Torkelson’s Armada — the local group’s debut performance.
On Monday, I headed over to the theater to check out a rehearsal as the group headed into show week.
Several cast members were buzzing around the theater, which was stripped bare. I passed by a group looking over scripts, while the show’s co-producer, Mark Stoneburner, doled out assignments. “You’re the pothead,” he said to one. “These are our corporate business people,” he said to two others. There was a reference to a bag of kittens.
Thomas Korn is the troupe’s ring leader, though he is quick to focus the praise on Stoneburner. “I was here[at Out North] for a meeting,” he told me, while props whizzed by behind him from one corner of the room to the other. “The whole show was a fluke. I mentioned that I was working on a show, and [Out North Vice President Indra Arriaga] asked me if we’d consider doing a benefit.”
Korn was caught off guard. He, and others, had been penning several skits. But they were originally written for radio. “It’s easier,” he said.
He agreed to do it anyway. That was a month ago. “They gave us a stage,” he added. It seemed silly to turn them down.
In the time since, Korn has been scrambling to find actors to fill it — a cast that was still solidifying on Monday. “The beauty of producing this show is having to chuck the cast list every day. I’ve been pulling people in and Mark’s been directing them.”
While I watched cast members dig through piles of props and figure out their places, one cast member sat down next to me and began skimming through a copy of the script, mouthing her lines. “When did you first see the script?” I asked.
“When I walked in just now,” she replied.
Alongside Thomas Korn and Mark Stoneburner are Janet Stoneburner (Mark’s wife), Kevin T. Bennet, Grace Hawkins, (award-winning — yes, shameless plug — Alaska Commons contributor) Rebecca Barker, Jodi Clark, Trenton Schneiders, Justin Stewart, Kelly Gallegos, Jeff Brion, and Brian Sechrist.
Korn hints at a Kids in the Hall influence in the stylings of the sketch comedy troupe. From the few skits I was able to take in, I could see where he was coming from. Dark humor, outrageous lines delivered by equally colorful characters, and sharp plot twists that will leave the audience laughing at times, and devoid of faith in humanity at others. But, you know, in a fun way. The least offensive sounding skits often pack the raunchiest punchlines.
I asked Korn what he hoped to accomplish when Herman Torkelson’s Armada took the stage this Saturday night.
“Get enough interest from the community to keep doing this,” he replied. “In short, to be bigger than the Beatles.”
The majority of the proceeds from the show will go to what hopes to be the revival of Out North, who have graced Anchorage residents with daring and important productions and performances for nearly three decades and would very much like to continue to do so. “We’re keeping enough for pizza and beer, and Out North gets the rest,” Korn said, smiling. Asked if they have plans for future sketch comedy shows, he said undoubtedly yes.
“But not anytime soon.”
“An Evening of Fine Sketch Comedy with Herman Torkelson’s Armada” will take place this Saturday night at Out North Contemporary Art House, 3800 Debarr Road in Anchorage, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10.
“I might show up,” Korn indicated.