Troupe Laughs All the Way to 20th Birthday

Troupe Laughs All the Way to 20th Birthday

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Even a student comedy troupe can't help being reflective when it hits the 20-year mark. So forgive the co-directors of My Mother's Fleabag for sounding a little on the serious side - very little, that is.

"We now have members who weren't even born when the group started," said Homer Marrs '00.

"I guess you could also say that we have alumni who are now old enough to be our parents," chimed in Brandon Hart '00, "but I wouldn't want to alarm anyone."

My Mother's Fleabag Co-directors Homer Marrs (left) and Brandon Hart during a recent rehearsal. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Pre-dating Doug Flutie, O'Neill Library and even Robsham Theater, "Fleabag" - as the group is familiarly known - this year is commemorating two decades ' worth of campus performances that mix improvisational and skit humor with musical parodies. They will formally observe their 20th anniversary with shows tomorrow and Saturday, April 1, at 7:30 and 10 p.m. in O'Connell House [see "Calendar"].

Fleabag not only has the distinction of being one of BC's oldest student performance groups, but is, according to its members, the oldest continuing college improv group in the country ("We've researched this," declared Marrs). Although not an officially registered University organization, the group has become a campus institution by virtue of its annual O'Connell House performances and occasional appearances in unlikely places such as the Eagle's Nest in McElroy Commons.

"I think a lot of things have just gone right," said Hart of the group's milestone. "Most of all, we've just had lots of good people."

The troupe makes no bones about its stock-in-trade, the frenetic, unpredictable style of improv humor that usually involves following suggestions yelled out from the crowd.

"Improv is really popular at colleges," said Marrs. "People in the audience and on the stage just seem to like the idea that anything can and will happen, that you have to think on your feet. It's a rudimentary kind of theater, a great training ground."

Several Fleabag alumni have gone on to show business, including Nancy Walls '88, a former cast member on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and now a regular on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show"; 1992 troupe director Kara McNamara, now on MTV's "The Blame Game"; and Amy Poehler '93, who appears on another Comedy Central program, "The Upright Citizens Brigade , " and had a role in the 1999 movie "Deuce Bigalow." Hart adds that numerous other former Fleabag members appear regularly in professional, if less-known , venues.

Members cite the group's "seat-of-the-pants" persona as its salient characteristic. Their musical numbers are done Karaoke-style (they do have a live band, but only for guest spots or intervals), and their props are decidedly low-budget.

"We've found that cardboard and spray paint are two of the best inventions ever, and that people can be used as doors," said Marrs, who adds that no one has been harmed - at least not permanently or intentionally - in a Fleabag production.

"We just like winging it," said Hart. "Actually, the whole prop thing becomes an extra joke with the audience. It adds to the performance."

The group's name also reflects a certain self-deprecating viewpoint, as Marrs explains: "A 'fleabag' is a run-down, dirty motel. The fact it belongs to your mother means, I suppose, that it's something you should be proud of. So the way I understand the name is that it's something horribly pathetic for which we're supposed to have natural attachment and love."

Fleabag's pre-written skits are usually centered on events, places or other characteristics related to Boston College. One vignette played off the fear of forgetting acquaintances, as two characters at a party deal with a guest whose name they cannot recall but who reels off the home towns and Social Security numbers of everyone she encounters. A skit from the 1989-90 academic year looked ahead to the year 2090 and portrayed a group of elderly Fleabaggers being invited to participate in the group's 110th anniversary show.

In recent years, the group has produced more elaborate parodies, marrying songs of a particular musical group or genre to the plot of a popular movie or literary work. These shows have included "A Christmas Carol" set to Motown, "The Karate Kid" as sung by the group U2 and a heavy-metal rock version of "Dirty Dancing."

Hart and Marrs are secretive on details about the group's anniversary show, partly because members seldom know what's going to happen anyway. Fleabag alumni have been known to turn up for performances, Hart says, "but they never tell us beforehand."

"Usually, we have to keep peeking out the back door of O'Connell House until show time to see if anyone's coming," Marrs said.

 

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