by Ray Sikorski
BOZEMAN, MT – Like many a performer before her, Katie Goodman has asked the age-old question of her traveling troupe: Will it play in Peoria?
In Goodman’s case, the question takes on a slightly different hue, because she lives in Peoria. Not the Peoria, but Bozeman, Montana, a town appropriate enough for its Middle America sensibilities. If Broad Comedy, the 10-year-old all-female song-and-dance comedy cavalcade she started with her husband, can gets cheers in Bozeman, it’ll fly just about anywhere.
Of course, for her latest show, Goodman was more concerned than usual. Maybe it was the Park Bench Mothers’ close-up demonstration of camel toe. Or the three walking vaginas, the youngest of which is paid a visit by a teenage penile suitor. Or perhaps it was the girl pledging to save her hymen for Jesus. Somehow, the show had turned out far raunchier than she had intended.
“After we got to dress rehearsal, we were like, ‘Oh, my god, what have we done?’” she says.
But despite the initial apprehension, the show garnered nothing but delight from the Bozeman crowd, who once again packed two nights of the 700-seat Emerson Theater to capacity.
“It’s such a good place to try material out and see if it works,” she says.
That’s not to say there haven’t been issues. Along with its ribald take on sexuality and women’s issues, the show’s left-of-center take on politics once started a vigorous, curse-laden shouting match between two female audience members while Goodman was mid-song.
That instance was an aberration, she says, adding that Bozeman is more worldly than people would expect. “But people in L.A. are definitely like, ‘Oh, do you have cowboys coming to your shows?’ We’re like, ‘Sometimes,’” she says, laughing.
What works in Bozeman seems to work everywhere – Broad Comedy has performed to rave reviews for an extended three-month run in Boston, as featured performers at the Ms. Magazine Foundation Fundraiser in New York City three years in a row, and won Best of the Vancouver Fringe Festival in 2005. Future shows are planned for Los Angeles and New Orleans, and the Edinburgh and Melbourne Fringe Festivals may be in the works.
“Somebody once said we’re a cross between Jon Stewart, Saturday Night Live, and the Vagina Monologues,” says Goodman, who just turned 41. Many of the skits are musical; she writes them with her husband, Soren Kisiel, with whom she also co-founded Bozeman’s Equinox Theatre Company.
“He’s like Plot Man. He conceptualizes really well,” she says. “I’ll be like, ‘I have this idea. What do we do with this?’ He’ll brood for five days and be like, ‘I’ve got it!’”
They both have backgrounds in theater, particularly musical theater – Goodman studied classical singing and had opera teachers for six years – but she says that she and Kisiel were heavily influenced by absurdist and experimental theater of the ’80s and ’90s – what she refers to as the “naked performance art era.” So, one might be confronted with a myriad of human-sized vaginas on-stage during any given show, as well as a giant ovum that interviews sperm to see who gets the job of fertilization.
Goodman, who ran the Philadelphia Women’s Theater Festival and started Los Angeles’ National Women’s Theater Festival after graduating from college, points to the feminist take on that skit, which she says is based on an actual theory that says the egg selects its sperm. She says that she often shares ideas for the show with her mother, Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman. “And it’s in the paper four days later, rather than in my show four months later. And it’s like, ‘Dammit, she stole our material!’”
Goodman recently published Improvisation for the Spirit, a self-help book about using the tools of improv comedy in everyday life. She also plans to do more solo work on stage, but she foresees doing Broad Comedy for a long, long time. “When I was 39 I was going, ‘Am I going to be doing the Extreme Right Wing Cheerleading Squad in my 40s? And playing this teenager in the hymen one?’ But once you pass a certain age it doesn’t matter because then it’s such a spoof, as opposed to I’m trying to look 18.”
Since the Broads started ten years ago, various performers have done their time in Bozeman and moved on – now there are 17 or so Broads in other parts of the country, who perform for out-of-town shows. Goodman, always on the lookout for new venues, says she hopes to rehearse new casts in cities throughout the country, so they can perform extended gigs.
“It’s such an open venue for me and Soren,” she says. “We could stop, we could take the material we have and tour that forever. But we love writing new stuff.”
Ray Sikorski wrote and directed his first one-act play in 1988, and his second 20 years later. He is a freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana.
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