For your average Pokémon trainer, catching ‘em all is a full-time job. There’s no room in your Poké-packed life for a family (they’ll just slow you down), friends (who just don’t “get it”) or, least of all, Houston-grown improvised comedy. Despite this, Station Theater might have found the exception. “We’ve done Cagematch before, with pre-set teams,” says Station Theater co-owner Jessica Brown. “But we thought, we set the troupes with teams related to Pokémon Go. It just snowballed from there.”
The chart-topping augmented reality game, which has amassed an estimated 100 million downloads since it launched on July 6, has been a game-changer for both the 20-year-old anime franchise and local businesses across the globe. “My background is in tourism,” Brown says. “As soon as the game came out, I knew instantly there were a lot of cool possibilities for what we could do with it.” Along with Station Conservatory director Steven Saltsman, the comedy theater has redesigned the popular Cagematch series into a unique, real-world Pokémaster’s paradise.
What began as a small gesture to the gamer community – Brown says trainers could score two free tickets by claiming their site’s gym (in-game battle stations, constantly changing leadership between real-life game players) – has blossomed into a full-on love affair with the game itself. “We’re all active players too, so we’re having fun trying [to incorporate the game] into our shows, making each one different,” she admits.
Explaining the rules of the show is not terribly simple, but Brown is thorough in her attempts. In the game, Pokémon trainers are asked to join one of three teams, based on their perceived greatest strengths. Team Mystic is for the wise, Team Valor for the Brave and Team Instinct is, well, for those with good instincts. At the start of each Cagematch event, Brown says, the team that is in control of the gym gets to decide the rundown of that night’s events. “We actually encourage people in the audience to play Pokémon Go during the show, because if the gym switches hands between sets, teams could potentially gain or lose improvisers,” Brown gleefully pitches. “It really puts audiences in control!”
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Capping the potential losses at a minimum of four players and a maximum of seven, Brown wants to reinforce the idea that despite being wrapped up in the Poké-fever, delivering quality comedy is still a primary concern for Station Theater. “The improv is still improv. Sometimes there are references to Pokémon Go, but really it’s about supporting the teams,” she says. “Ultimately, audiences get to pick their [favorite] teams of improviser by voting. It’s super-interactive, audience-focused and, most of all, fun!”
Unafraid to break the molds of convention, Brown insists audiences break one of the cardinal rules of traditional theater. “Most of the time, you don’t want people on their phones during an improv show, but we encourage you to catch Pokémon during the show!” The improv teacher knows that a large part of the audience may be unfamiliar with the art form, but she hopes that Pokémon can help bridge the gap and introduce newbies to laugh, and potentially get them involved. “People are having a blast doing it,” Brown remarks, “and we do offer a free Level Zero: Intro to Improv class every Friday at 7:30, which is a great way to get your feet wet.” If trainers do get the improv bug, Brown says, the theater has new weekly classes starting every month in performance and sketch writing. “Houston’s improv scene is so diverse, it’s great getting different voices onstage.”
So if you don’t have the app, don’t steer clear of this play-what-you-wish affair. Brown says making the show not only affordable but also B.Y.O.B. is essential to Station Theater's goal of opening up live comedy for all interested. “We want this to be a fun and inexpensive way to hang out with good people on a Sunday. Improv should be accessible to everybody.”
Performances are scheduled for August 21 through September 4 at 7 p.m. Sundays at 1230 Houston. For information, call 832-786-0413 or visit stationtheater.com. Pay-What-You-Wish.