Saturday and Sunday, Thrilling Adventure Hour, the monthly radio-meets-stage show at Largo, presents two nights of guest star-packed, more-than-an-hour performances. Yesterday, we chatted with co-creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker about the evolution of the popular show. Today, we'll hear from regular cast members Samm Levine, Marc Evan Jackson and Paul F. Tompkins.
Marc Evan Jackson
Marc Evan Jackson is one of the original members of the Thrilling Adventure Hour cast. He plays the lead role in the popular, serialized segment "Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars."
How did you get involved with the show?
I was with a company called the Second City in Detroit and then when I moved out here in 2001, I was teaching improv to new students in the space when it was next to Improv on Melrose. Ben Acker had been a student there for writing and then was a teacher of writing there. Wednesday evening, the teachers there would improvise for the students to give them a feel for it. He saw me improvising on several Wednesday nights and asked Mark Gagliarti to come talk to me and see if I would be interested in this thing. Eventually we met and chatted and he said that they were working on this project, this old time radio hour type of thing, and would I be interested in playing it. I went to the first rehearsal and new immediately that it was going to be really fun.
How has the show evolved for you?
One of the ways that I love to play it is that it doesn't really evolve. Sparks Nevada is sort of a perpetually teenage boy in this adult body. He's petulant. I lovingly refer to him as being a dumb guy with a big ego, which is a character that I very much love playing. I love people that in the face of falling off a cliff still want to fight about something that happened five minutes ago going now you know I'm right about that even though they're facing imminent doom. He's worried about the shiny objects and the petty things, the little things. He and Croach [played by Mark Gagliardi] could be arguing about something completely unrelated in the course of a gun battle.
How does your improv background affect Thrilling Adventure Hour?
It affects everything I do and it certain affects Thrilling Adventure. I can't imagine doing anything without being an improviser. I can't imagine trying to write or act or direct without what improvising offers you.
As the writers will attest, I liberally add my own writing to the project. I don't always dry run everything with them in rehearsal. Sometimes I do, some of it I save for on stage. I think it's nice when they're able to be surprised by their own writing as well.
One of the benefits to having these guys write the show and having it be on for so long, they truly are able to write in each of our voices. This always sounds awful when I say it, but it's almost as though we write it ourselves. It's so tailor-made for each one of us that we can get the script in rehearsal three nights before the show and reading it and it flies off the tongue and it's very funny, you're almost surprising yourself by how much fun and how easy it is. Acker and Blacker are remarkable writers, hilarious, prolific and truly able to write from more than one perspective.
There's a risk, I think, with doing this much material over this long of a time with this many actors, that the character would be too sort of same-y, too alike to one another and that's not the case with any of their characters.
Are there still things about your characters that surprise you?
Sparks and Croach have been in the show for nearly the whole time and it's always fresh. It's always new. It's a buddy comedy, effectively, and there is no end to the minor frustrations he can offer me and the major frustrations I can offer him.