The Entertainer! - June 2020

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Pandemic is teaching comics how to stand up—without the chuckles Jordan Houston >> The Entertainer!


aughter might not be the best medicine during a global pandemic—but it certainly helps. With a new era of social distancing, many stage entertainers are wondering how the industry will adapt moving forward. For local comedians Leanne Schmidt and Marlene Strang, also known as “The Ladies,” the transition has been smooth. In their latest drive-in, pop-up series, “Ladies in Headlights,” the dynamic duo is putting smiles on the faces of quarantined audiences across the East Valley—in a safe and innovative way. Their 15-minute June performances, which sold out in May, are set in Phoenix parking lots and showcase the “’90s moms” characters finding humor in even the most mundane of activities. Tickets cost $19.99 per car—an ode to “mom life” and couponing, explains Schmidt—for a parking spot. “To be able to pull up and have a human interaction that’s safe but still inspiring and that can make you laugh and forget about what’s going on around us, we just got so excited about that,” she tells The Entertainer! Magazine. The mothers are also partnering with local businesses to use their lots and draw in crowds, making for the ultimate “dinner and a show” experience. “We are excited to create collaborations with local businesses,” Schmidt continues. “That was also a

Jill Kimmel


thing. I was like, ‘How great would it be if they (the viewers) can pull up and grab dinner or grab dessert and then pull up into our show?’ And then we’re promoting these businesses as well.” So far, the biggest social distancing obstacle has been finding ways to engage their audience, Strang says. The Ladies, with the help of their business partner Steve Wilcox, encourage audience members to communicate via their car headlights and horns. “Something important to us is that our audience contributes to the art experience,” Strang says. “Like we used the sound score, we asked them to beat their horns and respond to certain questions or we asked them to put on their windshield wipers.” The Ladies have been an active presence in the East Valley’s performance art scene for quite some time, fusing dance, improv comedy and immersive theater into an unclassifiable genre. Because Strang and Schmidt come from dance backgrounds and share an interest in comedy, their performances embody a hybrid of both. “If you look at our website, the first thing that you see is it’s not dance. It’s not theater. There’s certainly not a name for what The Ladies do,” Schmidt says. “We create immersive theater experiences, but it’s more of a sort of community feeling.” Strang explains that their “’90s mom characters” are modeled in part on their

Leanne Schmidt and Marlene Strang, also known as “The Ladies.”

experiences as young mothers. “We draw from our lives as mothers and our family life and all of that,” she explains. “Those inspirations are what fuel our movement, dance theater and all of the stuff we do. There’s a lot of improvisation in the work as well.” Aside from balancing their professional lives as educators with nursing babies and family life, Strang and Schmidt strive to make their content relatable to everyone, she continues. It also varies depending on the site location, says Schmidt, which is why ticket holders aren’t informed of the venue until 24 hours beforehand. “For example, we did a performance at the Clarendon Hotel,” Schmidt comments. “So, The Ladies were on a vacation there. The participants, those

who came to the show, were getting a tour of the amenities.” Since their inception, the comedians have strayed away from traditional venues, instead performing at places like bookstores and hotel roofs to blur the divide between audience and performer. The Ladies agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged them to tap into their creative sides. “We really had no plans to be presenting in a theater, which is an advantage at this time,” explains Schmidt. “As devastating as it is to see these other arts organizations and companies not have a place to perform, we in particular are not super affected by that, which is a wonderful thing.”

TOUGH TRANSITION As The Ladies continue to find their