Study Hall Comedy Inspired by Lectures, one of Philadelphia’s longest-running improv comedy shows, combines lectures and laughs in one fantastic hour long show what has never been seen before and will never be seen again. The troupe recently launched weekly online shows (every Wednesday at 8PM EST) and has an upcoming fundraiser to help keep Study Hall going! I talked to Study Hall’s director, Mike Marbach, about these Zoom-based shows, the July 29th fundraiser, and why Study Hall is not to be missed!
Q: Why did the Study Hall cast feel it was important to continue their shows and adapt to a Zoom-based format?
A: Michael Yudell and I had been talking about expanding Study Hall for a while now. When Covid hit and started closing everything down, we saw it as an opportunity to try something new, keep our fans engaged, and possibly even grow the show’s audience.
Q: How did you become involved with Study Hall?
A: I was directing the Philly Improv Theater improv house team “Asteroid!” when we were asked to take part in a segment in the Philadelphia Science Festival in 2011 or so. It’s one of my favorite things to do, so I’ve been happy to help guide the show these many years now.
Q: Now you can feature guest performers and lecturers from all over the world- who can we look forward to seeing?
A: That’s hard to say. It’s more difficult to get guests than you might think. I think some teachers hear “comedy show” and get a little scared. We always tell people they don’t have to be funny and that “being funny” is the job of the cast. Their part is to tell a true, interesting story. Something they would do in any classroom. Thankfully, Michael does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to finding guests. If anyone is interested in lecturing we have an interest form on our site! We have big fans of our show that keep coming back to lecture and the online format makes it that much easier.
Q: What would you say was the most interesting (or strangest) lecture that the improv troupe turned into a comedic scene over the past 7 years? Who provided the lecture?
A: One of my favorite things about the show is how we don’t shy away from more controversial or heavy topics. Race, disease, slavery, politics… we get lectures about all of it and our cast handles everything with grace and intelligence. Recently we’ve had on Adam Rothman talking about Henry “Box” Brown. Brown was a slave that shipped himself to abolitionists in Philly. One of the more off beat, interesting lectures was one from Yudell talking about the relationship between Elvis and Nixon. That, on its own, sounds like a scene we would do.
Q: How did your July 11th fundraiser go? Why was Theatre Philadelphia chosen as the recipient of the funds?
A: It went well! We raised enough to cover a grant, which was the goal going in. This cause was important because we are directly impacted by theater closures. Philly Improv Theater, where we had performed most often, has many people now out of work due to the pandemic – myself included. No one really knows when live theater will be back. In the meantime, countless people are out of work and some are only getting assistance because of the CARES Act…which is now in danger of expiring. This program’s grants are a lifeline to so many.
Q: Tell us about your next fundraiser, scheduled for July 29th.
A: Sure! The fundraiser show on 7/29 is part of a month long fundraising campaign. It’s all simply to help keep Study Hall going. We have a big Philly Fringe Festival run coming in September, recently hired a publicist (Bryan Buttler. Hi Bryan!), built a website, and we pay our performers. That last point might seem odd to point out, but it’s actually not common for improvisers to be paid for shows. We make a small amount from online show sales, but at $5 per person it’s usually just enough to pay the participants. The rest of the funds come out of my pocket and as I pointed out I don’t have a job!
Also part of our fundraising effort is brand new Study Hall Merch! For the first time ever we have some Study Hall swag and it features our brand new logo created by Karen Coleman-Hinners! For a limited time we have shirts in 6 colors, pint glasses, tote bags, and we wouldn’t have a public health expert involved in our show and not offer face masks. All now available in our “School Store.”
The show on 7/29 is $10 (with additional donations possible). The guests that night include Adam Rothman (Georgetown University), Jacqueline Antonovich (Muhlenberg College), Kae Lani Palmisano (Host of WHYY’s Check Please!), and of course our steady QB, Michael Yudell (Drexel University).
Q: What stand up specials or sketch-comedy based shows would you recommend to anyone looking for new content to stream these days?
A: For sketch comedy, I would highly recommend people check out Astronomy Club on Netflix. Also I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson. Those two shows will give you a wide look at sketch comedy that you won’t see on SNL. As far as Stand-up goeS, Dave Chappelle’s 8:46. The way he manages to get his hurt, honesty, and humor out in this special puts him on another level. No other recs. Watch that special.
Q: Study Hall 2021- what do you think/hope it will look like?
A: I’ve said this before, but having Michael Yudell involved in this show has always been a blessing, but having him now, as a public health expert in the midst of a pandemic, is amazingly helpful. Unlike some politicians, I’m going to trust the health experts and make moves based on their suggestions. It is my hope that we can resume live shows in early 2021 while continuing to do online shows in some capacity. The more Zoom shows we do the more they grow on me, but they can never replace live theater. And some Study Hall shows are some of my favorite live theater experiences I’ve had.
Q: In your opinion- what snacks/drinks will pair nicely with the new Wednesday night performances?
A: In a pinch, I would say popcorn and seltzer. Ideally though, people would look for restaurants in their area that are doing take-out or delivery. This way you’re supporting our small show and also a local, small business!
For more information about Study Hall, read this press release.