Jonathan Strickland, a long-time Dad’s Garage fan (and awesome host at HowStuffWorks.com), wrote this piece about a long-lost bit of our history.
Fans of Dad’s Garage—and pork products—are probably aware of BaconFest, the annual fundraising event for the theatre. But old-timers like myself remember the predecessor to BaconFest. It was something special—a treat for audience members and probably a unique hell for the performers who tried to get through the whole thing. It was called the Dad’s Garage Improvathon.
As I recall, the number of hours in the Improvathon was usually 25 1/2. The entire marathon was divided up into show-sized chunks with a half-hour between each, giving the performers the opportunity to sit out for sections to grab a quick power nap. It also meant the marathon didn’t need to turn into a punishingly lengthy long-form improv show. And it meant that the audience could purchase tickets for specific stretches of the marathon or buy a pass for the whole thing.
At the time, my wife and I were in the starving artist phase of our respective careers. A day-long pass to a theater event seemed to be an extravagance we couldn’t afford—though there was the tantalizing bonus that if you bought a pass and stayed for the whole thing you’d end up with a lifetime pass to Dad’s Garage shows. We were never brave enough to take that challenge, but some people did and they actually earned those passes.
Going to these marathons meant you’d see really spectacular moments. Sometimes, a throwaway show in the marathon would later develop into a much richer idea. BRAWL, the Dad’s Garage improvised pro-wrestling comedy show, started that way. The first episode was part of a marathon with wrestlers acting out their matches by playing with action figures in a tiny toy ring.
You’d also get to see stuff that would have been forbidden any other time of the year—like an adult version of the Dad’s Garage show for children. This usually was placed in the marathon at a time when everyone was extra loopy from sleep deprivation, which made it a truly special experience.
My own favorite memory from the marathon days was when Scott Warren was portraying a talk show host in the style of Phil Donahue. His special guest for one segment was Matt Myers playing General Zod, the villain from Superman 2. Zod was the show’s relationship counselor. At one point in the segment, Zod became angry with the audience, and so he used his super breath. The audience, game to join in, all behaved as if they were being blown to the back of the room. I think it took Scott about an hour to stop giggling.
I miss the marathons but I understand why they are gone. Dad’s Garage has grown beyond them, for one thing. BaconFest is a much larger event with a capacity that far exceeds a marathon. And honestly, the wear and tear on the performers must have been tough. But part of me hopes that we’ll see another one in the future—or perhaps some similar event where crazy ideas are workshopped in front of an audience.