We first saw comedian, writer, and director Jana Schmieding perform as one part of the comedic trio 20/400 in their hilarious theatrical sketch comedy show “Sketchy as F*ck” at the 2014 Fringe Festival. Jana is back on the New York comedy scene with a new solo show called “Classic Singles: Ballads of Loneliness” at the Magnet Theater this month. Reflecting back on the trials and tribulations of her love life in the most romantic month of the year, Jana’s sketches portray her adventures, imagined and autobiographical, on the NYC dating scene, including begging for phone numbers on the subway, crooning popular love songs with some desperate lyric changes, and investigating the causes of her lonely death Law & Order style. Jana’s cynical search for love is fresh, earnest, and full of wonderfully exact comedic moments. Tickets and Info here!
Sara interviewed Jana about her work in education and comedy, her experience developing her show, how things have improved/worsened in her love life, and the phenomenon of “chuckle-fuckers” in the sketch comedy community, in the end leaving them both wiser, classier, and still single.
LMezz: So you’re a public school teacher by day and an actor/writer/director by night. That sounds like some kind of superheroic craziness. What has your teaching experience been like and how do you balance everything?
Jana: My teaching experience has been really intense. This is my eighth year teaching in a public school in the Bronx. I came from a family of teachers, first of all.
LM: Me too.
J:I dont know if you experienced this but it was always in my mind “I don’t want to be a teacher ever.” But I always knew I could. I was always good at tutoring or coaching or working with kids or communicating an idea to a group of people. So when I originally moved to New York City, I wanted to perform but I didn’t like the structure of working in a restaurant and being broke all the time.
Synopsis: Adapted from the cult documentary, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, this musical tells the real-life story of Billy Mitchell, a pompous hot sauce business owner, and Steve Wiebe, an unexceptional family man, in their battle to achieve the top score in the arcade game, Donkey Kong.
Why Go?: King of Kong seems like just the sort of thing to succeed in a Fringe environment, and it does. It so does.
Stand-Out Bits: It was absolutely refreshing to see two women tackle a satirical rendition of these utterly mediocre men. Ruffin and Van Kurin’s writing is hilarious and there wasn’t a moment in the hour-long show that I wasn’t smiling with awe. Their brand of humor almost never goes for easy punchlines, rather they find unpredictable laughs in the middling absurdity of the characters’s lives, also with a warm and friendly approach. Together, Ruffin and Van Kurin take on several characters (sometimes even in one song) and while the task of switching up is clearly not effortless, they bring a unique self-aware charm that trumps the show’s challenges. This was really a winner for my weekend!
King of Kong plays at The Players’ Theater 8/15 at 9:15pm, 8/16 at 1:30pm, 8/17 at 6pm, 8/19 at 9:15pm
Vestments of the Gods by David Carl and Owen Panettieri
Synopsis: It’s Halloween and the students of Thebes Street Elementary School come to school in their best costumes. When one class taunts Annie (Erica Diaz) and Terry (Perri Yaniv) for their unusual Halloween choices, Annie defies the status quo and challenges the authority of the school administration, with dire consequences. Loosely based on Euripides’s Antigone, this musical presents the harsh consequences of bullying and political stubbornness.
Why Go?: Antigone is one divisive and crazily complex tale of protest, and setting it in a school seems ripe for exposing its ambiguous moralities. Also, Lin-Manuel Miranda is producing, and that man is the second coming of Christ strikes gold every time with his luscious locks of boricua hair.
Stand-Out Bits: This is definitely one of the more well-developed of the Fringe shows this year. The set, costumes, choreography, acting, and music are all in advanced stages of production (more bang for your buck!). Unfortunately, I think the musical struck the wrong chord in its storytelling. First of all, I had trouble figuring out who its intended audience was. It felt largely like a children’s show, something a teacher might take her class to see in order to show them the consequences of bullying. But then, there would be long moralistic, and often redundant, scenes mapping out the difficulties lying ahead for the characters. Plus, without giving too much away, the ending is way too mature for a children’s audience, and way too unbelievable or outlandish for an adult audience. Annie’s decisions point out the flaws in her school’s system of governing, but I’m not entirely sure what she personally had at stake, or what she hoped to achieve. Perhaps because of the elementary school setting, the stakes don’t feel very high, and I found it implausible that the various adult school staff members couldn’t control the situation in a more authoritative way.
Vestments of the Gods plays at Theatre 80 on 8/14 at 4:30pm, 8/17 at 10:15pm, 8/22 at 7:45pm, 8/24 at 1pm
Held Momentarily by Oliver Houser
Synopsis: Seven strangers on an indefinitely stalled C train reveal their backgrounds and experiences to each other and bond in a rare New York City moment.
Why Go?: We city residents crave to interrupt our lonely, busy lives with some personal interaction every now and then (bleak, no?). Consider this a how-to guide.
Stand-Out Bits: This show was an emotional ride through what it’s like to be an up-and-coming adult in the city, full of insider jokes and unique relationships. The characters are deceptively simple tropes at first but demonstrate their individuality well. Some of the plot points are a bit unbelievable, and a birth in a subway seems like a forced way to create a climax; this musical could have worked better with an untraditional narrative. Writer Oliver Houser and his cast are just college students (!!!) but already show wonderful promise.
Held Momentarily plays at The Sheen Center 8/14 at 2pm, 8/16 at 7:15pm, 8/20 at 7pm, 8/23 at 3pm
20/400: Sketchy As F*ck by Lauren Olson, Christian Paluck, and Jana Schmieding
Synopsis: A scripted sketch show from Brooklyn comedy troupe 20/400, featuring everything from a Nipple Tour of Italy, featuring different cured meats, to a parody of Sia’s Chandelier.
Why Go?: Comedy is a relatively new addition to Fringe and generally doesn’t fall under the more narrative-based theater umbrella. But, given that this is scripted, and that 20/400 is funny as f*ck, and that Fringe might be trying to draw a younger crowd, we’ll shuffle it in unnoticed.
Stand-Out Bits: Not every one of the sketches were gold, but they were damn well close. The showcase featured an eccentric mix of smart, outlandish, shocking, and satirical sketches. I was fascinated by the physical comedy each of the actors perfected– Olson was particularly fascinating, seamlessly transitioning between her over-the-top characters and contorting her features in horrifying but hysterical ways. I would totally recommend this to a regular UCB crowd or just anyone wanting to cap off a Fringe-filled day of drama and musical theater with a light-hearted laugh.
20/400 plays at Celebration of Whimsy 8/12 at 5pm, 8/13 at 9:45pm, 8/14 at 5pm, 8/16 at 2:30pm