Sisters 4EVER: Leila Gorstein graduated from Indiana University in 2014 with a BA in theater. She had more than that, though. She also had years of stories from her experience as a member of a Jewish sorority.
Part of Chicago's The Second City house ensemble, Gorstein started writing her sorority-based show, Sisters 4EVER, when she graduated from college. "I had an inside eye on things that seemed normal," says Gorstein of Greek life. "But when I talked about it to other people, no one had any clue."
Gorstein wasn't always destined to become a sorority girl. "I grew up in South Carolina and went to the School of the Arts. I didn't know anyone when I went to Indiana, but I was hoping to meet other Jewish people," she says. She had more trouble meeting people than she'd expected and she calls her decision to rush a "last resort."
Needless to say, things went well, and Gorstein made a bunch of friends through her sorority. She eventually made friends outside of the sorority, through theater. "It was a real struggle to be a theater person and to be involved in improv and a sorority, which could make you feel guilty for not making it a first priority," says Gorstein.
This struggle is part of the reason Gorstein spent so much time writing her show — she wants to poke fun at Greek life, but she doesn't want to belittle it. She loved her sorority, but she thinks that anyone, former Greek member or not, can relate to some of the more ridiculous aspects of the lifestyle.
"I go through chapter meetings with the audience," says Gorstein. "We do new member education, where you bond with one another. Actual new member education is where you talk about feelings, it lasts for hours. It's an emotional process." In this way Gorstein is taking an intense (and perhaps, to some, silly) part of Greek life and heightening it for comedic potential.
And the comedic potential seems to be huge; Gorstein sold out her initial Sisters 4EVER performances at Second City. She says that a number of her sorority sisters have seen the show, and they find it just as funny as she hoped they would.
"There's never been a comedy done on Greek life where it wasn't painted in a terrible light," says Gorstein. "It's important to shed light from a Greek life point of view."
Tomorrowquest Theatre: Tomorrowquest Theatre, based in Columbia, S.C., got their name in the way you'd think. "We were joking about comedy of the future," say members Patrick Fowler and Topher Riddle. Tomorrowquest, ya know?
The guys (the group is comprised of five men) describe their comedy as a variety show, an art form of the past that seems to be making a resurgence in the comedy scene. From the 1960s-80s, variety shows on American television were a big deal, like The Ed Sullivan Show, The Hollywood Palace, and The Carol Burnett Show. And heck, Saturday Night Live survives today.
"All of us wanted to expand," says Fowler. "The best way to do it was ourselves." So the crew hangs out and then puts together a show, featuring all of their individual talents, like improv, sketch, musical comedy, and audience participation games.
Every performer — in addition to Fowler and Riddle there's Joe Coughlin, Curt Shumate, and Daniel Renedo — brings something to the table: one guy has his finger on the pulse of politics, the intellectual of the group brings up big ideas, and the rest keep each other grounded in the present.
As with any improv-infused comedy show, Fowler and Riddle say that audiences can expect characters to change each performance. They do have a couple of go-to's though. "We're kids that are always in a talent show that are over enthusiastic," says Fowler. He adds that the guys will throw in impressions every once in a while, too. "Some of us are good ... and some aren't." As we see it, that's funny both ways.
Allison Text Initiative: The year is 2017 and guys still have trouble crafting text messages to girls. That's the premise behind The Allison Text Initiative, a show that takes place entirely in the brain of Bradley, a millenial male. "Basically it's a parody of West Wing," says one of Text Initiative's members, Dan Hanf. "We're the government of this guy's brain."
"He's schlubby and not really a good guy," says Hanf. When asked if Bradley fits the definition of today's unlikeable male — a fuckboy — Hanf agrees that yes, Bradley is a fuckboy. As Alana Massey described in an August 2015 Slate article, "Fuckboy is not a dating style so much as a worldview that reeks of entitlement but is aghast at the prospect of putting in effort." So there you have it.
"The show debuted in pre-Trump America, so it's not a reactionary thing," says Hanf. "Things are more pertinent now, as I'm sure a lot of people will say about their shows." Political climates aside, the show also addresses a timely topic: text etiquette.
"We hit on things like what emojis to use, the number of emojis to use. There's an autocorrect mishap," he says. "The rules about texting aren't written down." And if you're not super text or tech savvy, Hanf says that the show is still accessible — these are pretty universal tropes about dating, after all.
The cabinet refers to the president a lot (Bradley, that is) and they scramble when trying to compose a text to the titular character, Allison. Hanf says a lot of inspiration comes from sites like Reddit's subReddit, the blunder years, where people post pictures and texts that they regret from their youth. Inspiration, of course, also comes from the performers themselves. "There's a little bit of fuckboy in everyone," says Hanf.