The two women singing as a warm-up act to an iO improv show on a recent Thursday night were not an unusual act: Solos or small groups precede every performance of Dreamboat, a fresh young troupe at the world-famous iO ( formerly the Improv Olympic ) Theatre.
So what made this evening more than a little different? For one, performers Debra Duncan and Kayla Quiros would be exchanging marriage vows in just two days. The audience couldn't resist the romance of it all, and greatly enjoyed their little set of three songs, covers from the group Secret Sisters and one very touching original titled, appropriately, "Love Song."
For another, the 10-member improv team that followed the warm-up is the first all-queer show in the history of the iO. Until Dreamboat, co-founders and co-producers Duncan and Rachel Smith said, there was no solely LGBTQ improv team at the iO.
The time is now
Both graduates of the iO's year-long training program, Duncan and Smith thought it odd that the acclaimed company didn't already have a queer troupe, aside from temporary events during Pride month.
"Then the house team we were on together got cut, so it was 'well, if we're ever going to do it, now's the time," Smith said.
Dreamboat has about 30 ensemble members, most of whom perform in other shows as well. Of these, 10 perform at any given Dreamboat performance. Somewhat surprisingly, this is not an evening of Pride-themed performances. The set this writer saw featured very few explicitly LGBT characters or content. Even most "couples" improvised in the moment were cisgender and straight.
"I think that's just a difference between improve and sketch. We aren't going out with any specific thematic goals we want to hit," Smith said.
"Last week the show was very gay," Duncan added. "It just depends on how we're all feeling in the moment. I don't feel we have any goals, or any template, because people aren't over-thinking about any improv they have to do. Whatever happens, it's because people aren't thinking, in a very beautiful way. "
Safe in the space
So what's special about the all-queer composition of Dreamboat?
"When we come onstage and are doing scenes, I feel so safe in the space, and I get out of my head the most when I'm in those shows," Smith said.
Duncan agreed. "One thing that's been pointed out by those in the cast is that it's really nice to be all together on one stage, and kind of having no rules. In the other house teams at IO, you kind of feel that you're the queer person on your team. It's like the other, straight, people are the team are always looking to you to be the one to add a little flair."
"One team member told me he felt he always had to fill this 'character space' to represent the queer person on his team, so he got pigeon-holed a lot," Duncan added. "But on Dreamboat, for the first time he very free to do whatever the improv set led him to."
Dreamboat is slated to run through September. Duncan and Smith feel confident their run will be extended.
"I think the improv community as a whole, and specifically IO, is really aching to give voices to more people of color, and who identify as queer," Smith said. "I think there's a need for that in this community. And I think that's the reason our show is coming along at a very good time."
When improv is more than just improv
"The main thing we want to emphasize about Dreamboatit's a real celebration of the community as a whole. People having fun and being silly, and the most themselves ever in this safe party that we want to have each week," Smith said. "I've never seen so many queer people on one stage at a time in Chicago as a performer. And I think we're doing something special," Smith said.
"We've had great houses," Duncan added. "Every show has had a large crowd, and they've been 100 percent on board for whatever's coming at them. People are coming in, ready to party. Which is not how it is for the regular house teams. There's an energy in the room that's different from any other improv show that I do," Duncan said.
"We've been trying to promote Dreamboat outside the comedy community. We're reached out to a lot of professors, for example, "Duncan said. "We want to reach other queer individuals that may never have seen a comedy show. People want us to do well. Its a very cool experience."
Smith summed up the endeavor: "It's an improv show that's more much than an improv show."
Dreamboat performs upstairs at 10 p.m., Thursdays through Sept. 27 at iO Theatre, 501 N. Kingsbury St.; visit www.facebook.com/pg/DreamboatQueer/ .