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A Comedy Troupe Tries To Crack Local Scene


Cliches like "there's safety in numbers" and "two heads are better than one" notwithstanding, the Fractured Mirror comedy troupe has discovered that when it comes to landing comedy bookings in Orange County, one is definitely not the loneliest number.

The Orange County-based group's third anniversary is coming in July, but the septet remains virtually unable to find regular work in its own backyard despite a recent comedy boom, with several nightclubs now presenting stand-up comics at least one night a week.

"No one's even given us an opportunity to come audition for them in Orange County," said troupe member Dana Hanstein, whose duties also include booking, directing and promoting Fractured Mirror. "We can't even get anyone to see us."

The problem, as Hanstein sees it, is that while the solo stand-up comic is a known quantity to most club operators, a comedy group isn't.

Hanstein said the reasons given them most often were "We only take stand-ups" and "Our stage won't accommodate groups." But Hanstein and the troupe's chief writer Bob Ferrera--sitting in the Huntington Beach apartment used for the troupe's rehearsals--said they consider such explanations suspect.

"I think they're afraid we're going to do off-color material, that we're going to embarrass them," Hanstein said. "They don't trust the fact that we're performers and we're not going to set ourselves up for failure."

Occasionally, the troupe does land a local engagement, usually at Finally A Unicorn Emporium, a '60s-meets-'80s coffeehouse in Huntington Beach.

Generally, however, when Fractured Mirror performs, troupe members must travel across the county line to clubs in Hollywood, Pasadena or Culver City.

Tony Anselmo, talent coordinator for the "Variety Showcase" held Monday night at the Alley Cat Bistro in Culver City, books Fractured Mirror monthly and has nothing but praise for the group.

Anselmo speculated that the group's difficulties in Orange County may stem from the reluctance of local bookers to try something different: "I think a lot of booking people are really afraid to take risks."

Risks pose no fears for Fractured Mirror, however.

Hanstein recently has begun trying to open up some alternative local performing opportunities for the comedy troupe.

"I'm contacting a lot of community theaters in the area about their 'dark' weekends to see if they'd let us come in then, fill their theater and split the (income) with us," she explained. "They'd make some money on a dark weekend, and we'd get some exposure."

In addition, this summer, the group will venture to the Napa Valley for an engagement at a hotel there, largely in the hope it will generate bookings at one or more of the same chain's hotels in Orange County.

"If they like us up there, at least they'll put in a good word for us down here," Hanstein said. "That could really get the ball rolling.

"Yeah, it is (backwards) that we have to go somewhere else to get work here. But it'll look good on the resume that we're traveling all over the state, which should help. Maybe that will give (talent bookers) in Orange County enough confidence that we are good at what we do."

A little exposure would probably go a long way because Fractured Mirror is a talented, disciplined, and versatile comedy troupe. Ranging in age from 21 to 29, and all boasting extensive theater backgrounds, its members are: Trisha Burson, Neal Fugate, Deborah Schmidt, Stephanie Thomas, Tim Thorn, Ferrera and Hanstein, who has stopped performing temporarily to concentrate on directing and promotion.

The ensemble works in various combinations, typically performing three- to five-minute sketches. The material is fast-paced, entertaining and witty; some pieces are merely that, but the majority also incorporate topical concerns and social commentary.

"It's gotta be different and fresh," Ferrara explained, outlining a philosophy Fractured Mirror applies to a sketch called "Head Trek," a new piece that sends up "Star Trek," one of the most frequently parodied television shows in stand-up, improv and sketch comedy.

Far from being hackneyed, "Head Trek" places "Star Trek" characters inside a man, controlling every aspect of his functioning--from sight to thought--after his car breaks down and he's confronted by a panhandler with a short fuse.

Ferrera explained that "Head Trek" merges two ideas he had been contemplating for sometime: "Wouldn't it be strange if a (human being) was just a machine and you had to manipulate it through people . . . and how each individual character on 'Star Trek' could be related to a person's psyche."

The idea of individuals combining forces for the better of the whole directly parallels Fractured Mirror's approach. Every aspect of the group's career is handled by one or more Mirror member.

And there's no doubt about the members' priorities. For their day jobs, most have switched to various temporary jobs. This, they said, affords them the greater time and flexibility required to advance the group's career.

Clearly, the difficulty in securing local bookings has not eroded their commitment to or belief in Fractured Mirror. If anything, they said, it has made them more determined, more confident--and more patient.

"I honestly believe Fractured Mirror will come into its own," Hanstein predicted. "I think we're putting out enough effort consistently, and we're dedicated enough that eventually our time will come.

"We just need to pay a few more dues."

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