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Out on Their Own : The Acme Players have had a few name changes, but the troupe is still headed for laughs.

July 17, 1992|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov is a regular contributor to Calendar

They were the Two Roads Players. Then they were the Tujunga Group. As of last week, they are the Acme Players. "This is the last name change," swears founder M. D. Sweeney, whose 12-member improv/sketch comedy group has been presenting its latest show, "Some Assembly Required," since February at the Acme Comedy Theatre in North Hollywood.

"First we were at the Two Roads Theatre, so we were the Two Roads Players," he said. "We wanted a name we could take with us when we moved, but we found we didn't like it." The reference to Acme is a nod to the perennial product line immortalized in the old Warner Bros. cartoons. By day, Sweeney and two of the group's members work at Warners.

The company was formed three years ago with a couple of Sweeney's friends. He had worked with some recruits during a previous stint in the improv group L.A. Connection; others answered his ad in Drama-Logue.

"I was really inspired by what the Groundlings were doing," said Sweeney, who had once served on the West Hollywood comedy group's board of directors. "Second City was great and innovative at one time, but they haven't developed, moved on. I think the Groundlings are the best anywhere: best format, best instruction, most solid approach. But I wanted the autonomy to do my own thing--especially after working in TV production, where no one gets to do their own thing."

Though new material is beginning to filter in for a new show that will bow in September, "Some Assembly Required" is about one-third improv and two-thirds set sketches.

Among the skit topics: errant Girl Scouts selling their wares among the audience, a course in writing romance novels, a Catholic-products convention and "Play It Again, Stan," in which Oliver Hardy shows up to help a fellow with his romantic problems.

Born and raised in Ohio, Sweeney graduated from film school at the University of Michigan "and came out here to be a movie director," he said. "Hopefully, the rest will be history." He stumbled into art direction. A friend had a company that built the sets for "TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes." On that job, from 1984 to 1987, he also served as segment producer and did some writing. "That was a wild ride," he said.

After "Bloopers," he moved on to writing jobs with "Tiny Toon Adventures" and Nickelodeon's "On the Television," and is now a free-lance writer at Warner Bros., working on Steven Spielberg's animated series "Animaniacs," which is expected to premiere in the fall of 1993. His girlfriend, former Groundling Sherri Stoner, is the producer of the show.

Acme Player Paul Rugg--also an alum of L.A. Connection whose gigs have included dressing up as a turtle for children's birthday parties--is a staff writer for "Animaniacs." He believes the two roles intersect nicely. "A cartoon is very visual, and of course you've got to play off that," he said. "But the comedy also has a lot to do with what they say. So writing five- or six-minute sketches has really prepared me for this job."

Sweeney hopes to expand the group's activities in the future. "Perhaps TV--who knows?" Other plans include a late-night improv program. As for the inevitable comparisons to the Groundlings, whose format and set the Acme Players' strongly resembles, "Of course we draw from them," he said. "But I don't want to be portrayed as copying them or ripping them off. Hopefully, we'll discover new ground."

Where to Go

What: "Some Assembly Required."

Location: Acme Comedy Theatre, 5124 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, indefinitely.

Price: Admission: $12.

Call: (818) 753-0650.

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