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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 46.0° F  Partly Cloudy and Breezy
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ARTS BEAT

The big comedy wheel
The Prom Committee spins it one more time

The Prom Committee ranges from cerebral to scatological.
The Prom Committee ranges from cerebral to scatological.
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The 10-year-old Prom Committee has always been an avocation for its members, many of whom began working together a couple decades ago in ComedySportz. That makes catching the local comedy troupe (who are in action at the Barrymore Theatre on March 2-3) something of a waiting game. "We all have jobs and families," says the Prom Committee's Matt Solomon. "But if there's a window when no one's pregnant, we do a show."

The Barrymore show is called "Family Reunion," but Solomon admits that the title was essentially pulled out of a hat. While some of the show's character-based sketches do deal with the ups and downs of family life, it isn't really a theme show. In fact, Solomon jokes that the troupe's seven members are far too lazy to put together a full night of new material that's related by theme.

Even so, when the members do get together to plan a show, they generate some serious brain sweat. "We spin a big comedy wheel and see what comes out," Solomon says. "Some of the stuff we think is real cerebral and clever, some of it is bawdy and scatological."

For this show, Solomon says, the big comedy wheel came up with a bit about a guy who grapples with self-checkout at ShopKo and a screenwriter who listens in on a suicide hotline.

Although most members came out of the freewheeling world of Second City-style improv, all Prom Committee material is scripted. So don't expect Solomon or anyone else to take suggestions for off-the-cuff bits about Mayor Dave and his fascination with streetcars. Still, he admits, old habits die hard.

"Yes, everything's completely written," Solomon says. "However, it's written comedy being done by people who've been doing improv for 20 years or more. So people do go off the script."

Art on screen

When the refurbished Madison Museum of Contemporary Art asked UW film professor J.J. Murphy to program the fall and spring installments of its Spotlight Film & Video series, he jumped at the chance. He was interested in providing a local showcase for work that rarely appeared outside of art museums and galleries, and he saw the series as a way to expose local audiences to a major evolution in time-based media.

"Film and video have invaded the art world," says Murphy, whose spring series kicks off at 7 p.m. on March 8. "Now if you go to a major gallery in New York, rather than seeing painting or sculpture, you're just as apt to see a video or film installation. This series gives me the opportunity to show things that wouldn't play here otherwise. You'd have to go to the Whitney Biennial, the Venice Biennale or a gallery in a major city to see it."

In order to secure works for the series, Murphy had to go straight to the galleries. Traditional film distributors simply don't carry them. These days galleries sell limited editions of films to collectors, and Murphy notes that some are understandably reluctant to have pieces shown to the public before they've recouped their investment on a project. In the end, however, "the galleries were incredibly receptive," says Murphy, even if they had little experience with auditorium-style screenings.

The Spotlight Film & Video series ends on April 12 with Gus Van Sant's first feature, Mala Noche, which was made for the more conventional film world. It's just become available for screenings, and Murphy says he and his assistant Eric Crosby were lucky to get hold of it. Asked if Van Sant belongs on a program devoted to art-world filmmakers, Murphy replies: "Gus Van Sant went to art school originally. He just happened to go into the other realm of film. So there's a connection."

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