Perth’s own improv comedy battle, The Big HOO-HAA!, is celebrating its 20th birthday this month. Ahead of the party, Nina Levy spoke to founding member Libby Klysz, to learn about all things HOO-HAA.
Twenty years in performing arts is more like fifty in normal human years, thanks to the blood, sweat, tears and grant applications that go into keeping a project alive and afloat… especially if that project is independent.
So it’s not just exciting but impressive that The Big HOO-HAA! is celebrating its 20th birthday this month.
If you’re not familiar with The Big HOO-HAA!, it’s a an improvised comedy show, with inspiration taken from audience suggestions, explains founding HOO-HAA member Libby Klysz.
“The Big HOO-HAA! features two teams of performers who battle it out for the audience’s love and laughter and points,” she says. The show takes place weekly, plus there are also special events, such as The little HOO-HAA!, which is performed for kids (there’s one coming up this July school holidays). And this month there’s a special 20th birthday gig.
Klysz, who is also a highly regarded producer, director, teacher and performer, has been involved with The Big HOO-HAA! since 2002, when it was founded by actor/comedian Sam Longley. Looking at Klysz, however, it’s hard to believe that she’s old enough to have a 20-year association with the project.
“I was an incredibly audacious drama nerd kid who started too young and was surrounded by a bunch of very patient people who let me cling on to their coattails until I caught up,” she says with a laugh. “So yeah, I am old enough but only just.”
Both Klysz and the HOO-HAA have their origin stories in Theatre Sports, run by Michael and Angela Sanderson-Green, and the associated public shows presented in the 1990s. “That’s where I met Sam Longley, as that aforementioned audacious 16-year-old who just fronted up to do the public shows with all the adults,” says Klysz.
Longley headed to the US to study, she continues. “When he came back to Perth [some years later] he saw that there was a bit of an empty bracket in the Perth scene around this short form, quick fast impro-comedy. And that’s where The Big HOO HAA! started.”
Those who note that the outfit also has a Melbourne presence might assume that the concept began there. But it’s Perth that’s the older sibling.
“Perth is the OG for The Big HOO-HAA!” says Klysz.
“Perth comedy, 20 years ago, was a quite a different beast to what it is now. It was still pretty fringy and a bit cowboy. There were lots of things happening that were just people having a go, a lot of mud being thrown at the wall to see what sticks.
“This was at a time when there was a really strong series of cohorts coming out of the Hayman Theatre program at Curtin University. That course had a strong tradition of knocking shows together yourself. There was a bit of a scene of people starting to put together comedic work, in terms of sketch and funny plays and stuff like that.
“People were were looking for something to sink their teeth into … The Big HOO-HAA! turned up at the right time, with the right group of people, in the right place.”
The establishment of a Melbourne chapter, almost a decade ago, is one of the ways in which The Big HOO-HAA! has morphed and evolved over the years, says Klysz.
Other changes are less obvious but, perhaps, more significant.
“One of the things that I’m that I’m most proud of, in terms of the evolution of the HOO-HAA over 20 years, is the increased presence of female performers,” remarks Klysz. “That’s a really notable, noticeable change, not just the number of performers, but the roles that we get to play on stage.
“When I started there were three of women in the ensemble in total: me, Claire Hooper, and, I think, Maggie McPhee. It was so common to have all-male line-ups, or to have only one girl on the team.
“At one point there was a held truth that you couldn’t have more than one girl on each team because it got a bit ‘shrill’, which is just crazy.
“We’ve learned from that. And we’ve worked out what we need to do, to encourage women to join us, and to make it a better place for them to perform. We nearly always have gender parity on stage now. And the roles [for women] are much bolder, they’re not just the side roles anymore.”
Though the HOO-HAA is, by definition, all about the laughs, Klysz says it’s hard to remember specific LOLs.
“The nature of the form means that like you’re processing so much information so fast that you’re also dumping it very fast. So a lot of it doesn’t last in my memory much longer than the show.”
But there are a few that have stuck.
“We used to play the least COVID safe game of all time,” recalls Klysz. “It’s called Bucket of Death.
“Someone starts with their head in a bucket of water. Then when they run out of breath, they click their fingers and someone replaces them, and that first person has to take their place in the scene, soaking wet, with no idea of what’s going on. And then as soon as they work it out, the next person’s run out of breath. It’s chaos. I remember an incredibly damp show at Fly by Night in Fremantle, where we played that game with great gusto.
I also remember playing to a sold out His Majesty’s Theatre for our 10th which was pretty incredible. I remember being in a scene with Tim Watts, playing a game called Audience Sound Effects, where we get the audience to provide all the Foley noises for whatever’s happening in the scene. Hearing an entire three circles of His Majesty’s Theatre all making enthusiastic truck noises during the scene is pretty amazing.
“Often The little HOO-HAA shows are big favourites of mine as well. I remember, a couple of years ago, playing a little HOO-HAA show with Brent Hill. We were badly behaved monkeys in the Octagon Theatre, scarpering all through the audience, eating nits out of hair and throwing poo around – both of our chaos instincts kicked in and we just ran amok.”
Needless to say, the Big HOO-HAA’s twentieth birthday will be celebrated with, well, a Big HOO-HAA.
“What audience members can expect at our birthday gig is a lot of people on stage, and the ultimate Hearts-versus-Bones showdown,” says Klysz.
“Our two teams are always the Hearts team versus the Bones team. In this show we are digging to unravel the origin story of the rivalry between the teams, so it’s going to get very competitive and very fierce, and when things get competitive and fierce on the HOO-HAA stage, very ridiculous things happen in the name of grabbing laughter and love and points from our audiences.”
And you can catch The Big HOO HAA! Thursdays – head to The Big HOO HAA website for details.
Top: It’s the Hearts versus the Bones at The Big HOO-HAA! Photo: Esther Longhurst
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