DON’T MISS: Truth in Comedy

By on March 15, 2017

The satirically on point trilogy I Can Ski Forever returns this weekend to debut No. 3.

From cougars and ski bums to grad school hopefuls, the riotous I Can Ski Forever 3 cast includes some of Jackson Hole’s most classic characters. (Photos: Robyn Vincent)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – If you haven’t yet heard of I Can Ski Forever, you’re probably new in town. But that’s OK—the locally famous show is not only for you, it’s about you.

“No one has ever mapped out what it looks like to move [to Jackson],” said writer and director Andrew Munz.

I Can Ski Forever 3 attempts to do just that.

The third iteration of the original musical is the biggest yet. The show has grown from a series of comedy sketches into a full-length production complete with 13 original songs, professional choreography, and a plot audience members are sure to recognize.

The idea behind the first I Can Ski Forever started with an observation: “The Jackson Hole I live in today is not the Jackson Hole I grew up in,” said Munz, who moved to Jackson at the age of 7 in 1994. For Munz, as a kid growing up in a working-class family, life in Jackson was actually pretty boring. So he was surprised to move back as a young adult and find a community of newcomers who saw Jackson as “God’s gift to the world.”

Munz wrote his observations into a series of sketches, and the response was massive. “There’s truth in comedy,” he said. Indeed, much of the show’s success depends on the audience’s ability to laugh at jokes written at their expense. Munz wants people to feel a little uncomfortable, but also to recognize their own experience manifested on stage.

“It’s so much fun to perform for an audience where the play is written for them,” said Liliana Frandsen, who plays the lead, Kelly.

Familiar situations

Ski Forever 3 follows the young protagonist Kelly, an “indecisive but passionate” transplant with big plans to go to grad school and get out of Jackson, Frandsen explained.

But then she meets Ben, a Georgia boy who just moved to town. The two develop a relationship. Though there is “something hindering Ben’s ability to commit,” Munz said. The more immersed in local culture he gets, the more noncommittal Ben becomes. He skis, he drinks, he shirks responsibility. Only the occasional voicemail from one of his parents in Georgia clues the audience in to the darker side of Ben’s life.

Other recognizable characters include professional snowboarder Jonah Mills, a local legend who grew up in Jackson and now sees his face all over town, and a group of “cougars,” who talk philanthropy over brunch and try desperately not to expose the imperfections in their lives.

That duality, Munz says, is one of the show’s major themes. The characters, as with the community Munz has observed, all work hard to maintain a public persona that allows no room for negativity, only skiing and partying. “But they’re all struggling,” Munz said. “They all have issues, personal stuff that chips away at this perfect identity.”

Comedy is not without criticism. In fact, it is often the most effective tool. The show is riddled with “scattered criticisms of Jackson reality,” Munz said—like how noncommittal locals like Ben behave in a community they don’t totally see as their own. “Everyone’s always thinking they’re about to leave,” Munz said. “Always participating, but not contributing.”

But that’s also what makes Jackson so unique, and the show so popular. “Everybody wants to be a local,” Munz said. “Jackson embraces people constantly. Everyone wants to feel worthy of being here.” Munz doesn’t think the show would be possible if things weren’t constantly changing. In his real life, he has seen innumerable friends and coworkers come and go. Frandsen, the show’s star, moved to Jackson from Southern California in 2013, and now lives in Los Angeles. Her story and her character’s are not all that different.

But the characters aren’t based on any specific person. Instead, Munz identified common threads and generalizations about the community around him, and gave them names like Ben and Kelly. Suddenly, he had written characters that felt “really real.”

“It’s an alternative universe,” Munz said, “yet it’s so relatable.” Munz is proud of the show’s ability to effectively break down the fourth wall between the audience and the fictional characters on stage. During previous shows, there was almost no distinction. Audience members and cast members alike wore flannel shirts and beanies, and joked about such attire. Everyone was in on the joke.

However, the distinction between audience and cast member will be slightly more pronounced this year, as the plot unfolds in a series of song and dance. Local choreographer Francesca Romo choreographed the show, and was careful to provide professional choreography while staying true to Jackson’s character.

Munz wrote the lyrics and melodies to all 13 original songs, and Riley Burbank composed the music. Songs range from heartfelt ballots, to theatrical dance numbers about powder days.

The people want to ski… forever

Community support for Ski Forever spans beyond the laughs. Munz funded the show through a Kickstarter campaign that almost fell through. He was $3,500 short of his $15,000 goal the night before the campaign ended. But then “we had an anonymous donor show up like a fairy godmother,” he said.

A majority of the donors were local, and it is “really comforting to know that this show is locally funded and that funding is going right back into the community.” By the same token, however, Munz said “trying to get free-wheeling Jackson folks” to give money for an event so far in the future was a huge challenge.

Munz says he would have done a show without the money from Kickstarter, but it would not be the full-length production it has become. The $15,000 was just enough to secure a stage for four nights and to cover some initial production costs.

Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing crowdsourcing campaign, and Munz went to bed the night before it ended “utterly defeated.”

“You can imagine how odd it was when I woke at 7 a.m. to an email from Kickstarter congratulating our successful campaign,” he said.

I Can Ski Forever 3, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 17 and 18, and March 24 and 25 at the Pink Garter Theatre. Arrive early—late arrivals will not be permitted into the show. There’s also a bar at the theater, which makes this show 21 and older. PJH

About Shannon Sollitt

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