By Toni Tresca
Freak Train at The Bug Theatre is billed as a cross between a variety show and an open mic night in which the first 12 people to sign up get five minutes to do anything they want on stage.
Well, just about anything. They can’t harm anyone in the theatre, but it is uncensored and—as the host joked—often unrehearsed. Freak Train recently celebrated its 22nd anniversary in August as the theatre’s longest-running tradition and it claims to be the longest-running improv show in Denver. The Bug Theatre is a kooky, intimate space.
Three glorious Greek coliseum columns frame the stage. Two disco balls hang from the ceiling, and there is cheeky, colorful lighting throughout. GerRee Hinshaw hosts Freak Train and is just delightful. Hinshaw’s energy and impressive crowd work light up the room and keep the show moving at an entertaining pace. Hinshaw was assisted during August’s performance by “The Guy in the Booth,” Alex Weimer (also the theatre’s executive director), who humorously interjected audio gags and controlled the performer’s tech.
This performance was a smaller-than-usual Freak Train. Instead of the usual 12 performances, there were only eight acts. As one might expect, the quality and subject matter varied from act to act. Yet, regardless of material, each act provided an intriguing look into the happenings of local community members. One performed heartfelt poetry, another told a story about his time in Mexico, and a daughter gave a presentation about her “Bad Ass Mom,” complete with photos.
One performance, “Richard,” which was a slam poetry clap-back to the male comedians who had exclusively discussed their “Richards” at last month’s Freak Train, really landed with the crowd. Another highlight was Freak Train regular Aaron the Entomologist’s discussion of Thrips.
There is no punchline to this act. Aaron is just a guy that loves bugs and wants to share that knowledge with his community. The evening concluded with Hinshaw teaching the audience harmonies to the group’s new closing song.
Hinshaw is a gifted vocalist who welcomed patrons to the church of Freak Train through song. She freestyled to the crowd that “we all have five minutes … then another. So, put what you want into the world for five minutes at a time.”
Though participation was initially timid, Hinshaw built the crowd’s confidence so that by the end, the entire audience was singing and clapping together.
Admission to the event guarantees patrons free beer courtesy of local Denver brewery The Great Divide, contributing to a Dionysian atmosphere.
Five bucks can rarely get you anything, so thank you to Bug Theatre management for keeping the price low and accessible so the entire community can get in on the fun.
Freak Train occurs on the last Monday of every month. Signup is at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. The next Freak Train happens on Oct. 31. For more information, check out bugtheatre.org.