Houston’s comedy maven unleashes zany virtual romp amid COVID-19

Anyone who’s followed the comedic, chaotic adventures of Tamarie Cooper‘s longtime annual summer show — The Tamarie Cooper Show: Field TripA Very Tamarie ChristmasTamarie Cooper’s Doomsday Revue — knows to expect a couple of hours of laugh-till-you-cry mayhem. So, theater lovers could be expected to shed buckets of tears over the idea that the pandemic put a pause on the zany summer antics.

But anyone who knows Tamarie Cooper knows a pandemic isn’t stopping her from making art.

The actress, writer, and co-founder of Catastrophic Theatre had COVID-19 hit close to home this spring, when her husband contracted the virus with a “relentless” fever that had him “down for the count,” she tells CultureMap. That very possibly made her more determined than ever that she continue bringing levity among the serious issues of the day.

Cooper and her team of writers and fellow actors, whom she lovingly calls her “merry band of crazies” bring Tamarie Cooper’s 2020: Quarantine Edition! online, with six weeks of shows, which start streaming July 31. The show is a three-part series, with new episodes every other week. The purchase of one ticket grants viewers access to the whole shebang.

Writer Patrick Reynolds and Cooper had completed most of the script back in March, which is about the same time they figured out actually presenting the show on stage might not be viable. As the months of the pandemic wore on and Cooper, like most people, found herself quarantined at home, realized two things: the safety of her actors, artists and audience was more important than anything else, and that she could embrace technology to her advantage.

“We salvaged about a quarter of the live version of the show and re-imagined it for the digital world,” she says.

The press release announcing the online extravaganza tells audiences to look for “the same level of wacky ass-clownery and satire that you’ve come to expect from Cooper’s annual musical romps, as Tamarie and crew take on John Hughes movies, talking cereal boxes, insufferable cabaret performers, actual dogs, conspiracy theorists, God, profanity, iPhone Man, isolation, sparkly hats and jazz hands, and much, much more!”

The show’s promo video of a Zoom rehearsal gives a glimpse at the general state of bizarre that is a hallmark of all Tamarie Cooper Show offerings.

Cooper fashioned the fashioned Quarantine Edition! after variety revues like The Carol Burnett Show, which Cooper, a self-confessed latchkey kid, watched as a child.

“Having that feeling of sitting on your couch, watching something on the small screen made me really go back to my childhood,” she says. “I was obsessed with television, and I wanted to recreate that sort of excitement about getting a new episode and that feeling of, ‘Oh, what are they going to do this week?'”

Every episode was produced with each of the performers in their own homes, captured by Tim Thomson of Staging Solutions, who Cooper says has filmed productions of hers for years. The bi-weekly episodes feature, among other things, performances by the house band; a segment called “At Home with Joe,” headed by Joe Folladori; and general antics by Cooper and Catastrophic favorite Kyle Sturdivant.

“We start out playing off the idea of quarantine in episode one and it just keeps getting weirder and weirder, and by episode three, it’s totally off the rails,” Cooper laughs.

Along with offering comedy to help people cope with the wild events around them, Cooper also insisted on staying true to Catastrophic Theatre’s commitment to never letting income be a barrier to seeing live theater. All episodes of Tamarie Cooper’s 2020: Quarantine Edition!  are pay-what-you-can, and Cooper even plugged in a zero dollar amount.

“We did that because we know that many of our friends who work in the entertainment industry and other gig workers are in really hard times right now,” she says. “So, we understand that five dollars might be too much for someone right now. And we don’t want to be in a situation where anyone is denied access to the show. If you have more you can pay, that’s great!”

Tickets can be purchased on the Catastrophic Theatre website or via the MATCH box office. Purchasers will get a code they’ll plug into to Vimeo, and be able to watch the shows. The opening episode launches July 31, with new shows dropping Aug. 14 and 28. Ticket holders’ original pass codes are good through the duration of the series.

“You can watch it any time you want,” Cooper emphasizes. “You can watch it 10 times in a row at two in the morning.”

Tamarie Cooper’s 2020: Quarantine Edition! begins streaming Friday, July 31, with episodes available for purchase through Sept. 13. Buy tickets online via Catastrophic Theatre’s website, the MATCH box office or by calling 713-521-4533.