A History of the Joy Farm Television Show
Mark G. E. started the television program Joy Farm in 1984 in Kansas City, Missouri. Mark had an idea for a program that would include comedy sketches and alternative bands taped in local clubs. Rebecca Gavin signed on in order to co-host the show and assist in getting bands for the show. By 1985, M. W. Klobassa joined and the three created Kansas City's only place to hear and see diverse alternatives in music.
Over the years, Joy Farm video taped the Red Hot Chili Peppers, They Might Be Giants, Philip Glass Ensemble, The Violent Femmes, Fishbone, The Roches, Einsturzende Neubauten, James Brown, 10,000 Maniacs, The Wailers, Black Flag, Minutemen and many, many others. In addition, Joy Farm supported the thriving Kansas City music scene by taping local bands in order to give them a place to be seen and build a wider audience.
In 1986, a segment created by Joy Farm for a band called Love Tractor appeared on MTV's 120 Minutes. Most recently, live footage of They Might Be Giants taped by Joy Farm has been chosen for inclusion in the TMBG documentary; A Tale of Two Johns.
In late 1987, Mark moved back to Milwaukee, WI and immediately began working on a new version of Joy Farm with friends Cricket Bauer and Petra Ahnert. The new show would focus on film-style sketches and performance art. Debuting in September of 1988, the first season saw the addition of Eric B. Griswold, Bob Jorin, Barb Johnson, Kevin Moore, Heather Aldrich and many others. As the show developed, it mixed commercial parodies with short films about vampires, Godzilla, cinema varitae and film noir spoofs. Within a month of it's debut The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal featured the program and it's cast in an article by Milwaukee veteran writer Joel McNally.
Joy Farm continued each season to hone it's brand of artsy comedy which was becoming increasingly darker in it's view. The cast continued to evolve and by 1992, Patty Zatty, Russian Wulfgar and Angel Von Magius joined the cast. Over the next few years, the cast developed into an intriguing collection of off-beat gothically-comedic glitteratti. The cast began to get recognized around town as they tended to hang out as a group and frequent the same clubs and bars. Musician John Kruth remarked upon first meeting the cast at a shoot for "The Beatnooks" that he thought they really were beatniks and was excited that he finally found were all the hipsters in Milwaukee hung out. Alas, it was only one of many incarnations.
During this time, Paul Sadler joined the cast. Paul, Eric and Mark became a nucleus that wrote most of the material at that time. Internally, the program began to develop as an organization. In order to bring some level of democracy to the group, they worked on criteria for voting proposed sketches into development in order to give everyone a chance. Writer's Meetings became pitch sessions, in which each person brought ideas and the entire group voted on it's merits.
This was a period of great transition. With the addition of Milwaukee performance artist Joseph Ravens, Shannon-Sloan Spice and Carrie Anne O'Neil, there began to be more of a move toward character development and following the actual lines in each script. Up until that time, many scripts were ideas with some dialogue that did not need to be followed completely. In the past we had relied on what we called a "structured improv." During this time, a number of networks such as Comedy Central and other producers developing projects for Fox showed interest in what we were doing. Joy Farm was making an effort to fine-tune what it did and considering whether the future held becoming a nationally syndicated program.
Consequently, Mark G. E. became increasingly more concerned with developing quality work. In order to do that, they adhered to each script line by line and shot by shot. Shoot days began to look less like a number of friends having fun and more like a movie set. During this time, a number of the original cast members who had a hand in making Joy Farm what it was, began to leave in order to work on independent projects. Eric and Russian developed the highly acclaimed and nationally ward winning program Brain Box and have become the Wisconsin connection for Snowflake Village at the Burning Man Festival.
The cast that existed during these years was most likely the best known and identified with Joy Farm. It is also during this time that musician John Kruth created a number of soundtracks for pieces such as Phantom Limb, Burning Desire and No Fifth Floor.
During this time period Joy Farm began to hold auditions for new cast members to replace the valuable people who had left. A ten point criteria scale was developed in order to rank each person who tried out for the cast. It included energy, acting skills, and some sort of hipness quotient. By then we knew what qualities a successful "Joy Farmer" needed.
Over the next few years local writer Jennifer Koppa, performance artist Dan Hanrahan, improv comedians Pat Zielinski and Tyler Bohne, Ann Williams, musician Seymour Muchmore, writer Louise Cooper, Kid Beat Box and others developed a new direction that was increasingly focused on short 6-8 minute mini-movies. During these years, the program met nearly every week and had scripts being developed for production nearly six months out. The criteria for voting on each script became very well developed. Each idea that was presented was voted on originality, entertainment value and interest. In addition, there was more of an awareness of the Joy Farm-type script; it usually started with a clever idea and ended with a twist. Paul and Mark prided themselves in working on scripts with the "double twist." This would be a script that ends with two unexpected ironic twists.
After 15 years of producing original material on a monthly basis and seeing over 60 cast members come and go through the show, it seemed that Joy Farm was at the end of another chapter. Pat, Tyler & Jennifer moved to Chicago and are doing improv comedy with Improv Olympics and independently. Also based in Chicago, Joseph continues performance art appearances in the US and abroad. Dan moved to Chicago and continues writing & performing. Theresa Ala Mode continued work on documentaries and photography. Paul and Louise began developing work for the stage. Shannon spent much time traveling abroad, studied with Ben Kingsley, got married to Barry Matthews, had a beautiful daughter. She now appears in Milwaukee theater productions regularly. Carrie Anne moved to New Mexico with her wonderful son. Mark became more interested in developing independent film projects. Joy Farm's last episode was cablecast December, 2000. To cap it all off, The Times Cinema presented an evening of the troupes work entitled: Dark Comedy from Bright Minds in October, 2000.
Present and Future
Mark continues to work on new independent projects. In addition, Mark has been fine-tuning some of Joy Farm's work, adding new soundtracks, etc. for internet and festival exhibition. Further, there has been talk of a DVD compiling the Best of Joy Farm and an audio CD project that would include some of the best spoken word pieces presented over the years. Joy Farm was an experiment, a chance for very creative people to present and develop their vision. It was a special time, shared by some very special people.
And you never know, the troupe might find it's way back together for a reunion project one day...
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