Upon learning Jason Sudy started city planning firm Side Street Planning and co-founded improv troupe Fake Bacon, I was intrigued− mainly because I couldn’t find a common thread between the two. Then he mentioned the central tenet of improv: “yes, and…”
Basically, it means that no matter what your improv scene partner says or does, you have to accept it, without question, and add to it. Whether that kind of thinking works well for individuals is debatable, but Sudy says it really helps the planning process.
“There are so many ways to derail an idea or a development or a hope for the future of the city that oftentimes the most important part isn’t the plan at all, but the willingness of all of us to say ‘yes, and,’ and keep things moving,” he said.
Hard to argue with that, isn’t it?
In the following interview, Sudy, an Italian Village resident, talks about his “no bullshit” approach to planning, where you can catch a Fake Bacon performance, and why he thinks Columbus is an “incredibly entrepreneurial town.”
Columbus Underground: What inspired you to leave MSI Design and start your own consulting firm?
Jason Sudy: Starting a firm is something I’ve wanted to do for some time and this year seemed right for three reasons. First, cities are seeing a resurgence and there is a genuine sense of optimism following the tough times of the past few years. Second, I believe there is a niche for a small business in Columbus doing the planning work I do. Side Street’s size allows me to be nimble in responding to technology and trends. Third, the entrepreneurial spirit of Columbus has been a real inspiration. There are so many people forging their own unique path here and a real culture of acceptance for new ideas.
CU: You’ve said Side Street Planning specializes in a straightforward, innovative approach to city planning. Can you explain what you mean by that?
JS: The short answer is “no bullshit.” I crave finding answers to the challenges that cities face. Too many times we fall into the habits of repeating previous decisions and approaches that stand in the way of success. Side Street is focused on breaking through that cycle with straightforward engagement of the decisionmakers and the public, and by finding new ways to present ideas that compel the changes we all seek.
Of course, we still need to dream with our plans, to inspire ourselves to do greater with our cities. But we need to do it without blinders on, understanding the tradeoffs in time, resources and social impact, and then make those transformative decisions courageously.
CU: Tell us a bit about Fake Bacon.
JS: We started our improv troupe Fake Bacon in 2006. Since the start, we focused on shortform improv, which is like the games you’d see on the old “Whose Line” show. Over the years, we have performed around 200 shows at dozens of comedy clubs, bars, theaters, festivals, and done some corporate stuff as well.
Our Fake Bacon improv performances continue with some great events we are currently participating in –Improv Wars, which is hosted by the Funny Bone on Tuesdays, and the Columbus Comedy Festival at Wild Goose at the end of April. Hopefully we’ll be back at Comfest again this summer too, for the fifth or sixth time in a row.
Fake Bacon Productions is a theatrical production company formed as an offshoot of our work in Fake Bacon. We have a mission statement and all that, but the short version is we create original full-length scripted theatrical works based on what we call our improvisational workshop method. The results have been extremely fun and very well received.
Our first effort was called “Aftershock: An Event,” which was a send-up of the ’70s film “Earthquake” and similar disaster films of that era. We stuck giant speakers under the seats and vibrated the place every time the script called for a tremor. For the past two years, we’ve done versions of “The Twinight Zone,” a comedic homage to “The Twilight Zone.” We’ve staged it at MadLab the past two Januarys and packed the house.
CU: Someone with your planning and performing experiences is bound to view Columbus through a unique lens. In your opinion, what should Columbus be proud of and what should we work on?
JS: Columbus is an incredibly entrepreneurial town. For a city of this size, people have the legitimate opportunity to take a single good idea and have it flourish. There is a natural tendency −in downtown, the near-downtown neighborhoods and on campus, particularly− for people to accept something local and unique as a source of pride. This is a real asset for planning in that the health of the city is strengthened by the surge of this coveted “creative class” that gets so much press. Further, there is more than just interest in re-embracing urbanism, it is actively occurring here.
From a planning side, the number one problem with Columbus is the lack of transit options. People get tired of hearing the same old mantra from planners, but it is pretty clear that the quality and long-term success of cities today is limited without a quality transit system. The lack of an easy transit option between the airport and downtown is almost impossible to believe in 2012, and the lack of a modern downtown bus facility is shameful.
In the arts, there’s so much to be excited about, but I’ll stick to the comedy and theater scene, where I’m most familiar.
The comedy scene is exploding, particularly from the local standups. The leaders of the stand-up community jumped on social media early, maneuvered for great continuing media coverage otherwise, and the results show. And the fact that there are so many truly funny stand-ups here certainly helps.
The improv scene is going stronger than ever. Thanks to Improv Wars at the Funny Bone −Yes, I wish we had a downtown comedy club, too− there are more actively performing troupes than at any time since I started. If people are interested in checking out what’s happening, in addition to Improv Wars, they can see two or three troupes −along with great stand-up, sketch, etc.− each night of the upcoming Columbus Comedy Festival.
The theater scene offers so many opportunities to see compelling work. I do most of my acting and directing with MadLab, so let me give a plug for the great creative work being done there. As a local ensemble focusing on new and emerging works, the fact that they purchased and renovated their own theater space downtown is incredible. And they rent it out to so many other organizations in town during their off weeks, making quality theater space available at an attainable cost. Come see the annual Theater Roulette there in May and you’ll see me in two of the shows.
As for what we need to work on… Get out and see more shows, everyone! Live entertainment, whether music or theater or comedy, is the best deal in town.