Phantom Pilots!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Everyone in entertainment knows about network pilot season, where hopeful creatives get their dreams crushed when their show doesn’t get picked up. There are thousands upon thousands of pilots sent off into the shadows of rejection every year. Lucky for you, some of these pilots have returned to the world and brought back to life at The Playground’s Phantom Pilots. Each week, they pick a show out of a book of rejected pilots and improvise a whole episode! The Phantom Pilot’s host and producer, Firas Alexander, told me a little more about this show.

Q: How did you come up with the name/concept?

A: I’ve always been obsessed with television shows and pop culture related to that medium. Years ago, before I ever moved to Chicago to pursue comedy, I picked up a couple of books that were filled with TV pilot descriptions. I thought that the descriptions themselves were often hilarious and what a shame it was that no one had heard of this material as many of these pilots aired once and were forgotten and to be fair seemed very poorly conceived.

I had been taking classes and performing in Chicago for a little over two years and decided that I wanted to try my hand at producing my own show. I had gone home for the holidays and it dawned on me that I might be able to create an improv form around these weird TV books I just had gathering dust at my parents’ house. When I got back to Chicago The Playground Theater community was very helpful in the development of the idea. I had a lot of friends and folks I consider mentors give advice and pitch in. People offered to direct and be in the cast as well as recommended folks for roles like music director. At the core of all this was the very simple idea behind the show: improv based on the television pilots described in the books.

I really struggled with coming up with a name for the show. It was almost called BBC (Brilliant But Canceled)! But at the very last moment I was reading up on some old Superman comic books and was reminded of the Phantom Zone. I thought the word Phantom was so cool and expressed the vibe I wanted the show to have so much more simply and spectacularly than the previous title. I also liked the alliterative quality of calling the show Phantom Pilots and the name has stuck ever since.

Q: What is your best memory from this show?

A: This is a tough one. We’ve had a lot of good ones and the ones I like best tend to change on what day you ask me. I would say current favorite is from our Halloween show a few years back when we did a set in our costumes. We didn’t address the costumes at all during the set, but it did add quite a bit of extra humor for me.

Q: What are you most proud of about this show?

A: That we’ve managed to make the show a home for so many different comedians and performers. From my teammates on the Phantom Pilot Players to our variety acts. We always try to book new acts every run. I love meeting new people and watching performers that I have never seen before or might only know by reputation crush it. I also have a special place in my heart for the recurring acts. People I get to see develop and sharpen their skills over time. I think there are so many incredible and unique voices and performers in Chicago and thinking that our little show at The Playground is helping them improve and find more confidence makes me very happy.

You can catch them this Tuesday, November 26th at 8pm at The Playground Theater!

-Lizzie Kaniecki, The Playground Theater’s performance and special events blogger