An Improv Comedy Troupe is Born
In 1980, Saturday Night Live was waning. The Hit NBC show was on a downtrend with writers and performers leaving for greener pastures. In sleepy La Crosse Wisconsin, a troupe of UW-L theater vets led by Ken E Brown and Dan Lee combined their naiveté and talent to replicate the Saturday Night Live format with a La Crosse flair. Their vision was to feature unique characters in sketches revolving around the history, places and events occurring in La Crosse and voila! Heart of La Crosse was born.
The Pump House Becomes Home To Improv Comedy
The Pump House served as an incubator for the troupe during successful runs that saw cast members come and go, all showing their love for the Coulee Region by parodying the values and quirks of the Seven Rivers. In 1985, whether the cast became distracted with life away from the stage, or because the local events didn’t lend themselves to laughter, the group disbanded.
Heart of La Crosse Reborn
In 1996, Dan Lee again got an itch for the stage, but not as an actor. Dan’s vision was to gather some of the best performers in the Coulee Region and unleash them on the community under the Heart banner once more. Under his direction, the shows mixed sketch comedy, improv, music and even some drama for one of the most personal and unique shows in La Crosse.
Brad Williams Comes Home
Ironically, that same year, Brad Williams left Rockford, Illinois and moved back to La Crosse to pursue his reporting career. With his theater background and writing talent, Brad settled into a role both as an actor, singer and sketch contributor.
Lisa Olson Brings Gladys To Life
On the advice of a family member, Lisa Olson auditioned for the cast in 1999. Her singing, comedic timing and creation of the mischievous elder "Gladys", became a hit with heart audiences that endures to this day.
Todd Olson Joins Despite Himself
After learning Heart of La Crosse wasn't an "invitation only" group (Todd has never claimed to be any sharper than the average marble) Todd Olson stumbled into an audition (ironically with Jonathan Lamb). Dan chuckled at the impression Todd gave of Bob Dylan riding a roller coaster and promptly offered him a spot on stage.
Lisa Olson Owns It
After being a cast member for a few years, Lisa Olson took a flyer and became the owner of The Heart of La Crosse. She wanted to incorporate more improv performances in the shows and directly include the audience. Lisa's vision opened up improv comedy in La Crosse and paved the way for the audience to be continually involved in a show as a contributors and onlookers.
Tracy Ballzer and Doug Lietke Take The Plunge
The dynamic duo of 2006 & 2007 helped round out the current cast by jumping in with both feet. The radio brought Tracy Ballzer to the Coulee Region, and when the Heart of La Crosse plucked her from the audience at a show to help with an improv, a laugh filled journey began for the cast and Tracy.
Doug Lietke's experience with barbershop quartet's gave the troupe an added song writing and performance dimension. His biceps also brought a much needed cheese-cake facet to the group.
Jonathan Lamb Returns
After declining an invitation from Heart years earlier, Jonathan Lamb finally cleared his busy schedule and joined Lisa Olson and company in the footlights. Jon's years of experience with the stage, his choreography and behind the scenes knowledge served to shape the current incarnation of Heart of La Crosse.
Taylor Gruszka Thrown In To The Mix
Seeing a kindred spirit, Lisa Olson plucked Taylor Gruszka from the ranks of the Buzzard Billy's staff and plopped her on stage with the cast. Lisa obviously saw a sense of fearless humor in Taylor that may have reminded her of someone back in 1999. Initially hesitant, Taylor has effortlessly carved out her own identity on stage with her talented singing and knack for voices.
Today's Heart of La Crosse is an eclectic crew united by their love of comedy and passion for making people laugh. The sense of community, shared joy and the inherent understanding between the stage and audience is what keeps the current flame alive with today’s Heart of La Crosse.