Make ‘Em Laugh!
Greta Grosch mugs and makes music in customized shows for corporate audiences.
By Megan Pelka / Minnesota Meetings and Events Magazine, Sept 2002
Imagine a sales meeting where the CEO and vice president of sales appear dressed as the Blues Brothers, singing a customized song about the company’s earnings to the tune of “Sweet Home Chicago.” Or VPs at a power company dressed in hula skirts and coconut bras, singing, “I’ve got a lovely bunch of power controllers” (to the tune of “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts”). A welcome change from the more formal sales meeting.
Greta Grosch is the creative force behind Girl with Guitar, an entertainment company that has proven its ability to persuade even the most hidebound of companies to lighten up. After obtaining a degree in theatre studies in 1989 from Minnesota State University-Mankato, Grosch worked in theatres until she bought a guitar and discovered another talent: writing songs. She has written and performed improvisational acts for Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop, and acted in shows at Playwright’s Horizon in St. Paul, the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in St. Paul, and the Bryant Lake Bowl Theatre in Minneapolis. In 2000 she starred in her own one-woman show, Greta! Still Becoming, at Bryant Lake Bowl. Currently she appears in Tony ‘N’ Tina’s Wedding at the Hey City Theater in downtown Minneapolis.
For the past few years, however, she’s moved into the corporate meetings and events market because demand for entertainment at such events has increased. Grosch uses the skills she’s learned on the stage in her corporate performances, in which she offers comedy skits, songs, and music designed specifically for the client company. And since she’s a one-woman operation, Grosch can entertain clients while staying within a modest budget.
“I can offer [corporate entertainment] on a smaller scale,” Grosch says. “What I do is catered towards the company, more personalized.” Depending on the needs of the client group, she can either stick to her own routine or emcee an entire evening of awards, presentations and announcements, interspersed with parts of her own act. If a client wants a bigger show, Grosch employs other local actors, a keyboard player, an additional guitarist, and even a full band if necessary.
At the recent induction of a president of the Minneapolis Rotary Club, Grosch enlisted the help of the University of Minnesota Alumni band and also a few U of M cheerleaders to perform during a skit she wrote for the new president.
Just how wacky will Grosch’s songs and shows get? Clients should expect a call from Grosch so she can learn the theme and message of the event, get a feel for what the company is about and find out if there’s a certain product she should cleverly work into the song-or if the boss deserves a little ribbing. Grosch collects information on employees that she weaves into a three- to five-minute song. Often she will interview the audience the day of the event and compose a tune during dessert for her finale.
The humor in her shows comes not from a series of jokes, but from her informal interaction with the audience, and the situations in which the audience members find themselves-as backup singers, for example. Grosch operates on the theory that people look for opportunities to let their guard down and have fun-they just need to receive the right kind of invitation. She dresses in costumes during her performance and brings along a few extra outfits and wigs to encourage the audience to dress up and join her on stage, making employees the stars at their own party. Performing bits of comedy and spontaneous acts, they may even find themselves singing the company’s new theme song. Grosch is more than happy to accommodate requests, as she did for one company’s Christmas party by dressing up as Mrs. Claus and joining Santa (the president of the company) in celebration and song.
Comedy shows have gained popularity at fundraisers and seminars, and Grosch is experienced in both formats. “My goal is to have it be fun, interactive, and spontaneous so the audience can really participate,” Grosch says. A fine goal, to be sure, but what if it doesn’t work? What if the audience isn’t responding and the VP is looking worried? Grosch always has a backup plan and if that doesn’t work, there’s another; whether it’s getting suggestions from the audience for an on-the-fly skit or serenading them with a song or two, Girl with Guitar takes great care to make sure a show is a hit. “Preparation goes a long way. [Performing] seems so casual, so off the cuff, but it’s not,” Grosch says. “It’s about having a plan A, B, C, D, and E, because if someone’s hiring me to do a show, it’s about being really prepared and knowing how to do something, no matter what the situation.” One surefire performance is her server act, which she has performed at numerous events. If the event is at a restaurant, Grosch will dress in a server uniform and begin seating guests. She continues this charade until it is time for the entertainment to begin. The audience watches as Grosch nibbles canapés or passes bread rolls from plate to plate. As she serves, Grosch pretends to recognize the head of human resources (who is in on the act), and she begins talking very loudly to get the attention of the room. Once all eyes are on her, the conversation goes from normal to bizarre in a flash, with Grosch bringing up her supposedly denied application to the company and demanding an explanation from the HR person. During the act, Grosch will divulge comedic reasons why she was not hired and throw in a few jokes about the company and the president.
Finally, when many employees are whispering and giggling or looking astonished, Grosch breaks into song and invites the entire company to join her as the event begins. With her well-rounded repertoire of talents, Grosch can customize a show for any special event that’s sure to make ’em laugh.
‘Church Basement’ lady swings for comic gold with new show ‘Plowin’ Through’
Actor/director Greta Grosch seeks to entertain from a secure place with ninth “Church Basement Ladies” show at Ames Center. – By Rohan Preston Star Tribune / January 12, 2023
One of the more famous bits in Twin Cities musical comedy history involves Greta Grosch, menopause and a freezer.
Playing good-natured farm wife Mavis as she is going through a change of life in the “Church Basement Ladies” in 2005, Grosch worked her 5-foot-11-inch frame into and out of the cooling appliance, drawing guffaws as she sprawled over the freezer before tucking her gangly limbs in.
Wendy Short Hays, who has choreographed “Church Basement Ladies” since the series began, had two words to describe the scene where the pastor helps Grosch get out of that freezer with her butt in the way — “comedy gold.”
“Greta’s not shy about using her lankiness and stature, which I love, being a tall person myself.
And she’s fearless, willing to try anything,” Short Hays said.
Well, anything but a regular 9-to-5.
After graduating from Minnesota State University, Mankato with a bachelor’s degree in theater, Grosch was doing her taxes for the first time when she had a lightbulb moment.
“I never want to have a job where I’d have to go to human resources and fill out paperwork,” Grosch recalled. “You can make it in this business if you say yes to opportunities and keep your expenses low.”
The business is entertainment. And over the past 30 years, Grosch has cobbled together a career that includes voiceover work, TV commercials, corporate speaking gigs, a comedy troupe and lots of theater, including writing all but the first “Church Basement Ladies” script.
Adapted from Janet Letnes Martin’s and Suzann Nelson’s 1997 book “Growing Up Lutheran,” the series centers on broad characters who keep things humming in a greater Minnesota church.
The ladies deal with weddings, funerals and crazy ideas from pastors.
“We have these ladies at home in every church, synagogue and temple, and in every home at Thanksgiving, Christmas, you name it,” said Martin. “They’ll kick you out of the kitchen because they’re managing things.”
The Church Basement Ladies productions are popular, drawing more than 3 million people since 2005. The series’ ninth iteration, “Plowin’ Through,” plays at Burnsville’s Ames Center through
“A lot of people brush that off and say, — yay, it’s just a bunch of blue-haired retirees in the audience,” said Short Hays. “Yes, we have to keep growing younger, diverse audiences and get folks in the theater but let’s not forget those who created it for us.”
Grosch is sometimes styled as the Carol Burnett of the Twin Cities because of her prodigious physical humor skills and the way she’s able to ramp up the pressure in ordinary situations until they spill over into absurdity.
“Some people are funny because they’re insecure and they use comedy as a defense mechanism,” said Grosch. “I’m lucky to say I’m secure within my family and my comedy comes from the fact that I live in joy. Comedy for me is a celebration.”
Her comic sensibility was formed because of her unique ackground. Born in Orange, Calif., Grosch grew up mostly abroad, including in Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea, where she went to high school.
“My parents were volunteer teachers working for the Lutheran Church,” she said. “Everywhere we lived, I was always in choir.”
Her mother taught music. Grosch didn’t see much TV or films in her youth.
“The comedy I was exposed to came from family sitting around and laughing,” she said. “Truth be told, that’s the comedy that I’m most interested in — relational comedy, where you’re reacting to stimuli, whether it’s other people or a coffeepot.”
Grosch got her start in the Twin Cities with a brief bit at Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop before landing a role in “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” at the former Hey City Theatre.
Namesake theater owner Sandy Hey said Grosch showed versatility and oomph at the audition.
“She played the guitar and sang these comic bits. She was able to do these characters that are likable, even if they’re irascible,” Hey said.
The freezer in “Church Basement Ladies” has been used as different props since 2005, including as a coffin and even as a place to hide lasagna, prepared by a good-natured person but deemed unfit for human consumption.
Grosch has had a central place in all of it, and she hopes that audiences are feeling her big chick energy.
“Timing is such a big deal in comedy, and I get goosebumps trying to work out a comic bit,” she said. “A lot of times you’re swinging blindly like at a pinata, but when you hit it, it’s electric.”
The Bazzess: with Sam Landman. Episode 6: Greta Grosch
How do you create a show? Scratch that. How do you create a theater franchise? Greta Grosch dishes out stories about how she helped turn the Church Basement Ladies series into a worldwide phenomenon