For the members of the Lancaster Improv Players, improvisational comedy is no laughing matter. It’s a skill to be honed, and the troupe will showcase what they’ve got for the first time this month and in March at Zoetropolis.
Funnily enough, they requested an interview be done not by phone or email… but by Google Hangouts chat. I spoke to Josh McCune, Henry Wagner, Austin Rittle and Ben Chambers, but they were speaking for a larger group, consisting of Kyle Kuehn, Tony Jadus, Chris Thvedt, Cecelia Ziman Destefano, Crys Lopez and Alex Dorsheimer.
Below is our conversation…
Blayne: Alright. Who wants to tell me how you started this improv group?
Bill: So, I received a grant through the Lancaster County Community Foundation called the Baldwin Fellowship. It is for nonprofit people to develop their leadership skills.
People have studied poetry in other countries. I decided
to learn improv.
I went to UCB for a class in NYC.
Blayne: Do you want to tell me how everyone knows each other?
Josh: So, Henry Austin and I all attended Millersville University. Henry was the first
to get involved in improv with the college troupe Improv Molotov.
Henry was a friend of ours for some time, so Austin and I went to one of his shows and were immediately interested.
So, we both auditioned and within a year, we were all improvising together.
After we graduated, we decided that we didn’t want to be done improvising together, and we decided that we wanted to create a Lancaster improv troupe.
That’s when we met Bill, who had reached out to us about the same thing.
He had been awarded the grant, and wanted to work with us to create Lancaster Improv Players.
Blayne: So is there an improv AOL chatroom everyone’s involved in? How did you know to reach out to each other?
Bill: Last year Upright Citizens Brigade performed at Millersville and Molotov opened for them. That is when I heard of them. I think I sent them a Facebook message to connect.
Blayne: Where do you guys practice?
Bill: The Candy Factory Warehouse D is our practice space. Anne has been great to us!
Blayne: What’s the process to become that comfortable look like?
Austin: Well, most of us are best friends outside of the stage. On the playground as kids, people would get to know each other by playing make-believe. Much like our former selves at recess, we get to know each other by exploring the depth of our imagination as a group and better our abilities to create believable characters in wacky scenarios or wacky characters in believable scenarios.
Blayne: Do you guys apply to that rule of improv that no means die?
Bill: Well, we had a running gag one night that was “and we cut to the funeral!”
Henry: No = blocking another player’s reality. The moment you break the scene’s reality, then the audience starts to lose interest, and the scene goes south.
Bill: Ok. So the golden rule in improv is “yes, and…”
So, “yes, and” doesn’t mean always saying yes, but agreeing to the premise of a scene and then expanding on it…
You can say “no” in improv as a natural reaction to something…
“I’m going to drink this jar of lighter fluid.”
“I see. But I don’t think that is a good idea, son.”
So, suddenly, we know there is a parental relationship and the son is a bit reckless. Everyone is in agreement to the premise. Make sense? The natural human reaction to that opening line is the best. Two Abbots aren’t funny, you need a Costello.
Josh: What I find to work well in a scene is to try to make the reactions of the characters believable, and sticking to that character.
If you have a father and son relationship on stage, and the father is overprotective of his son, the improviser playing the father has to own that role.
Blayne: That seems like it would be a bigger challenge than jumping on the reckless train.
Josh: Sure, it would be easy to act reckless, and could probably get a quick laugh from the audience, but owning that character and playing it to the top of your intelligence will ultimately get a better scene, and a bigger laugh.
Blayne: Do you ever struggle with being funny while maintaining that reality?
Bill: The reality is what makes a scene funny.
You have to be able to relate to what is happening on stage.
When you break from that and try to be funny is when you lose the scene.
“Not going for the easy joke” is a pretty important concept.
Blayne: I gotcha. So, individually, what are your goals for this group?
Josh: I’m really excited to get the chance to get back on stage with Henry and Austin, as well as improvising for the first time with Bill and the rest of the troupe. I’d love to see a solid improvisational comedy scene come to Lancaster, because it’s such a unique art form that almost everyone can relate to. Also, I have a ton of fun performing it, and getting to make people laugh is one of life’s true delights.
Bill: My goals are to meet some great new people (check), gain a cool new hobby (check) and develop new professional skills (I am the Director of Development at Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity).
Henry: To give our audience that “I can’t believe that was not written or planned beforehand” feeling. That kind of magician feeling of “how did they pull something like that off?”
Lancaster Improv Players will hold their first performance in March at Zoetropolis.