The key is to just say yes.
That’s what Mike Kingsbury and Beth Wolven say is at the heart of improv (theater talk for improvisation), sitting in a green room-type of space at Grace Church in Rutland recently.
“That allows (the other person) to (respond),” Kingsbury said. “If the other person says ‘Nah, I don’t want to do that,’ you’re stuck. Continue to say yes and eventually something funny is going to happen.”
At a rehearsal on Monday, four women and six men got on stage, divided into two teams of four, with a host and a scorekeeper. Each team was given a crazy challenge — “You’re trapped on the Titanic during a dance competition” — to create a scene on the spot that hopefully makes people laugh.
“You get to know yourself really well,” Kingsbury said.
Even for two theater veterans like Kingsbury and Wolven, the nature of improv is unpredictable, and you have to stay open to constant curveballs.
“People’s personalities come out,” Kingsbury said. “It has to survive. You’re going to show something of yourself. A lot of students I work with have been afraid about this because they think, ‘I don’t want people to know me: What if they don’t like me?’ Then you realize you are very needed in a scene, and the humor comes out at some point naturally. It’s a rewarding process.”
He and Wolven have been offering improv classes and shows together in the area on and off for eight years. The current troupe has 10 members whose ages range from late 20s to mid-60s. Some have worked together in the past but it’s a mix of first-timers and those who have done it before.
Their first show of 2019, Vermont Actors Repertory Theatre’s Theatrical Improv, takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 25 and 26, at ART’s new home at College of St. Joseph’s Tuttle Hall Theater.
“There are rules, there are definitely techniques, and the most important one is saying yes,” Kingsbury said.
“Whatever comes out of your mouth will be OK,” Wolven says. “Even ‘blahhh’ will be an acceptable thing. We’ll find a way to work it into the scene.”
As in all improv shows, during one game they’ll ask someone from the audience to volunteer.
“They won’t be required to do anything crazy, like bark like a dog or crow like a chicken,” Wolven said. “We’ll interview them about their life and then present it to them on the worst possible day.
“We make ourselves laugh every single night that we do this,” she added. “Rehearsal is sometimes us sitting there wiping tears off our face because whatever just happened was hysterical. You just have to go in with an open mind.”