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Battle of Improv Troupes
On February twelfth, 2003, a Wednesday, in Logan, Utah a battle of six improv troupes took place on the Utah State University campus. It was a true rush to watch for any improv actor seeking a new perspective, new experience, and that old fashion comedy.
"The competition was set-up because we needed an activity every night for the ACTF (American College Theater Festival), and since we have an improv troupe we thought we'd invite a bunch of improv troupes to come out and perform," said Brooke Pulver, the host of the evening and a player for the USU's Improv-uh-bles.
It was an exciting time for players as it always is when you get to play for a packed ballroom dance floor with a stage front and center with booming microphones.
The way the competition worked was a King's Court set-up. There would be two teams competing at a time. On stage right would be the host (winner) and on stage left would be the challenger's side, with the line of challenging troupes waiting to get their chance. The host would always play their game first, and then the challengers would play their game. After that one of the three judges would ask the audience for a cheer for each team and the loudest cheer pronounced whether the challenger would move to the host side, gaining one point and moving the host to the back of the challenger line, or if the host would remain and gain two points, playing the next challenger. In the event of a tie the judges would decide. The charge for the audience was $2 at the door and winner took home the money.
Here are the teams the performed and some brief interviews with them.
The USU's own improv team began unofficially in 1999, and then held auditions for a permanent team in 2000. For their team, I interviewed Andy Leukhardt and asked him what the strengths and weaknesses were coming into the match up.
"We have lots of new members, but we have the home field so that's to our advantage. The core of our team has been together for a long time so we have good chemistry. This is our third year."
"Goals for the night?"
"We just hope everyone is entertained. Hope there are no grudges. We just wanna have fun, that's why we do it anyway."
Laughing Stock is at the Off Broadway Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah. Started in 1994 and owned by Ben & Melissa Porter, and Eric & Sandy Jensen.
I started the opening interview with Russ & Russ, I asked them what their Strengths were and Peacock said "Well, I can only bench 120." This started some bantering between the Russ's, so I thought I'd get some better info from Ben Porter.
"Russ. That's our whole thing. Doesn't matter which one, I can just say Russ and that's our strength."
"Any worries coming into this competition?"
"Other members of different troupes will think this a competition instead of a reason to have fun."
"What are your goals for the night?"
"Have fun! This is our goal every night!" Just then, Peacock overheard the interview and added his own two cents, "And to kill every competition with sticks!"
This troupe found each other from taking classes at Cerritos College in southern California from Kevin Hoggard. He put together this touring group and they came with the ACTF.
I asked Christopher Alvarado what their strengths and weaknesses were.
"Our #1 strength would be our relationship. We've been working together for about four years, but some of us are newer than others. Our biggest weakness would be our lack of polished character work."
"What is your goal?"
"Our goal is to continue to do improv together for as long as possible."
The Quick Wits Clearfield began two years ago by Bob Bedore and then branched out to Salt Lake City. Bob Went to Salt Lake while Jake Plumley & Nathan Palmer bought the franchise for Clearfield.
This is the troupe I rode up with and during the trip I interviewed Seth Barney.
I asked him "What do you think of the competition?"
"I'm all about it! It's fun. There's nothing to be won. Whether we win or not it's gonna be fun."
"What are your strengths coming into this?"
"We all think a lot on the same lines, for the most part. We all got the same goals."
"What are your goals?"
"To be successful! To consistently put up good shows. Once we do good shows the audience will supply itself."
KYSOff performs at Trolley Square Live in Salt Lake City under the care of Joe Rogan.
While the troupe was warming up I was able to snag Joe Beatty and talk to him. I asked him "What is your team's strength tonight?"
"Were one of the few troupes to do long form improv, which is our calling card, but we excel in every aspect of improv."
"We could have more female actors."
"What are your goals for tonight?"
"Make people laugh with intelligent improv, not gaggy, gimmicky improv."
"What do you think of the competition?"
"I like the format. It's unique, and entertaining."
In no relation to the previous Mission Improvuhbles this troupe is based in Sacramento California, they just heard about them and decided to be Mission Improvuhble2. They came to participate in the festival as well.
I sat and talked with some of the troupe members and asked them "What are your strengths and weaknesses coming into this match up?"
"We're gonna bring the funny," replied Roschanda Harrison.
"We just found out that were competing against pros, so if anyone asks… we're pros. O.k.?"
"What are your goals?"
Matthew Rogo chimed in on this question: "My dream is to meet Orville Redenbacher!" To which Roschanda said, "You guys got the popcorn right?"
And Matthew started again with, "We're gonna start an improv troupe on our campus with Ryan here and a friend named Crispy. We want to take it to high schools, too."
Brian Dembkoski - He was asked the night before to be a judge and so he says it's a happy coincidence that he has 3-4 years improv experience performing in the Plymouth Improv Group, and co-founding the B.S. Players in Northern California. Before the show I asked him what he was looking for as a judge and he said "To laugh. Lovely ladies."
Jim Cathcart - He has three years experience in improv with Best Productions in California.
Nora Kirkpatrick - Nora and Jim have worked together for the past three year with Best Productions in Northern California.
For typing purposes I shall abbreviate the names of the troupes to their initials.
Before the show began in the pre show room Troupes drew a number in hat to decide what order the troupes would begin in. Afterwards the troupes scattered into the ballroom and resumed their warm-ups and bantering, or just flirting with other troupe members. Russ Peacock had a glow to him after he was told that he looked like Stone Cold Steve Austin by Scarlette Bustos.
Then show began, and Brooke Pulver from the home team explained the show to the audience and then began the intros with her own team, the IP's. They made everyone who hasn't seen their show stand up and sing "Old McDonald had a Farm" using a pirate, Hannibal, and J-Lo as their animals on the farm.
Then each team came up with their own way to introduce themselves. KYSOff threw Troy up on stage, MI2 all tripped on the way up, QW thanked everyone for their support, LS flexed their butts, and one of the GIPS explained how he came across his blue BYU shirt and apologized for it.
Then the show began! GIPS taking the host position first VS. IP's. GIPS started the show with their game of answering the question of why the sky is blue with two members trading turns to talk while the third person clapped to signal the trade. Then they took a seat and let IP do their game of Film and Theater Styles, with the suggestion of five year olds in the sandbox. Two members took the stage while a third called the styles for them to change into. There were a lot of blocks between the two's scene work with very little "Yes And" going on, but very good at their styles and just playing with it. Judges got up and asked the audience who they liked and the audience cheered for the home team, giving them 1 point and sending them to the host's side.
Next up to challenge the IP's would be LS. IP's started the round with a game of Opera, using two audience members to lip sync for two of the IP's while the actors sang opera for them with their microphones using the suggestion "at the bank". Once again, not a whole lot of scene progression, but Brooke could really sing Opera and that brought the laughs of her mockery of opera, along with Andy's attempt to sing opera style. LS took the stage with Accents using the suggestion star trek convention. The two Russ's taking the stage with Ben calling out the accents to change into. They did a hysterical job having well polished accents and stereotypes. For a moment they seemed stumped when gotten the suggestion Gollum, but shined when the two big guys physically impersonated the little schizophrenic creature. LS took the win for the round gained a point and went to the host side.
Next challenger for the LS was KYSOff. LS played Greatest Hits with Peacock singing using the suggestion of Flight Attendant. During the first song you couldn't really understand what Peacock was saying, but his deliverance was great and McBride's and Brown's commentary was humorous. The next song Peacock was told to do it in different languages and it was funny to see him bring back the accents and random words from the languages. KYSOff then challenged them with Troy animating for Dead People. Troy's face as it strained to lift everyone bigger than him was fantastic and he had a great scene going. He got the crowd going when he was trying to control three men bigger than him accidentally causing Jose and Larry to kiss. Two great scenes but the energy of LS was what the audience wanted, giving LS two points for staying the host.
QW took the challengers sides watching LS play pieces of paper with the suggestion of the Birds and The Bees speech. The team had great acceptance of endowments given and good justifications of the paper they read, maintaining their high energy presence. QW then played their game of Revolver with four suggestions of scenes to rotate through. Adam keeping the energy for their team with his cute Barbie playing, and the teams terrific connections made me wonder if the audience even made the connections in their heads. LS was still the favorite taking two more points to their side.
MI2 got their turn next watching LS Russ McBride become the Crocadile Hunter. It was hysterical watching Russ do his well practiced Steve Irwin and all the quotes that come with it, commentating on Peacock being a pregnant Language Interpreter. MI2 played a game of Auditions. The characters got a big reaction from the audience, but not as big as when Matthew stripped down to his boxers, causing us to see things that most men wouldn't want to see. This was followed by Rochanda's powerful monologue impersonating a white girl in a horror movie. Interestingly there were some boo's from the audience for the cussing and brief nudity, but what I found kind of sad was that some came from the challenger's side, too. For the end of the half, though, MI2 beat LS out of the host side, bringing the intermission break.
During intermission I went and interviewed some players to get their thoughts on the show and things to come. I first approached MI2 about the victory over LS three wins. "I can't believe we stood a chance against LS!" came some responses from the team.
"Were your characters prepared or thought about on your way here?" I asked them.
"No, they were all on the spot."
"Do you think you were being offensive?"
"I don't think we were being offensive. I was bothered though because that section of the audience refused to clap, and some teams booed us." replied the team.
Moving over to KYSOff I asked them what their game plan was for the second half.
"We're gonna slow it down and play Bad Advice." I was told by Ryan.
"What do you think of the show?"
"If we don't win a round we probably won't play because of all the troupes and time frame. That kind of sucks."
Then behind KYSOff, I saw the LS and asked them how they thought the show was going.
"Wow!" "Great!" "I concur." Then looking at Peacock with Scarlette wrapped around his leg, he said, with a grin on his face, "She thinks I look like Stone Cold Steve Austin." At that time I looked over at Ricky from IP and laughed because I thought that he looked like a younger Peacock with hair.
Then Amy from IP got up and brought the second half back, and she introduced a new rule to the second half. All teams had to keep their games less than four minutes. And so the next half began.
MI2 being the host was challenged by the GIPS. MI2 played their game of Movie Quotes (which was very similar to what we know as Pieces of Paper) and the suggestion was "cheerleader tryouts". They were each given a celebrity to impersonate. Once again they stepped way over the family theater line and cracked jokes about the LDS faith, getting laughs from some and boo's from others. Then the GIPS played their version of what I know as Half Life, but they started at 2 minutes and ended with five seconds. The suggestion was cow farming. It was a good group effort and acceptance, funny in some areas, and the M.C. was really trying to get the focus to be on whether they kept the scene accurate and not so much as funny. When the judges asked for the winners, MI2 got some boo's once again and so the Judges gave it to the GIPS, giving them a point and moving them over to the host.
GIPS played their next game of Silent Movie, which I think a lot of Utah troupes know as Sound On, having one person do the sound on the microphone for another person doing the silent scene. Terrific listening and working with each other went on, with a fun beat box coming out of cleaning the toilet. IP then challenged them with a game of World's Worst, getting a bunch of suggestions to find the world's worst about. It was a smart game for them to play considering the lack of scene work in their last few games giving them the advantage of "taking care of yourself" and allowing the whole team to get some attention. The home team took the crowd and gained a point moving them to the host side.
The IP then played KYSOff. IP played the Dating Game sending out Brooke to guess the three date suggestions of "Noah", "Frankenstein", and "Saying fish names in each sentence". They had some great lines coming from the characters and in the end Brooke didn't guess any of them anyway, but it was a very fun scene to watch. KYSOff after seeing Dating Game, being similar to Bad Advice, played Three Dub having each member speak for a different member. Before they played Larry had them to a little cheer to get some favor towards their team. I never knew a game such as three dub could get as neck breaking as it did, attempting to have three members on top of each others shoulders almost working, but Troy ended up falling. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but entertaining nonetheless. Afterwards the crowds chose the home team and IP got two points.
IP then played their next game of Superhero's with the crisis of a shortage of midgets. Short Term Memory Man had some terrific moment and everybody jumped into character very quickly. QW then challenged them with a game of Murder Mystery, sending two people out to guess from the person remaining; getting the person, place, and weapon. After Jeremy and Seth had some funny Gibberish arguments over what Jeremy was pantomiming about time was up, so Adam could not do the final guessing. The audience chose IP to remain in the host side for two more points.
After Jon from QW cheered for LS as they took the challengers seat the audience took a cue and began to cheer for them as well. IP played Eulogy using Adam's girl friend Shelly from the audience. They killed her off and were very funny in their mock Eulogy of Shelly's death, with lines such as "what was her name?" "Shelly was my best friend!" (that being some kind of inside joke for Logan people). LS then entered the stage with the two Russ's shirtless getting big reactions from the audience as they took the suggestion of the "A" as their location and they played Missing Shakespeare. Seeing the two men duel with words shirtless was a big crowd pleaser and they moved into the host side gaining a point.
LS then took on the team that beat them out in the first half: MI2. LS played Late for Work having Peacock give the charades to McBride while Brown was the Boss. On the final suggestion of Michael Jackson using a sparrow to beat him up was hysterical hearing McBride repeating in confusion "A spear-o? He beat me up with a Spear-o? Spear-o? Sparrow!!!!" And they still got it in the time allotted. MI2 got on stage and pronounced that they forfeit the final round and decided to play freeze tag with LS together. And it was a fun good ending to the show watching LS calling freeze consistently to be able to carry Scarlette.
The Judges Tallied up the scores and the winner of the $174 check. The points broke down are as follows.
Laughing Stock - 8 points
After the show I talked with some troupes to get their thoughts on the show. I asked LS "Do you think that your age and only having three players with you that emceeing the scenes was an advantage?"
Once again I was talking to Ben Porter him being reliable in achieving information, "Both. Nine years probably helped. The Russ's helped. It also depends on what players you bring."
I proceeded over to the IP. "What are your thoughts on the show?"
"It's a conspiracy we didn't win. Next year there will be some trash kicking," replied Brook.
"Do you think there was some offensive material tonight?" I was curious.
"I don't think the out-of-staters realized they were playing dominantly to LDS people."
After my talk with the IP's I spoke with some players from KYSOff. "How do you feel about your show?"
Troy answered with "Felt Good. Got tired, got to experience different techniques. It was fun because I got eager to play."
"What did you think of the competition aspect?" I asked.
Jose responded with "Puts a whole different kind of intensity. It was a show the talents thing."
"We were totally in our heads man." Troy put in.
The night was drawing to a close and some teams were helping stack the chairs and clean up. It was a successful show with audience members still laughing and talking about the show as they walked to the cars, and some dying to talk to actors wondering what made them so funny. It was a show leaving the audiences energized wanting more, and even some teams. And if any of the teams were like my car ride home, it was full of analyzing the show and arguing what scenes were better & funnier.
My compliments to all the teams that played and thanks for a great experience.
Matt Speer is an improviser who has performed with the group Quick Wits in Clearfield, UT.
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