I headed back to the Herberger Theater last night to see night two of the Phoenix Improv Festival. Unlike Friday’s showcase of all local acts, last night’s sets featured improv pros from around the country. There were five impressive troupes showing off a diverse array of improv styles — find a break-down of the show below.
What If?- This troupe came all the way from Minnesota to perform what seemed to me to be a type of deconstruction — where they took two characters and presented several scenes that developed the characters’ relationship of house buyer and real estate agent. It was evident the duo had a lot of chemistry because they played off each other well without missing a beat, and their scenes had me laughing throughout. If you’re ever in the Minneapolis area, check them out here.
Midnight Society– This five-guy group from Austin, Texas was a highlight of the night for me, as all the troupe members acted as different characters within the same setting — a funeral home. The troupe players picked strong choices for their characters, and the scenes they did all together were gems to watch because each person distinguished himself with quirky features. I’ve seen a few troupes from Austin come through the Valley, and if I’m ever there, the improv scene is one not to be missed. Learn more about Midnight Society here.
King Ten– People in the audience last night were really lucky to see King Ten, out of the prestigious Improv Olympic West based in Los Angeles. This five-person group has been performing the Harold improv format for 10 years together, where they integrate group scenes into vignettes that feature recurring characters. They brought a lot of physicality into their set, including hoisting up members on each other’s shoulders, and they were a treat to watch. The IO West is regarded as one of the best places to see improv in the Southwest — check it out if you’re in LA, and check out King Ten here.
Who Cares?– I really liked this young troupe from Chicago, who met as students at the amazing The Second City. They took audience suggestions but then did whatever they wanted with them, adding rich character details out loud before acting out scenes. It was a unique form I haven’t seen too much of, and I liked the chemistry of the two-guys-and-a-girl combo. All three members were excellent actors, and they brought a ton of energy to the stage. Chicago improv is phenomenal, and Who Cares? is worth seeing if you go.
Hawkinstroth– Hawkinstroth had the granddaddy of improvisers to perform at this year’s PIF — Miles Stroth. Stroth is a collaborator of the late Del Close, one of the best improv teachers and writer of the classic improv book, Truth in Comedy (if improv interests you in the least, read it.) Stroth and his partner Jeff Hawkins weave in and out of characters quickly through a myriad of intertwined scenes, and it’s obvious the guys are veterans — their presentation is always confident and relaxed. Some of their scenes involved the heavy use of the word “retard,” which I thought was an easy way out to garner a cheap laugh, but usually the duo is on point with their material. The guys also perform at the IO West.
Improv is a great way to challenge yourself, even if you don’t consider yourself an actor or lover of the stage. Taking improv classes can help you be a better presenter at work or even give you more confidence to talk to people at networking events. It’s also a lot of fun to try to push yourself to act silly and crazy and on your toes. If you’re interested in classes, I’d recommend The Torch Theatre in downtown Phoenix and Jester’z in Scottsdale. The instructors are all caring and encouraging and will work with you to play up your strengths — they’re great!