Suppose someone approached you at work, gave you a random word or phrase, and told you to act out a 30-minute scene based on it. Could you do it?
If you’re like most of us, probably not so much. But that’s exactly what improv actors do daily, and do well. See for yourself this weekend, as Improv Festival Oklahoma returns for its fourth year. Some of the region’s best improvisational artists gather to perform everything from slapstick to Shakespearean-themed skits.
The festival began in 2009, when members of the Red Dirt Improv group wanted to bring its style of acting into the spotlight. Since then, the popularity of improv has grown in Oklahoma City and surrounding areas, with this year’s festival to feature 24 improv troupes over three days.
One of the reasons for improv’s move to center stage is its appeal with audiences, who enjoy knowing that the routines they see performed are anything but routine.
“Improv is very personal,” said James Murray, improviser and comanager of Red Dirt Improv. “When you’re in the theater, there’s a feeling [that] anything can happen. That show is for that specific audience, and there’ll never be another show like it.”
Amanda Austin, of the Dallas group Roadside Couch and duo Manick, added that the unscripted nature of improvisational performance provides an element of excitement lacking in traditional theater.
“It’s kind of like watching people do daredevil-like things,” she said. “Like watching extreme sports, and [you’re thinking] ‘How can they just trust themselves to do it? How can they just trust that their mind is going to come up with that kind of stuff?’” Improvisers put a great deal of time and effort into honing their skill. But how does a troupe rehearse when there’s never a script and no two shows are the same? Sue Ellen Reiman, who acts in the Shakespearean group Fortune’s Fools and the all-female group The MiDolls, offered an analogy of what training entails.
“It’s a lot like a baseball team,” she said. “You practice all the skills, but you never know how every game’s going to go. You just need to know how all the plays work if they come up.”
Besides the comedic value, improv shows offer the chance for a killer date night. All performances are in the evening. And for $10-$15 per three-act show, it won’t drain your wallet.
“It’s quality entertainment that you’re not going to see anywhere else in Oklahoma,” said Jodi Nestander, member of The MiDolls and director of festival newcomer Kind of a Big Deal.