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Thursday, 11 October 2012 18:55

One person’s comedy is another person’s “Huh?”

Written by Laura Kyro
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The Details

The Touhill Performing Arts Center on the campus of University of Missouri St. Louis recently hosted a performance by The Improv Shop troupe. The Improv Shop is a “St. Louis-based improvisational comedy theater and school.”

At the outset, performer Andy Sloey explained the night’s intended format was to be about “Halloween and fear,” and outlined the troupe’s structural format, described on their website as: “…the Armando format – a monologist tells a story based on audience suggestion and the troupe then builds an original, full-length improvisational piece based on the story.”

The night’s monologist and special guest was Nicole Beckert, a reporter with St. Louis’s Riverfront Times. Rather than taking any audience suggestions, she told a brief story about being a young child and being scared by a “creature” that followed her home from school, that turned out was just a neighbor’s friendly dog. The stage was set.

The troupe of ten performers (a couple more guys than gals) then provided a number of vignettes over the next 90 minutes or so (with a 20-minute intermission thrown in). Their style generally was for a small subset of performers to start, then other performers (who were standing waiting on the periphery of the stage) to either join in, or “tag” another performer as a way of switching places in the scene. Some featured as few as two performers, and one I believe featured the whole crew. The only props were the black curtains and two chairs that stood in for a number of items, from a taxidermy table to an MRI machine.

That’s what it was. And it was what it was. But what it was to this reviewer was, um, I’m not sure. Some people were laughing (mostly guys, I believe), but I was at a loss as to why.

Let’s just say that I sat confused most of the evening. The skits were not about Halloween at all, and fear only sometimes. Scenes were puzzling, and sometimes when they seemed to be going somewhere, someone stepped in to end it and start something fresh. Vignettes regarding a man eating a roll of pennies, a faux reality show called “Who’s Renting from Whom,” a performer playing an eight-and-a-half-year-old (with an inconsistent English accent) getting the keys to the family’s liquor cabinet, and others, appeared to have nothing to do with any stated themes (Halloween, fear, a frightening dog).

Too, from what I observed, it didn’t appear the night’s offering was improvisation at all. As I understand it (thanks, Wikipedia), improvisation is “reacting in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment and inner feelings,” growing from one scene to another in unexpected ways. It seemed that if not a script, then certainly intended scenes and characters had been worked out beforehand as they carried through from one act to the other. It wasn’t all, “let’s make this up as we go along,” although I believe a few hints the unexpected peeked through at times. But not enough times. I’m sorry to say I found it disappointing.

The Improv Shop performs in various locations throughout St. Louis. To check out future performing dates and for more information check out their website at http://theimprovshop.com.

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