It all begins with a single word. Well, of course, that can be said of all things involving language. For journalists – or any writer, even authors of personal letters or emails – it’s one word at a time. But while playwrights and novelists, from Shakespeare to Stephen King, create fiction, their motto is not “We make stuff up.” However, for Improv Easton and other improvisational comic teams, the phrase is a badge of honor and a challenge.
Instead of one word, Improv Easton began with one person, Nancy Andrew, executive director of Talbot Family Network, who says, “It all started with I got it into my head that I wanted to do improv. I signed up for a class in D.C. and found that I loved it.” She drove back and forth to Annapolis, home to Reflex Improv, where she met Dan Brown, a professional improv instructor. In 2018, after persuading six or seven other people to join her, Andrew convinced Brown to come to Easton to teach classes because, she said, “quite, frankly, selfishly, I really liked improv, but I didn’t want to be driving to Annapolis forever.”
“Lo and behold, we found six or seven people to come out for classes,” recalls Howard Townsend, part of the Improv Easton executive team with Jeremy Hillyard and Andrew. The core group met in person for a couple of sessions before COVID hit. But they continued with online classes with Brown until he essentially graduated them, saying they were ready to go out on their own.
Their first show was an outdoor performance at the Avalon Foundation’s Stoltz Pavilion tent. Since then, Improv Easton has played at the Avalon Theatre, the Oxford Community Center, the Academy Art Museum, the Dorchester Center for the Arts, etc. They are often hired as the headliners for fundraising groups, and public performances range from free to whatever is charged by a fundraising sponsor.
The players practice every Tuesday at the historic Third Haven Friends House of Worship. These are not rehearsals, as there is no such thing as a script. The sessions include playing games, working on creative exercises, and improving their teamwork.
“We play together, laugh and hang out,” says Val Cavalheri. (Full disclosure: Cavalheri is a writer and editor with Spy Media).
In a live performance, the show begins with a single word, often suggested by the audience. “I think what interests us,” says Andrew, “is that it’s creative and spontaneous. It’s a team sport. If you go out there to showboat, it won’t work.”
“Before this, I was with the Tred Avon Players and enjoyed that,” Cavalheri recalls. “But there’s just something really fun (and slightly scary) about not having to memorize a script – about just getting up there onstage and having a great time.”
“You never know what’s going to happen,” says Townsend. “You get someone to throw out a word. And all of a sudden, the improv group turns it into a whole scene about something unexpected, unpredictable.”
Improv principles of cooperation and support translate well into day-to-day life but are even more critical when the performers are on stage. “We know we all have one another’s back,” says Andrew. “That’s really critical because then you’re willing to take risks.”
One of Easton Improv’s co-founders, Linda Mastro, says of her experience with the company, “I forgot how to play a long time ago, and improv has helped me to be more playful and more spontaneous.”
Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Coming up next: Improv Easton will be part of First Night Talbot at the Stoltz Listening Room on New Year’s Eve from 7:45-8:45 pm. Admission is free. Wanna give it a shot? Come to the “Try-It” night” on January 16 from 6-7:30 in Easton. To sign up or for more info, email [email protected] New dates are always being added, so follow Improv Easton on Facebook and Instagram.
Steve Parks is a retired New York arts critic now living in Easton.