Talbot County’s Favorite (and only) Improv Troupe

It’s not often an article idea comes from a blood drive, but that’s exactly what happened. As it turns out, the Red Cross snack table is a great place to chat after donating blood. How a conversation with Jeremy Hillyard turned to Improv Easton no one can recall, but it was fascinating to learn about the world of improv and how a troupe got started in 2019.

Learning about improv is like peeling an onion. Start peeling back those layers and with each layer there is a new subtlety to the art form. Many of us have watched “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” on television as Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie and Wayne Brady leave us in stitches. They make improv look easy and fun, but after speaking with troupe members, there really is a lot to improv.

“Improv is likened to flying an aircraft while building it,” said Nancy Andrew, Adam Miley and Howard Townsend in unison. While that doesn’t sound safe for an airline traveler, for the improvisor it makes total sense.

The Hideout Theatre in Austin, Texas, explains it this way, “Improvisation, or improv, is a form of live theatre in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up in the moment.” Improv Easton concurs, “We make stuff up!”

Howard Townsend explains, “Improv is an art form where you create something that will never be created again anywhere.”

And that is the beauty of it. When a bit goes well, there is no better feeling. Adam Miley explains, “After practice I can be completely drained and some nights you leave on top of the world. It feels so amazing to have an audience laugh with you, and sometimes at you.”

The troupe has met weekly since 2019 at the Third Haven Friends Meeting House in Easton, even through Covid where they met via Zoom. Nancy Andrew was participating in improv on her own but had to travel to meet up with various groups, so she decided to reach out to the community to investigate whether others on the Mid Shore would be interested in forming a troupe. A half dozen people started meeting with Dan Brown of Reflex Improv of Northern Virginia and things got rolling. Covid did slow things down, but Dan took the fledgling group online where they were able to keep the momentum going.

Nancy has no interest in acting but was attracted to improv for other reasons. She said, “I like the mental challenge of it. You really have to stay present in the moment. If you worry about what you’re going to say next or if you’re trying to be funny, it’s not funny.”

In reality, to be funny the troupe really has to work together and that takes plenty of practice. One can’t go on stage with any preconceived ideas either – it’s all about living in the moment.

But improv has a set of parameters so that a group can succeed. Achieving these skill sets of working together and living in the moment allows the funny to happen organically. There are some techniques to this collaborative and creative process.

Three Golden Rules of Improv

Yes, and…

Yes, I heard you and I’m going to build on it. Don’t ask questions – offer information that helps your teammate roll with a scene.

Got your back…

This is a partnership, and I am going to build this scene with you. Being engaged with what’s happening means the group succeeds together.

There are no mistakes…

Keep going, we can make something of this. Mistakes are just an opportunity to be funny. Howard said, “That’s really fun and very liberating. Make a mistake, grab onto it and make something of it.”

The reasons people get involved in improv are varied, but many sing the praises of what improv does in their personal and work lives.

Val Cavalheri said, “I had previously been involved with a theater group and this seemed to be a fun way to sharpen my acting skills. What I learned besides acting, was how to be my own writer, producer, and director. My creative and communication skills have improved, I am no longer shy to speak in public. And, I also have gained a group of friends that I look forward to playing with every week. Being part of this troupe is a constant reminder of the power of spontaneous creativity.”

Linda Mastro concurs, “I learned that the skills taught in improv were applicable in all aspects of life. For example, one of the basic tenets of improv is to respond to everything that comes at me with a ‘yes’ – which means that I heard the other person – and a ‘and’ – which gives me a chance to creatively respond. It’s all about agreement and building on what each person brings to the party. I find myself using this approach in conversations with friends, family and work colleagues. The best part of improv is that it is one of the few places I can speak out and have fun without judgment.”

Adam was looking for social activities to re-engage in after Covid. He loves the lively banter that improv provides and the ensuing laughter – for him as well as for the audience. “We take away such a great energy and we laugh so much,” said Adam, who has also gained other qualities from doing improv. “I wanted to improve my public speaking skills. I have more confidence in myself. We are such a welcoming and caring group that we provide that space where you can gain self-confidence and achieve goals and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Jeremy Hillyard agrees that he was eager to try improv as a way to meet new people, be creative and laugh. Improv also improves his skills as a language teacher. Jeremy said, “What I really enjoy about being a part of Improv Easton is that I have met some great people that I might have not otherwise met but especially that we all united for our love of creating fun and laughing. I just think more laughter makes the world such a better place.”

He adds, “As a high school language teacher, I find that being creative with words in improv makes the storytelling aspect of my teaching better and by teaching language through storytelling that makes my improv skills better because expression is the skill at the center of both. I would encourage anyone to try out improv to see what positivity it can introduce to you in your life. I know that the core tenet of improv ‘Yes, and…’ is such a great forward-thinking philosophy that can help everyone be the best version of themselves, whether it be at work, at home, or both.”

The group is an encouraging and supportive one, and each weekly meeting concludes with a “circle of compliments.” Perhaps we can all learn from Improv Easton’s outlook of trying something new, giving out compliments and supporting one another.

There are several ways to learn more about Improv Easton, meet troupe members, and even participate. Improv Easton will be performing at First Night Talbot on December 31, 2023, in the Stoltz Listening Room, located on the second floor at the Avalon Theatre, in downtown Easton.

Also, there will be a free “Try It” Night on Tuesday, January 16, 2024, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Easton. This is an open opportunity for anyone curious about improv to come get a taste. No prior theatre or comedy experience is required. It’s a chance to try a new skill with a supportive group of people.

In November Improv Easton finished up a six-week improv workshop and another is in the works for early 2024. Follow Improv Easton on Facebook and Instagram. Anyone interested in attending the “Try It” Night or for more about Improv Easton, email improveaston@gmail.com.

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