Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No jokes aside — Everything is fair game for visiting comedy improvisational troupe

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

For a style of performance where agreement — always backing up a fellow actor in whatever reality they’re trying to create — is the first, last and everything-in-between rule, there sure is a lot of conflict.

In one scene, donning the white gloves of a Japanese commuter train attendant gives the wearer the cultural right to do whatever he wants, from pushing people onto trains to stealing their wallets to punching them in the face.

In another, mystical elves are fired as department store greeters who couldn’t make the transition to prison attendants.

Then there was the guy who told his buddies he was late for dinner because he had almost been murdered — well, a guy in a suit reminiscent of “American Psycho” walked by him on the subway platform, if that counts as a near-death experience.

That’s the thing about improv — anything can happen.

The three-man improv troupe Sidecar is back in Kenai from New York performing a series of shows and teaching workshops.

Alden Ford, originally of Nikiski, Matt Fisher and Justin Tyler were in Kenai last July doing shows, workshops and helping with the Kenai Performers summer drama camp. This year they’re back to perform and help others learn improv.

“It’s a style of performance that a lot of people aren’t familiar with,” Ford said.

Even some seasoned performers aren’t comf-ortable with it because they’re used to being one mostly predeveloped character at a time, not having to constantly create new ones and redefine new scenes drawing from their own experiences and perspectives.

“(In improv) they can be a character to the extent they want to be a character and play things kind of real,” he said. “It’s hard not to play yourself to some extent. It’s a lot more difficult to be in a scene and make everything up from nowhere.”

It’s a useful skill for actors to learn.

“It reminds you that when you’re on stage you always need to be reacting, and reacting realistically,” Ford said. “You end up using your own reactions to inform your character.”
Tyler said improv teaches thinking on your feet, being open to impulses and taking control of any inner censorship that may keep you from being outgoing — which all instills greater confidence.

For that, improv is great — if daunting — for novices.

“Being comfortable standing up in front of people and just talking is the hardest thing,” Tyler said.

Sidecar starts its shows simply doing that. They introduce themselves and the show. Then they talk a little about whatever is going on with them, from momentous to mundane. After asking for a word from the audience, one of them tells a story inspired by the word about themselves or something that happened to them, while the other two usually use it as fodder to tease the one telling the story.

It’s as though the audience is eavesdropping on a conversation between three guys who have known and mocked each other for a long time.

“We start every set with coming out and being very open and honest with each other. And making fun of each other,” Tyler said.

“Especially me,” Ford interjected.

“Well, sometimes it works out that way, when you say the most ridiculous things,” Tyler continued.

“Improv is very close to people harassing each other,” Fisher said.

“Especially our improv. We’re seconds away from grabbing each other by the lapels and shaking,” Tyler said.

Sidecar started out in improv and has branched into sketch comedy stemming from their improv work.

“We were overwhelmed with genius ideas and decided to write them down,” Fisher said, facetiously.

(It should be noted that most everything Fisher says has a grain of current or impending facetiousness to it. The same for Tyler — unless he was actually serious about his request to be described in this article as holding a chalice of wine while being interviewed.)

Coming from New York to perform in Kenai is a welcome change of pace for Sidecar. Though their workshop and performance schedule keeps them busy while here, they’re focusing just on that, not jumping between their other jobs and various side projects.

“It makes such a huge difference to be able to do this one thing, and it’s really nice,” Ford said.
Performing for aud-iences that may be new to improv is also appealing. Coming from New York, improv is ubiquitous to the point where performances are scrutinized for pushing the envelope, rather than just whether it’s a good performance that people enjoyed.

“You’re expected to do something that’s outside the box or on the edge. It’s kind of nice to do something more straightforward,” Ford said. “… It’s nice to perform for people who don’t have as many expectations about what long-from improvisation is.”

Funny, for one thing. Unexpected. A learning experience for both sides of the stage.

“As performers it’s difficult to be yourself and not make jokes and play to the audience,” Ford said of what improv actors learn to do. “And it’s always surprising as an audience member that it’s interesting to watch.”

Sidecar will perform at 7 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. Tickets are $10 for the first show and $5 for any other performance by showing a ticket stub. The material in each show is different. Later shows may contain more adult content. Audiences also are welcome at the workshop today at 9 p.m. for a free-will donation. For more information about Sidecar, visit their Web site,, which contains some mature material.

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