Some businesspeople who have reached the top of their profession will tell you that the opportunity to take a theater elective during their college years proved invaluable to their success. Sounds good to Kat Koppett -- and she's inclined to take things a few steps further.
Co-director of Schenectady's improvisational theater troupe The Mop and Bucket Co., Koppett also travels the country visiting major companies such as Facebook and Apple to discuss "applied improvisation," extolling the virtues of teamwork and collaboration. Encouraging people to be "spontaneous, trust your impulses and be in the moment" might sound a little daunting to some CEOs, but to Koppett it's a key to success.
"That's how I make my living, by taking applied improv to organizations, and talking about how it helps form leadership skills and team-building," said Koppett. "When I was an improv actor, people would tell me, 'If only my boss and team would engage the way you do here.' I thought to myself, 'Wow, talking to businesses and organizations about applied improv might work. Wouldn't that be really cool.'"
Her workshops are apparently producing serious results, but when she's moonlighting at the Mopco Improv Theatre on North Jay Street in Schenectady, the idea is to produce laughs.
"Things always go wrong in improvisational theater, but that's part of the fun," said Koppett, who will be among the cast for Saturday night's performance of "Spontaneous Broadway" at Mopco. "Even when things don't go quite right, we hope it's still entertaining."
Koppett joined Mopco co-director Michael Burns soon after he created the group in the early 1990s. As their stable of improvisational actors grew, so did the company and its audience. After performing at numerous venues in the area and then Proctors, the troupe found its own home at North Jay Street in the Little Italy section of Schenectady. Now housed in what was an old firehouse, the Mopco Improv Theatre has something going on almost every weekend, and things don't slow down for the holiday season.
Mopco's Friday Night Improv this week will be "Solstice Spectacular," and included in the presentation will be an impromptu episode of "The Twilight Zone" based on a title selected by the audience. Then on Saturday it will be "Spontaneous Broadway," an idea Koppett helped create during her time in New York City.
"We had a company, the Freestyle Repertorty Theatre, and it was a group of exceptional improv actors who back then had a unique set of skills," said Koppett. "It's more common now, but we had a guy with the ability to improvise songs. Now our wonderful music director, Mark Meritt, does that for us, and we have a wonderful group of actors who work along with him."
"Spontaneous Broadway" begins with a first act that reflects what a backer's audition might look like in New York City.
"If you want to get a musical produced, you have to go and make presentations to your investors," said Koppett. "So you do excerpts for your investors. The second act is a musical based on the audience's decision from act one. It's complete with costumes and a set, and it becomes sort of a like a reprise to the first act."
Performing with a script, says Koppett, is something she's not looking to return to anytime soon.
"I haven't done scripted theater in a long time and I don't miss it much," she said. "But I have been writing more lately, playwriting, and that seems to be what I'm enjoying most these days."
Koppett, daughter of former New York sportswriter Leonard Koppett, also sings. When she was growing up, singing was a big part of her life.
"When I went off to college, that was one of the career paths I was thinking about," she said. "I had some classic training as a singer, but I chose acting because I was lazy. It felt like being an opera singer was going to take much more discipline."
After graduating from the Tisch School at NYU, Koppett spent more than a decade in New York City as an actor. She played the title role in an off-Broadway production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" and was in a New York production of "Fiddler on the Roof" with Theodore Bikel.
"I did the starving actor thing for about 10 years," said Koppett, who went back to school and got a master's in organizational psychology at Columbia. "Then I discovered improv."
Mop and Bucket Co.
WHERE: Mopco Improv Theatre, 10 North Jay St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday ("Solstice Spectacular") and 8 p.m. Saturday ("Spontaneous Broadway")
HOW MUCH: $15-$6
MORE INFO: www.mopco.org