Usually when I write a review it’s with the hope that you will take in the show that I’ve just seen.
Alas, if you weren’t at 10 North Jay on Friday night, February 28, 2020, from 8 to 10 p.m., you’ll never see what we did.
Which is the nature of theatrical improvisation. But I highly recommend that you get to 10 North Jay some night soon and make your own once-in-a-lifetime memories. I know we’ll be back.
Headed by Kat Koppett and Michael Burns, this theater company offers improv classes (see the website) and performs two or three times a weekend, in rotating formats. For example, “Maestro” is a competition in which actors are eliminated by audience applause, round-by-round, until there is one improv wiz still standing, rewarded with a crown and $2.00.
On Friday night, 15 talented risk-takers with varying degrees of experience took prompts from Koppett and Burns, with occasional suggestions by the audience, and came up with on-the-spot scenes that always had us smiling and frequently had us howling. In fact no one in the audience really wanted to see anyone eliminated, but at the end of the night—the merits of all the others notwithstanding--we weren’t surprised that Livia Walker and Matt Via were the final contestants. More about them in a moment.
What kind of prompts? The first event was called Echo Game in which an actor in one scene had to repeat—at Burns’s cue--the last line an actor in another scene had just said and continue developing his/her totally different scene.
In another skit, a number of actors had to create an Expressionist dance to music that wasn’t really appropriate for the genre. And in a third sketch, two performers had to make up a movie in another language (Arabic, this time around), which was then “translated” by a third actor. Wacky!
At intermission I spoke with actors Kara and Kerri, who gave us insights into improv. Kara said, “The first rule of improv is to make your partner look good,” and Kerri noted that the whole improv experience is really a team sport.
Helpful observations! In the second half I noticed how smoothly Via and Walker developed their two-person skit that took place in a restaurant. Twice Via came up with a single word—“merger” and then “tires”—that inspired Walker to take the scene and run with it in fresh directions. Give-and-take. Back-and-forth.
For her solo spot in the final round, Walker wondrously developed a scene in which she played both an old man and a younger woman, imbuing the situation with humor and poignance. Via then claimed the title of improv Maestro with a mind-blowing depiction of five (or was it six?) characters at a high school wrestling match: a tour de force of quick thinking, voice changes, and spot-on timing.
The next Maestro contest will be on March 27, but between now and then there are a number of shows worth your visit.
WHAT: Maestro: Improv Comedy Competition and other performances
WHERE: MOPCO Improv Theatre, 10 N. Jay St., Schenectady
WHEN: Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays
HOW MUCH: $15-$6, depending on age and show
MORE INFO: 518.577.6726, or mopco.org