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Houston Improv Festival tickles the funny bone this weekend

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Last night, four groups helped kick off the 3rd Annual Houston Improv Festival at the Midtown Arts Center. The festival includes not only local improvers, but also those from around the nation, locations such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Each night offers a variety of diverse talent that is sure to get audiences laughing and coming back for more.

The opening night line-up included local talent from the groups Doctor Cop, Guns for Hire, Torpedo Solider and ComedySportz. Doctor Cop started the night off right with a group of graduate improvers from Station Theater. The troupe of seven gained roaring laughs from the crowd as they transitioned from art show to elementary school playground. The girls of this troupe stole the show. Amy Grisbee, Stephanie Fisher and Skippy Cooper played the “living art” for the first “scene” and all three had perfect comic timing. Brenda Valdivia, as the artist and mother of one of the models, offered thought out, seasoned laughs.

The next “scene” from this group highlighted just how talented Cooper and Valdivia are with perfect improvisation as they fed flawlessly off one another. The women didn’t have all the fun though as the group prepared for their close, which ended with an elementary schoolyard bit, Ned Gayle stepped into the spotlight. He seemed to be the out spoken third grade group leader standing up to two fifth grade bullies and he offered perfect witty banter to end their time on stage. It was a perfect way to get the evening started.

Guns for Hire came on the stage next to offer up some laughs. The troupe consisting of Amy Birkhead, Antoine Culbreath, Robert Price and Shannan Scarsaletta took the stage with ease and audiences could tell from the moment they came on we were in for a real treat. With a suggestion from the audience, the troupe was off and giving the audience tons of laugh out loud moments. This troupe had perfect transitions and flowed from “scene” to “scene” without hesitation that it all seemed scripted since it was executed so impressively.

The next performance came from a duo called Torpedo Solider, which included Saurabh Pande and Ben Mattice. This duo was the winning group from Beta Theater's two-man improv team tournament, The Beta Bracket "Duos". Their performance was a real treat and highlight of the night, as they offered perfect wit and banter, which made it obvious why they won the tournament. Pande appears the more serious of the two with sharp wit and intelligent musing. While Mattice offers a quirky, free spirit fun style of comedy. They are the perfect pair and use their personal strengths to make their performance appealing for all styles of audiences.

Finally, closing the night was the group ComedySportz that makes improv into a sport, literally. Audiences first are introduced to the referee, who most of the time is the person we love to hate when it comes to sports, but Stephen Bennett is a fun, lively, energetic ref that really gets the crowd going. This group promotes family friendly comedy for all and is able to provide that as well as be entertaining, which is a hard feat to accomplish.

The teams, red and blue, come out just as one would expect from any sporting event. Audiences are introduced to the players, captains and then it is right down to the action. The audience gets included throughout the performance offering suggestions and stories that the improvers then incorporate into the show. Christine Wines as the red team captain offered some silly, off the cuff laughs with her energy and fun. Ben Mattice came back to the stage on the blue team, with the same bubbly energy that helped keep the laughs going. Overall, this was a perfect end to the night.

If you missed opening night, there are still plenty of laughs to be had from the festival, which runs through Sunday, April 27. Tonight and Saturday there are two shows starting at 8 pm and 10 pm with talent from all over the nation. On Saturday, be sure to check out the workshops that the festival offers to strengthen your own improv skills. On Sunday, April 27, don’t miss your chance to see a screening of the movie “Close Quarters” with a Q&A afterward by Jet Eveleth and Holly Laurent who appear in the movie.

There is still lots of time to come out and see what the Improv Festival has to offer. For ticket information, be sure to visit the website. There are also weekend passes still available for purchase, which will get you reserved seating. Be sure to keep up to date on all the happenings of the festival by connecting socially on Facebook or following them on Twitter. Don’t be a stick in the mud, come out and support some great improvers because we all need a good laugh.

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