Just like the TV show, Who’s Line Is It Anyway?, improv continues to thrive and grow in the Kansas City area with the help of several established, talented groups that perform regularly at various venues in the Crossroads and Wesptort areas.
Friday night, July 13, four improv groups converged on The Buffalo Room for a weekend of zany, crazy, insane comedy. The groups: Focus Group, Business of Otters, Snooze Alarm, Dog and Friend Dog, converged on the small venue at the back of Kansas City’s famous burger joint, Westport Flea Market.
The groups share several members in common. The Focus Group consists of Andy Perkins, Ben Auxier, Brian Huther, Joshua Gleeson, and Michael Hudgens. The Business of Otters group leans on the talents of Perkins, Auxier, Gleeson, and Hudgens. The smaller groups of Snooze Button and Dog and Friend Dog consist of two members each. Perkins and Gleason comprise Snooze Button, while Huther and Auxire make up Dog and Friend Dog.
On the particular evening of review, Business of Otters, Snooze Button, and Dog & Friend Dog performed for a nearly sold out audience. The performance began just after 8 p.m and lasted about 90 minutes.
“Friday night was actually only the second Focus Group show although all of us have been improvising for several years. The first one occurred earlier this year at the Uptown Arts Bar. All of us are a part of multiple groups which is why we are able to have an entire evening of three sets with only five people,” Perkins said.
The performance began with an introductory short skit that allowed all performers an introduction to the audience and a short skit/game that showed how fast the members can spin a short word, occupation, or place into a funny piece of frivolity and mirth. The skits focused more on the outrageous situations and finding comedy from within, rather than rely on off color language for laughs.
The evening allowed each of the groups to work through several newly crafted pieces as audience members shouted out suggestions. The audience was asked for a name, an place, an occupation, and then the comedy troupe began creating a dazzling story of silliness.
A later skit chose an audience member to work inside the piece as the springboard for a skit about waking up and where the day would take her. The story involved an ambulance, a cab, an alarm clock, among other things.
One skit had audience members draw from a container to assign the parts of the skit for each on-stage performer. The drawings hepled create the randomness of the evening and showcased the talents of the performers to jump into any skit and create something from what was occurring at that particular time.
Audience participation happened again when the groups combined for a ‘beat box’ game where they had to rhyme and create lyrics to fit a format. In this game, the audience provided a name to start the skit and the rhyming continues until someone failed to produce a rhyme.
Overall, the evening continued at a fast pace, displaying the rapid-fire creativity of all performers. Paramount to the success was the trust developed among performers to know that if they stumbled or became trapped another could jump in for a switch to the scene. Skits changed quickly, and then reverted back to previous dialogue to keep a sense of cohesion to an otherwise uncohesive set of circumstances.
The evening began strong and continues strong, funny, and fast-paced throughout. For those who have not seen improv, Focus Group proved they have something constantly brewing to entertain almost anyone. An evening of improv comes with high recommendations for those who like the absurd and like to laugh.
Yes, the evening of improv does utilize some strong language, but get real, it’s nothing a school age child would not already know. The show would be fine for older children, but maybe not elementary ages.
As the evening progressed, the different groups stepped up to perform their own skits for the audience. The evening had outrageous comedy, audience participation, audience involvement on stage, music, laughs, laughs, and more laughs.
What seems to be our format at the moment (which is always open to change), is doing three long-form sets with short form games sprinkled between them, Perkins added.
“We also try and find a theme. This particular show was music.” Perkins said.
“The Focus Group itself basically formed because we love doing improv together, found a space that was available, and took advantage of it. The thing I love about working with these guys is how dedicated and passionate they are–not to mention hysterically brilliant,” Perkins said.
“In improv, one learns very early on about the idea of acceptance and building, Perkins said of techniques of improv. “We are taught to say ‘Yes,’ to ideas and then add onto to them, rather then question or deny them. In this way, we are able to create something from nothing.
“After acceptance, listening and support are the two biggest skills I can think of. We always have to make sure we are on the same page, and the only way to do that is to be so in tune with each other. It makes it almost seems like we are reading each other's minds at times. Luckily, all of us have worked on several projects together both improvisational and theatrically so that group connection is already there,” Perkins said.
“The KC Improv Company (KCIC) has shows every single Saturday night at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at the Kick Comedy Theatre which is attached to the Westport Coffeehouse. We have different shows throughout the month to cater to many different tastes. Most of The Focus Group are in KCIC,” According to Perkins, said.
Also, Perkins said, the Kansas City Improv Festival is coming up in September. It is one of the longest running comedy festivals in the country. The festival runs from Sept. 5-13.
“Nothing has been announced about who will be performing yet, but they typically select a nice mix of solid local and out-of-town troupes,” Perkins said.
Fortunately or unfortunately for Perkins, he misses the festival this season because he’s accepted an acting job to travel through Argentina to expand their English as a Second Language program and perform for school groups until November. He leaves on Tues. July 15, for his South American work adventure.