Making somethin’ out of nothin’ is the basis of improv comedy. A newly formed troupe, the Stowaways, brings this art form to Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
“We are going for a classic style of improv that you would see at Second City or the Groundlings mixed with some contemporary avant-garde theater,” says player and group director Rob Reese, 47. “By drawing on all these diverse influences, we can come at a single topic from a whole lot of angles.”
According to Reese, his ragtag group of players evokes the zaniness and quirkiness of Jim Henson’s Muppets.
“We have a leading lady, Lexi Orphanos, who is like Miss Piggy. There’s a player who is visceral and reacts to everything like Animal, that’s Sarah Galvin. Winn Kline reminds me of Scooter, someone who is a little more cerebral,” Reese says. “I’m Kermit, trying to keep it all together while maintaining a sense of fun.”
The show starts with a series of comedic exercises, including freeze tag, where two players start improvising a scene and another yells “freeze,” tags one out and takes that place, starting a new scene.
“We put ourselves in theatrical situations that cause us to give honest reactions — both emotional and physical,” says player Jake Haven Parisse, 22, who took classes at The PIT (Peoples Improv Theater) in Manhattan and notes Jim Carrey as an inspiration. “Improv means getting rid of the little guy in the back of your head that makes you stop and think about things before you do or speak.”
The audience plays an important role in any improv show.
“The crowd is almost like writing the show,” says Kline, 26, who started with Random Phonetic Gestures Comedy in Michigan and cites Tina Fey as an influence. “We will ask them for suggestions, which we will juggle into the next scene to impress them.”
Reese adds, “Sometimes it could be a single word or even sharing a story about your day.”
But no one will be put on the spot.
“We will never force anybody to take part, but the more they participate, the better the show is going to be,” says Orphanos, 21, who trained at Upright Citizens Brigade and idolizes Carol Burnett and Betty White.
Everything that happens onstage is created in the moment.
“No material is pre-written,” Reese says. “The content will be different from show to show and nothing will be repeated.”
Each of these players say the key to improv is . . . listening.
“It’s not about going up there and being loud. You must listen with your eyes and ears because you are building a reality out of nothing,” says Galvin, a musician who is new to improv. “If you don’t intently listen, nothing you are going to do will make sense to the audience.”
The Stowaways trained for months working out their skills at the Triple Crown Ale House in Manhattan. But if the show is all improv, what’s to rehearse?
“We can’t fine-tune material, but we can fine-tune our reflexes, even though they will be different every time,” Parisse says. “It’s about making sure the mental machine stays oiled.”
Kline adds, “You get to know what people are good at just from watching and interacting with each other. The whole point is to make each other look good.”
The show has a PG-13 tone and steers away from politics.
“We don’t want to polarize the audience,” Galvin says. “We’re not here to judge what your politics are. We just want you to laugh.”
After an intermission, the second act consists of a fully improvised play with musical elements.
“We want it to be funny but also have a big theatrical payoff,” Parisse says. “It will feel like a show.”
Says Reese, “If we can connect with an audience by making them think about things in a different way, then we have succeeded.”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. March 3 and 17 at Bay Street Theater on the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor
INFO 631-725-9500, baystreet.org