Bent logic on the fly9/30/2015
“Improv-nesia” is the word for it, according to the members of Comedy Xperiment. The Des Moines troupe has been doing its special brand of improv for years now, and yet the players find it hard to recall individual shows. Even the bits that rocked the Stoner Theater soon drop out of their heads.
“The best moments are those you can’t remember,” says Joe Gentzler. It all takes place inside a world you just dreamed up, and you’re in there, too.”
So after the show, everyone suffers “improv-nesia.” Back in this world, Gentzler and others struggle to recollect. What was that one, they ask each other, where the Keebler Elves took on the garden leprechauns? And the leprechauns cut down the elves’ tree? The audience was roaring at that one, recalls Susie Irish — but she too can’t recall much else.
“The logic of what’s onstage takes over,“ says colleague Darin Webb.
Logic? With elves versus leprechauns? Yet as Comedy Xperiment prepares to launch another season, with monthly performances through May (plus a special show New Year’s Eve), the conversation often turns serious. Joe Van Haecke, the North High School teacher who founded the troupe 13 years ago, calls what CXP does a “craft.” The comedy, he claims, develops “organically,” the natural result of having “so many ideas in play.”
Just a couple of ideas, however, kick off each show, and these come from the audience. The players arrive with questions, teasing out ordinary-yet-oddball details. What, for instance, was the worst present you ever received as a kid? The answer, combined with one or two others, might then set off an evening of delicious weirdness. On the fly, the troupe whips up two acts, a good 90 minutes extrapolating, complicating, and, of course, improvising.
Unlike Second City or other groups, CXP doesn’t work from established routines. The Des Moines troupe offers no Coneheads, no “The Californians.” Rather, in developing what Van Haecke calls “long-form improv,” their weekly rehearsals concentrate on creating chemistry.
“Improv is all about strategy and relationships. We have to know each other’s rhythms,” explains Gentzler.
Thus, they don’t use a musician currently. The one who fit their special mix moved out of state. So, too, during the intermission for each show they don’t lay out anything specific for the next act. A better alternative grew out of their work with other groups during festivals in Kansas City and elsewhere.
“We learned that the best way to use the intermission is to go over everything we’ve got so far, the characters and conflicts,” says Irish. “We stop just short of planning what’ll happen next.”
In other words, they let that night’s world develop its own bent logic.“It’s as if, every week, we get together and play — and then once a month we open the curtain and let a group of strangers join in,” says Van Haecke.
Overheard In the Lobby: In Ankeny, the thriller “Deathtrap” opens this weekend. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.