What do William Shakespeare and improvisational comedy have in common? While Willy Nilly probably didn’t partake in many improv scenes as an accomplished playwright, he may very well have shared his spotlight with the beginnings of the comedy form. Modern improv is attributed to the ancestor Commedia Dell'Arte, a group of travelling troupes who toured Europe from the 1500’s for about 200 years. No doubt, many of Shakespeare’s more classic lines, such as “Villian, I have done thy mother” [Titus Andronicus, Act 4, Scene 2] and “…eat my leek” [Henry V, Act 5, Scene 1] would be repeated to the audience from makeshift stages. The result would be eruptions in laughter from a fishmonger named Geffrey, or two. The loss of something so wonderfully hilarious led to many (okay, just my completely misplaced and illogical) conspiracy theories that America was actually colonized to bring improv back into our lives.
If the Guinness Book of World Records ever starts a category for “Most Unique Improv Format” – and they should, in a raised font on page 1 – Encyclopedia Moronica should take the honors.
It works like this: One Moronican takes the stage as something of a professorial or authoritative type (formerly, they always used the character of an actual history professor, but have relaxed this rule a bit) who comes on stage with a history book, and asks the audience for a page number.
Whatever historical subject matter that is on the chosen page represents the theme of their show, and the authority figure who started the proceedings will start pontificating about it. The rest of the troupe, sitting in the audience, will pelt him with questions, comments, and wisecracks for a couple minutes, before joining him or her onstage where the show begins in earnest.
It was a breezy eve, the kind of eve that was cool enough to enjoy a Pumpkin Spice Latte double shot, extra whip and toot down at the Arboretum. That wasn’t what Blitsy Kittenz had in mind for this Saturday night thought, no, nada, neeha, nope. She planned on cahooting with some Suspects, the writers/actors and director of Suspect: A True Crimedy. Some wig-poppin’, show stoppin’ funny guys and gals by the name of, Sallie Boo Bowen, Bonnie Criss, Jason Hackett, Andrew Plock, Ryan Goldsberry, Jade Smith and Ashley Br-Bright. The interview began in the green room and it also ended in the green room. She entered with the cast already seated then the real story began:
We sit down and speak with Dallas Comedy House's Storytelling student and part of the new "Gettin' It" cast Ellen Fultz. Ellen talks about how storytelling opened her up to the strength in vulnerability and guesses the backstory of a fellow coffee shop dweller. Along with storytelling, she can predict your future and foretells that in eight months I will encounter a "nice guy" who will creep his way into my facebook, heart and a seat at my thanksgiving dinner table. This message is for you blondie - if you can't eat jell-o with chopsticks, don't bother. Ellen, we wish you a lot of fun, laughter and frustrating transaction scenes in your upcoming Improv One class.
In spending two hours with Watermelon, a semi-experimental former Ewing troupe currently dabbling in musical inspirations for their scenes, there was only one item they insisted be included in this profile, and that is this: Watermelon is Kaspars Skels’ 11th-favorite improv troupe. Even though he’s in it.
Taken at face value (probably not a wise idea) that really says something about DCH improv troupes, or at least the troupes Kaspars has seen, because man, what a fun, funny, warm, and just awesome troupe Watermelon is. I didn’t go into this rehearsal expecting to come out a drooling fanboy, but here we are.
Besides the discriminating Kaspars, the rest of the troupe is made up of Adam Fullerton, Austin Guttery, Heather McKinney, Caroline Phillips, Frank Buttafarro, Sara Aisenberg, Jame McCraw, and Jesse Gonzales.
They seemed especially relaxed and there to have fun, all of them, which was striking for a Sunday morning. I asked them if that comes down to their obvious chemistry, or did they have some sort of hack to shed nerves?
"I think most of our [relaxed nature] is our chemistry, and we know we are going to support each other,” answered Adam. We’re big fans of each other."
Heather emphatically drove home the point. "Everything I say will be liked, and loved, and accepted."
If you’re an improviser, you’ve probably been in improv situations where “I got your back” has been more of a plaudit; not insincere, but not deeply felt and invested in either. Watermelon is a shining beacon to the magic that happens when you are there for your troupemates from the very bottom of your heart.
Is it because they’re rigid practitioners of proper improv? Perhaps, but it seemed more because they just like each other so damn much. "We're obsessed with each other. Our Facebook chat is constantly going. My boyfriend will hear my notification ding and say, 'Is that The Melons?'" said Sara.
Their skills and coaching were on point too. I didn’t recognize their warmup games. Turns out that’s because they make ‘em up on the spot. Their adviser, David Allison, encouraged them to "…perform like no one is going to come out and support you. If you're on the sidelines, come out and support."
Check out Watermelon when you can (the new semester’s schedule should be coming out soon with the deets). When you do, ask Kaspars what his ten favorite improv troupes are. Be sure to see them too.
Kevin Beane graduated from the DCH improv program in 2016 and is in the DCH troupe Preschool Fight Club. He also cohosts Quizprov, with occasional DCH shows, and performs in the Dallas-area troupe Autocomplete.He likes sports, eating, sleeping, board games, poker, euchre, and procrastinating. He hails from Akron, Ohio.
You’ve done it. You’ve graduated from the Dallas Comedy House Improv program, you’ve put together a team of like-minded improvisers almost as brilliant as yourself, and you’re ready to take DCH, and then the world, and then the universe, by storm.
But wait! A couple practices in, you realize that you don’t have a teacher and a TA to hold your hand anymore. You need guidance. You need assistance.
That’s why we’ve created New Troupe/Old Troupe. It is a vehicle for new troupes (together a less than a year) to get their burning questions answered by troupes that have been together for more than a year. If you have been together for precisely one year to the day, I have no use for you. Sorry.