When I first heard about Paducah Improv, I was skeptical. Having studied improvisation in high school — the boring, dramatic kind — I knew how many variables go into each performance, and how quickly an unscripted show can devolve if any of those variables goes wrong.
I can’t say my skepticism went away the moment I took my seat in the group’s rehearsal space on Sunday night and heard Eric Hobbs instruct the group to pretend to throw three punches in slow motion. It was hilarious, sure, but would it lead anywhere?
But after the guys gathered onstage and began to free-associate, finally breaking into a group rendition of the first bars of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” I was sold on the idea that a group of eight people could, with the proper instruction, develop the kind of group mind improv requires.
Over the 20 or so minutes that followed, Paducah Improv members proved they could sustain it, as well. They took the ideas they developed at the beginning and worked them into a set of three brief scenes, followed by a game. After that, they repeated the pattern, building on the three earlier scenes, breaking for a game, and finally concluding the vignettes. It was truly impressive.
It’s easy for an outside viewer to find herself swept away by the enthusiasm, energy, and downright wackiness of an improv show. What a lot of us don’t see is how many hours and how much discipline goes into each performance.
One troupe member mentioned that people often ask how you can rehearse for something that is supposed to be spontaneous. The truth is, it’s not as spontaneous as it looks.
The long-form improv practice showed me how important it is not only to be able to make creative associations, but to be able to remember what others said during the opening. Many creative people lose their keys every 30 seconds, so holding on to that much information and recalling it on the spot certainly requires something special.
During their interviews, all the actors emphasized the importance of learning the rules of the various games and being able to follow them. Only once the framework is set can actors exercise the flexibility and receptiveness that make improvisation work.
Call Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641.