Naming an improv troupe The Show means it’s destined for many, many Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?”-style jokes. That bit was a classic, polished routine, but the new comedy team at The Box Performance Space & Improv Theatre lives in the unscripted and unexpected. Doug Montoya and Kristen Berg, co-founders of The Box, say they have long wanted an in-house, ongoing improv group. They called on fellow lover of spontaneous funny things Cody Dove to help achieve the goal.
Dove is an alumnus and employee of The Second City, the renowned Chicago-based improv theater and school. He used to live in Albuquerque, however, and he returned to audition, cast and direct a crack team of performers. The eight-member cast of The Show has been training together for two months under his sharp senses. This is clear when watching the group rehearse.
Dove’s energy as a director is calm and nonjudgmental. He manages to give true praise and constructive criticism in the same sentence. Unconsciously entertaining, he often gives feedback in the style the performers have just acted. If two actors have been improvising a song, he might sing his critique in a few example lines. When he puts himself out there just as the performers do, it creates an atmosphere of trust. He also offers specific examples of what he’s talking about, which can be more useful than general notes. Dove showcases a great philosophy for directors: I won’t ask the actors to do anything I wouldn’t do.
During last Thursday night’s rehearsal, The Show’s improvisers were relaxed and comfortable with one another. In the rehearsal run-through and a Friday night press preview show, they were open and playful.
Naturally, a director’s attitude is reflected in his or her cast. During last Thursday night’s rehearsal, The Show’s improvisers were relaxed and comfortable with one another. In the rehearsal run-through and a Friday night press preview show, they were open and playful. For the most part, the actors were willing to tackle awkward pauses with grace and accept bizarre sidetracks by their fellow players with belief. The stress to “be funny right now”—which kills comedy—only reared its panicked head a couple of times.
Another common pitfall in improv troupes is the bossy or oblivious (or both) person who dives into a developing scene and takes over, veering it off course. There was none of this in the preview of The Show. Every member of the group seemed appreciative of the others’ work. They let each person build up moments, there to bail them out if necessary, but not prematurely so.
The Show works in short-form improv based on audience suggestions. Its structure is firm, from the cast’s business attire to a different team member confidently announcing every scene at its beginning and explaining how it will work. There is an efficiency of movement—the feeling that everything about who-will-go-where-and-say-what between the scenes has been predecided. These hard boundaries give the actors more freedom to play. You might be drowning, but it’s OK if you know you’re near the edge of the pool.
In the preview run, laughs were more easily gotten with some short-form improv scenes, such as when one-liners were collected from the audience and then mashed Mad Libs-style into dialogue. These were hilariously absurd, but the true test of improv skills is in story development—longer sketches, where more than two lines of dialogue are needed. The Show had it down. The ensemble seemed to want to explore things, seeing just how weirdly topics could be mined, rather than rushing to the punch line.
The standouts of the preview weekend—for full on, no-fear, I’m-