Mixing and matching at the Upfront
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
When I first starting getting onstage at Bellingham’s Upfront Theatre soon after it opened its doors in 2006, there weren’t vast numbers of performers waiting backstage to fill in. In fact, during its first year of operation, improvisers from points both north and south were just as likely to be in front of the audience on any given Friday or Saturday night as were local thespians.
To say things have changed in the last seven years is a bit of an understatement.
“As the theater has grown, it’s no longer just a core group of around 12 of us that are all addicted to improv, hanging out every waking moment,” longtime performer and Upfront Marketing Coordinator Galen Emanuele says. “We now have around 50 to 60 improv students in classes at any given time, about 20 mainstage members, and 12 satellite ensemble members.”
And, although Thursday night’s performances still allow those with less stage time under their belts to practice their craft in front of living, breathing humans prepared to clap and laugh, Emanuele says the theater—of which I am currently an alumnus—is opening a Sunday night show called “Dynamo” that will allow the community of eager improvisers a platform to come together to both compete and learn.
The format for the new show goes like this: Twelve improvisers—including mainstage members, satellite members, those in various levels of study, and one brave soul from the audience who will sign up each week before the show starts—will compete for the “Dynamo” title. Through numerous round of scored improvised scenes and games, players will either advance to the next round or face elimination. At the end of every show, the last performer left will be crowned that night’s “Improv Dynamo.”
“Students will be able to get some stage time performing with more experienced improvisers in front of an audience, which doesn’t happen now,” Emanuele says, “and we open the door for different levels of skill to mix onstage together.”
When asked if he really things those disparate skill levels should include someone who may or not even know what improv is—the rogue random audience member—Emanuele is quick to answer in the affirmative.
“I think we’ll definitely get some takers,” he says. “Audiences have a lot of love and compassion for the underdog, and this show is designed for all skill levels. It’s a unique elimination-type show that gives the audience a behind-the-scenes look at how improv is done, and what it makes it good or bad.
“The audience also has a say in who gets eliminated because they provide the scores for the scenes. It naturally works out that the better improvisers will move ahead while the weaker ones are sifted out, but anyone can win because in improv anything can happen.”
Another draw to the Sunday night show is that tickets are a measly $2, making “Dynamo” affordable for just about anyone—heck, you can probably find that amount in loose change sitting on your nightstand.
“The goal of this show is to create this awesome Sunday night ‘Dynamo’ scene, and we’d rather have full houses every week then try to make a bunch of profit out of it,” Emanuele says. “The show is as much for our own community as is it for our fans and audiences. It’s also a total mix of skill levels, so you’re going to see a scene or two that just totally sucks, and some that are completely awesome. That’s part of what’s going to be so fun about it.”
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