Pick Your Poison improv ready to set sail

With two successful performances over the past weekend, I hereby christen the good ship HMS Pick Your Poison into the seas of Sheridan theatre.
I’ve been performing in improvisation since my junior year of college. It’s an art form that has always fascinated me. I’ve often seen an outstanding improv performance, watching as the characters get themselves into outlandishly impossible situations, only to resolve these impossible issues completely, leaving the audience as astonished as a gifted illusionist’s audience, wondering, “How’d they do that?”

It’s been even more rewarding to perform in an improv scene when such questions are obviously on the audience’s faces; it almost makes the performer echo, “How’d we do that?”

Acclaimed improv instructor Keith Johnstone often compared an improv audience to an audience at a frenzied sporting event, wherein the spectators are watching with baited breath, fervently hoping for a glorious outcome (i.e. the game-winning grand slam or the impossible field goal kick).

When the spectators witness such an event, they erupt in an explosion of praise and joy and exuberant disbelief, as though they didn’t expect what just happened to happen, even though they’d been praying for it all the while.

OK, so I might be aggrandizing the idea a bit. But, each year that I study this art and perform it, I get closer and closer to that feeling. For the past year, an idea has been brewing in my laboratory for a new improv format.

Most likely, the Sheridan audience would be familiar with short-form improv, by which I mean an improvisational comedy show that consists of several short (3-5 minute) disconnected scenes, based on audience suggestions to ensure that the ideas had never been rehearsed. What I’ve been concocting is something a little more involved than that.

I call this latest idea “Pick Your Poison Theatre.”
The concept is relatively simple. The audience will come to the show and be able to select their show from a menu, ordering the night’s bill of fare from a smorgasbord of fine, delicious choices.
As it is improvisational theatre, all that will be seen each night will never have been done before, and never will be done again — all based upon audience suggestion.

By popular vote, the audience will first select an “appetizer” scene — a short scene meant to tease the audience’s humor palate until the next course. Next, the audience will select an “entree” or two — a series of connected short scenes, all part of the same story, which the performers will connect at the end, as though they had planned to do so the whole time. Finally, the audience will select a “dessert” scene — a loud, utterly hilarious scene that will put the cherry on top of the audience’s experience.
This has been a project that I’ve been workshopping with community members for the past year.

Since January, I’ve been developing this format with Sheridan College’s Twisted Stair Theatre troupe, with a lot of help from SC Theatre Instructor DannyLee Hodnett and my improv comrade-in-arms, Justin Stroup.

This work was finally presented as a prototype to audiences during this past weekend’s “Twisted Stair Night of Comedy.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this group of college theatre students has a great feel for comedy, which is only matched by their ability to deliver it. For all the years that I’ve been performing improv, I’ve come close to the momentous buzzer-beater plays that I described earlier.

With this past weekend’s shows … nothing but net. This past weekend’s shows were a marvelous success, and I intend for Pick Your Poison Theatre to be gracing the stages of Sheridan more frequently, and quite soon.

Keep your eyes peeled for that name — Pick Your Poison. We plan to book several events over the summer, as well as get our marketing platforms up and running. This show is performed by SC college students, so we’ll probably perform in mainly family-friendly venues. I’m sure we’ll have a Facebook page soon and for those of you that appreciate the social media nouveau, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a Twitter account as well.

Thanks for all your support, Sheridan! We’ll be delivering the comedy soon!

Aaron Odom is a regular contributor to Scene


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