NORMAN — It might come as a surprise, but for improv actors spontaneity takes practice.
For improv performer Kenny Madison, member of O.U. Improv!, rehearsals are the difference between mere amusement and laugh out loud funny.
“Terrorism and disease are two worse things than bad improv,” he said.
Madison is a member of one of the 15 local and national improv troupes preparing for impromptu performances during the fifth annual Improv Festival Oklahoma July 12-14 at the Sooner Theatre, 101 E. Main St. For more information on ticket prices visit festival.reddirtimprov.com.
Organized by Red Dirt Improv, this year’s festival brings a variety of comedic talent from across the state and nation together for three days of unpredictable humor.
“No show is the same, and anything can happen in a festival like this, since there are so many different groups,” said James Murray, actor for Red Dirt Improv and a festival organizer.
Festival headliner Jill Bernard from Minneapolis, Minn., is performing a one-woman 30-minute piece called Drum Machine, Murray said.
Another headliner is IMP, an improv duo made up of Karen Wight from New York City, N.Y., and Asaf Ronen from Austin, Texas, who will silently perform stories using gestures and musical accompaniment, Murray said.
Oklahoma troupes include One State Two State Red State Blue State, Everybody and Their Dog, Homemade Fireworks, O.U. Improv!, Red Dirt Improv and Red Letters. Additional groups performing include Maestro, The Band Wreckers, The Victims, In Our Prime, David & Terry, After School Special, Improv in the Dark, Fun Grip, KC Improv Company and ¡ZARZAMORA!.
While people can’t necessarily be taught how to be funny, they can be taught how to tell a story, Madison said. O.U. Improv! actors practice by reviewing basic story-telling elements.
Sue Ellen Reiman, who will be performing with Oklahoma City-based Everybody and Their Dog, said improv may not need as much preparation as a rehearsed performance but the trick is thinking on the spot and being able to build off of each other.
“It’s different — it’s a different skill set than scripted theater,” Reiman said.
In an improv performance, Reiman said the elements of the performance aren’t set in stone until a performer begins stating facts to build the scene. That’s why troupe members have to be well-acquainted and able to communicate easily with each other.
“We try to tell people things about themselves,” Reiman said. “‘You’ve been waiting here for the last hour, haven’t you?’ and suddenly they have been. Or, ‘Boy, your house is messy,’ and suddenly it is.”
But improv is good for more than just entertainment. Improv is becoming a popular training tool for companies to encourage employee innovation and team-building, Reiman said.
“It’s really good to teach people how to brainstorm and not just shut down ideas but go with them and follow them to their natural conclusion,” she said.
After watching a few of these performances, many people want to try improv themselves, Murray said. This year’s festival includes eight improv workshops for people at any skill level interested in learning from professionals from around the country.
Workshops are 2-5 p.m. July 12-14 and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 13-14 and cost $35 per class or $160 for a five-class pass. For more information visit festival.reddirtimprov.com.