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September 30, 2005 - THEY are Featured in the Miami Herald

THEY improv was featured in an article by Brett O'Bourke profiling the South Florida improv scene in the Miami Herald.

Tropical Life - Let's Go
The improv scene's improving in South Florida
By Brett O'Bourke - Friday, September 30th, 2005

theySouth Florida isn't exactly a hotbed of live theater. Most people are more familiar with waiting in line to get into a nightclub than Waiting for Godot (it's a play by Samuel Beckett. Check it out).

One form of theater, however, is pulling in small (but faithful) audiences from the Grove to Jupiter: improvisational comedy.

With six well-established South Florida troupes, chances are there is one near you: Just the Funny performs near Coconut Grove, Impromedy in southwest Miami, Laughing Gas in Miami Lakes, They improv in Broward, Mod 27 in Lake Worth and Gated Community in Jupiter.

While channel surfing the nether regions of your cable box late at night, you've probably at least caught a few minutes of the American version (the show was created in the United Kingdom) of Whose Line Is It Anyway? hosted by Drew Carey. It's classic improv. Simple scenarios are created and the actors must play them out without script or guidance. They make it up as they go along, and the result -- they hope -- is funny. It's bare bones theater: no sets, few props, the occasional attempt at costume thrown quickly over the top of clothes.

''All we need is a stage, some lights, some fans -- which is optional sometimes -- and we're ready to go,'' says Alex Perdomo of Just the Funny.

accusedSAME, ONLY DIFFERENT

While all six South Florida troupes perform improv, each comes at it with its own brand of humor and style.

Laughing Gas (the grandaddy of South Florida improv, formed from the remnants of Miami's first improv company, Mental Floss, founded in 1986) performs the most Whose Line-ish type show with some music, improv games and short sketches.

Just the Funny, which was formed by a splinter group of Laughing Gassers in 1999 (apparently even comedians can have ``creative differences''), and Impromedy perform a similar style but with fewer games and more sketches. And since their audiences consist mostly of college kids, they get a little more crude.

cooperationThey improv founder Todd Rice, who is also a member of Laughing Gas, says his troupe performs Chicago-style improv (Chicago is the birthplace of modern improvisational comedy and is home to famed companies such as Second City and ImprovOlympic, from which more than a dozen Saturday Night Live actors have emerged).

''It's quick, quick, quick,'' Rice says. ``There are no breaks, everything moves from one bit to the next. Fast.''

Mod 27, which got its name from the portable classroom they used for rehearsals, specializes in long-form. They'll take a single idea or scenario, usually an audience suggestion, and build on it over the course of scenes.

Gated Community, which added a show because it was selling out the 200-seat theater it performs in, sticks to the short form and musical parody.

LABOR OF LOVE

Sell-out shows are not the norm for most of the troupes. Actors aren't paid and ticket proceeds go toward overhead (read marketing), which may be small, but so is the take at the door. Tickets average about $10.

Nobody's getting rich (or even making gas money for that matter); everybody's doing it for the love.

group''We have as good a time, more so sometimes, than the theater audience does,'' says Perdomo.

The troupes say they draw audiences of 10 to 50 people per show. Except Gated Community, of course, but troupe member Jesse Furman attributes their success partially to location:

''Other than going to the beach, there isn't crap else to do in Jupiter, Fla.,'' he says.

Unfortunately for the companies south of Jupiter, that's not the case. They say getting people out to see the shows is the hardest part of the funny business in South Florida.

''Getting on stage, being funny is not the hard part,'' Rice says. ``Getting people in the door the first time is the hard part . . . I'm shocked that in an entertainment-oriented city, more people don't come out to any kind of theater for that matter but especially improv . . . but once they see a show they're hooked, they always come back.''

Which, it appears, is why improv is growing in South Florida.

''I'm surprised there aren't more [improv companies],'' Furman says. ``It's improv. It's funny. It's such a great thing to go out and laugh for an hour and a half.''

IF YOU GO

For information and showtimes check out improvsouthflorida.com and improvmiami.com.

About THEY improv
THEY improv is an informal group of actors getting together and performing improv, often for charities and always for the betterment of everyone. For now there is no corporate structure and no financial relationship, with their first several performances to be done for charities and the money never even being seen by the troupe. Marketing funds and efforts will either be donated by the members or provided by the charities themselves.

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