In the midst of their 10th anniversary season, The Unexpected Guests will share the gift of comedy during an improv workshop Saturday. The group might add to its seven members and has issued a challenge to a recently formed improv comedy troupe.
Of The Unexpected Guests' founding members, only Gary Peters and Jane Fischer remain. They're joined by Tim Smeal, Alison Barry, Wayne Carlsson, Heather Felton and Malachi Livermore. The group performs the second Saturday of each month at the Reg Studio Theater and rehearses every Monday.
Featuring the type of comedy made famous by Chicago's "Second City" and TV's "Whose Line is it Anyway," The Guests like to start their shows and rehearsals by "shaking it out" from head to toe.
Improv comedy troupe The Unexpected Guests includes, from left, Gary Peters, Alison Barry, Heather Felton, Wayne Carlsson and Tim Smeal. Members Jane Fischer and Malachi Livermore are not pictured.
P-J photo by Scott Shelters
"The difference between acting and a lot of other activities is all you have to use as your tool is your body," Smeal said. "It's important to make sure you're limber. You're really kind of shaking off the rest of the day."
The seven members work throughout Western New York. The Monday night rehearsals allow them to de-stress and get feeling funny. Peters is a designer, and Fischer directs SBI Health Education. Smeal is an arts educator and advocate. Carlsson works as a chiropractor, and Barry is the director of SUNY Fredonia's ticket office. Felton works in the art department at The Post-Journal, and Livermore is a retail associate.
After getting the blood flowing, the Guests let the comedy roll. The group knows more than 100 games, which it plays during rehearsals and shows. Some, such as step-up games, involve audience participation.
"Step-up games are when we actually try to be funny," Carlsson said. "In regular scenes, we're not trying to come up with punch lines, puns or jokes."
That's exactly what they do in step-up games. The group's members believe everyday scenes can be even funnier than pun-based jokes or games, however. Through improvisation, each performer helps move the scenes.
"The things that are the most funny are the most accessible," Peters said, noting he joined the Guests in hopes of never having to play the same scene twice.
Barry joined the group because she liked the challenge it presented.
"When I first started, it scared me, but I wanted to push myself to overcome that," she said.
After leaving the academic world, Smeal wanted to find an on-stage outlet. The Guests provided what he needed.
"I was excited to perform community theater that wasn't 'Our Town' or 'Sound of Music,'" he said.
Carlsson wanted to find a performance outlet that provided him with flexibility. Due to his job, he doesn't have time to memorize lines needed for other on-stage performances.
Felton just wanted another creative outlet.
"I needed a fun activity that I was excited about," she said. "It's scary to get up there. I have no performing background. It scared the crap out of me, but I liked it."
Rehearsals have given the performers their fair share of laughs over the years.
"We have often sat here and cried from laughing so hard," Barry said.
Those who want a laugh themselves might consider attending Saturday's workshop or one of the group's upcoming shows, which cost $5 to get into.
"That's really the most bang for your buck in the county," Smeal said.
Admission to the workshop, which will run from 3-6 p.m. at the Reg Studio Theater, is $20 and can be paid at the door.
Participants will learn the basics of improvisation in an informal atmosphere. No experience is necessary, and participants from previous workshops are welcome to attend.
"At least once yearly, we run a workshop to introduce interested folks to improv," Smeal said. "Typically, it's an introduction for more advanced performers to audition for the group. All participants need is a willingness to have fun. The same things that make people good human beings make them good at improv - listening to others, being generous and a willingness to work with others."
Attendees should wear loose, comfortable clothing. Reservations are requested and can be made by calling 485-8953, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or on the Facebook event wall.
The workshop comes at a time when improv is on the rise in Chautauqua County. A recently created group, called "Nameless," rehearses regularly at The Forum, and the Labyrinth Press Company hosts open-mic comedy nights.
The Guests hope to perform alongside Nameless in the near future.
"We would like to issue a formal challenge to Nameless for a head-to-head ComedySportz challenge," Smeal said, adding those types of challenges are common in the comedy world. The audience would determine the winner, and the challenge could take place anywhere at any time in Jamestown. ComedySportz features teams of "actletes" competing in improvisational scenes and games.
When reached for comment, Nameless director and producer Conor McGibboney was open to the idea of squaring off with The Unexpected Guests. An improv comedy battle could be just around the corner.
As the Guests ready for Saturday and their upcoming shows, they'll continue to polish up improv comedy 10 years in the making.
"Generally, after each show, there's satisfaction from a job well done," Smeal said. "The part that's torturous is everything you did you know you could've done better. We don't spend a lot of time talking about what went well. We spend a lot of time talking about the things that didn't go well and how to make them better. It's a journey without a destination. This is never finished."