October 11, 2007

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Suggestions from the audience
Improv group offers a different show everytime
By Brian Early bearly@hippopress.com

Comedy and theater collide on one stage with Stranger Than Fiction, a New Hampshire-based improv comedy troupe thatís been gaining a steady following since its founding about four years ago.

Currently featuring a crew of a dozen members, Stranger Than Fiction is Brian Paul, Brian Spielvogel, Chris Bujold, Emily Briand, John Herman, Jon Wellington, Kristen Vermilyea, Mia Stendahl, Michelle Boncek, Noah Sheola, Petrus Albus and Steve Johnson.

Stranger Than Fiction has done some strange and interesting things to get people laughing, like staging a battle-to-the-death scene between historical figures like Albert Einstein, Cleopatra and John Wilkes Booth, and playing a live version of Pac-Man on the streets of downtown Portsmouth, and conducting follow-the-leader-style improvised dances with the entire troupe taking part.

The members of Stanger Than Fiction also offer a variety of classes for children and adults, where the craft of the quick response can be learned. They offer ďimprov-labsĒ available to students, and have established a ďCamprov,Ē which is a weekend camp available for adults.

Cast members Petrus Albus and Brian Paul answer some questions about the comedy troupe:

So why does Stranger Than Fiction do these strange yet funny things?
Brian Paul: Weíre claiming New Hampshire as our stomping grounds, stretching ourselves over the entire state. We donít claim one city as home. Our goal is to build a better scene in New Hampshire thatís more aware of the improv comedy act.

Whatís it like watching a Stranger Than Fiction performance?
Petrus Albus: Our show is a lot like the show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Thatís the kind of improv weíre performing now. We also do other shows but right now weíre doing more of whatís called short-form, which is a series of games, some longer than others, based on suggestions from the audience. Each game starts with some sort of suggestion that we ask the audience for. Sometimes the audience will even come on stage and be a part of it.

Does the whole troupe perform at every performance?
Brian Paul: We do have a slightly oversized group but we can perform as a whole, but frequently a few people wonít be able make it. So we just make sure that weíre large enough to still perform.

Can you give me an example of a suggestion you might get?
Petrus Albus: It could be, for example, a box falls out of the sky and whatís inside and someone from the audience will say whateverís on their mind, something like that, or an object or a place. It could be any kind of a suggestion that helps us to create our scene and character. All of our scenes and themes are improvised. We donít go into a specific scene knowing our lines or even what character weíre going to play.

If everythingís improvised, then how do you practice?
Petrus Albus: Itís part of the challenge of improv. We donít have sketches or anything. You rehearse improv by doing improv. There are games you can play to fine-tune skills. Itís also about connecting with your cast mates, having what they call the group mind. Itís not easy. Some of us have had formal improv training; others are just good actors. Itís about taking on a persona and taking on that character.


Stranger than Fiction
What: improv comedy
When: Thursdays, Oct. 18 and Nov. 15, 8 p.m.
Where: The Barley House, 132 N. Main St., Concord, 228-6363.
For more information: A complete schedule and more details about Stranger Than Fiction are available at www.strangerthanfiction.us. Details about Camprov are available at www.camprov.com.