By PAM HARBAUGH
They only make it look easy.
However, done right, improvisational comedy or theater, called simply “improv,” is one heck of a sophisticated performance technique. It takes talent, training, practice and confidence galore to take an audience suggestion and there, on the spot, turn it into comic skits.
One such improv troupe showing how it’s done is the Not Quite Right Players. And they serve up quirky fun in an unusual setting: the Derek Gores Gallery in Melbourne’s Eau Gallie Arts District.
It used to be, you had to bring your own chair to their shows. But they have grown and grown, adding enough money to their bottom line to enable them to care about their audience’s bottom line (read: leave your folding chair at home).
Based in Melbourne, the troupe has regular rehearsals, which are more like practice sessions. NQR Players perform twice a month typically to sold out audiences. In fact, eschew buying tickets online, chances are there won’t be any at the door. So man up and yank out that credit card.Jessica Taylor, the group’s fearless leader, founded NQR Players in 2012. She got her start in this unusual art form in 1998 while participating in Theatre Strike Force at the University of Florida’s theater department. In 2002, she began teaching improv and held regular improv performances at the Henegar Center.
“We performed at the Henegar for a few years, then quit for several years, as life and jobs and families all took precedence,” she said. “Then I decided I missed playing with my friends, and got some of the original members back together about five years ago, teamed up with Derek Gores who generously makes his Gallery available for our shows and classes, and we’ve been playing and growing ever since.”
The performances are divided into two loose structures – shortform and longform.
The shortform, which takes place 8 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month, gets the audience calling out suggestions. Those might be a location, a profession or something silly in nature. If you’ve ever seen “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” you know what to expect.
The players huddle for a quick moment, then hit the stage, incorporating the audience suggestions and building upon each nutty twist and turn the performers can dish out.
A cardinal rule in improv – never deny what a teammate might suddenly do or say. Go along with everything, support everything. When a teammate points their finger at you and says “stick ‘em up,” you never say “but that’s just your finger.” You always “stick ‘em up.”A bench might become a car or an operating table. A yardstick might become a light saber or crutch for Tiny Tim. The only limitations are the players’ imaginations.
“Everything is completely made up,” Taylor said. “A lot of folks have trouble believing that we don’t have a script. We really do not have a theme or an outline or anything preplanned.”
The longform, which takes place 8 p.m. on the third Saturday of each month, is an hour-long improvised play. With the rules of improv thoroughly upheld, those shows become giddy with nuttiness and filled with silly characters reappearing throughout. While audiences may not believe it, the improvised plays are exactly that – improvised on the spot. Actors go onto the stage, follow their impulses. Et voila! A play is born.
“It’s really improvised theater, which is our favorite kind to play,” Taylor said. “Once again, you have to experience it to really get it. So you should come see for yourself…shameless plug.”
Rehearsals, if you can call them that, are really more like improv “games,” with warm ups that get rid of inhibition and connect actors to their impulses. The games also held establish trust among the players and sharpen listening skills.
“It’s a wild comedic ride through characters and scenarios that are completely improvised on the spot,” said NQR member Holly McFarland Karnes. “For me personally, as someone who has performed for the entirety of their life, being a part of this troupe has made me fall in love with theater and improvisation all over again.”
In addition to Holly Karnes, about half the players are well known actors in Brevard’s community theater scene. Taylor has been on many stages, as have Aaron Karnes, Glenn Krasny and Pete Jacobsen.
Other members have gone through the NQR classes and workshops and known primarily for their work with the improv troupe. They are: Mike Williams, Tom Gale, Ed Johnson, Andy McIlwraith, Erick Terhune, Jolie Kivler and Erin Walters.
Oh, and not to forget Taylor’s husband, Jon Emmerich.
“My husband, got in through nepotism,” Taylor said. “It was just super awkward to rehearse in our living room with him watching.”
Those attending a NQR Players improv show definitely get something different. There’s no theater with backstage space. No wings. Performers have to gather in an alley to warm up. The performance space is clean and appealing, with scads of art hanging on the bare brick walls.
Typically, you can purchase wine or beer. It’s best to get there a bit early because it’s a party atmosphere the moment you arrive. And, getting there early will get you seats closer to the front, which is what you want.
Then, put on your own silly hat, shout out some fun suggestions then sit back and watch the fun begin.
“You come and see one of our shows, I guarantee you won’t believe what we come up with…in a good way,” Karnes said.
SIDE O’ GRITS: Not Quite Right Players performs Long Story Short, its longform show, 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets $12. It performs the Improv Show, its shortform show, 8 p.m. June 3. Tickets are $15 general and $12 students. Handling fees apply for all tickets. All performances are held at the Derek Gores Gallery, 587 W. Eau Gallie Blvd., Melbourne. Visit NQRComedy.com.
Taylor holds classes for beginners and advanced improv. She also holds corporate training sessions that help build teamwork and leadership skills.
This is an edited version of a story running in Melbourne Beachsider.