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Yes, and... Capital City Improv | Community Voices

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Capital City Improv

Springfield's improv troupe, Capital City Improv join Community Voices to share their post-pandemic plans and explain how improv works. Hope Cherry and Jim Dahlquist join Randy Eccles highlighting their first audience performance since the COVID break at the Hoogland Center for the Arts August 21, 2021.

Edited for timing and clarity:

Randy: Welcome back to Community Voices. I'm Randy Eccles, for co-host Bea Bonner we're happy today to be joined by representatives of Capital City Improv.

Cherry.jpg
Jill Gum Photography
Hope Cherry

Hope: Hi, I'm Hope Cherry and I'm a member of Capital City Improv. I've been involved since I joined in 2018. I'm the second wave of members.

Jim: I'm Jim Dahlquist also at Capital City Improv. I was in the first wave -- I'm going to say it was February of 2017. Originally from the Chicago area but I've been in Springfield a little over 25 years and really enjoy community theater and now I have the chance to do improv.

Randy: What is improv?

Hope: Improvisational theatre is basically doing a show without a script. That's what you see on stage that's kind of what you'll see as far as when we do entertainment. The form of but can also just be a practice, it can be a skill that you learn in your everyday life. I think a lot of us got into improv because it works well with doing community theater. Both Jim and I have have used improv in our everyday work situations. It's basically coming up with ideas on the spot and having a structure that allows you to get a beginning, a middle, and an end of a story.

Randy: It would be a misconception to say that improv is only comedy?

Dahlquist headshot
Jill Gum
Jim Dahlquist

Jim: Correct. You can certainly, especially in our what's called long form, you can certainly get into more serious issues. As a general rule, when people come to our show, we would hope that they would laugh at least occasionally or we would probably not call that success.

Randy: At Capital City Improv, you're talking about the first wave and second wave of folks how long has the organization been around?

Jim: It was started by Drew and Carly Stroud. They both graduated from Illinois College. Came to Springfield and noticed that there wasn't a large improv scene. They went ahead and started that up. By nature, improv can be put together pretty quickly if you have a committed group of people. We've been adding people, and people drop off yet as we go, but fortunately we've had a good core.

Randy: If anybody wanted to compare what improv is like, is that the origins of Second City in Chicago -- largely improv?

Hope: Second City is a good example. When I try and describe it (improv) to people, I'm like, "Have you seen the show Whose Line Is it Anyway? That's improv." Saturday Night Live, for example, is improv. Those folks that started doing sketch comedy really started with improvisational theatre first. They actually still use improv to generate ideas when they do when they do show.

Randy: Is it scary to go out there without a net, without a script?

Jim: I suppose it could be considered that way, but it probably depends on your personality and, fortunately with improv, we we enjoy going out there without that net. In fact, that's kind of what the audience is doing to us. They try putting us in as ridiculous a situation as they can think of. I did a Shakespeare show in college. To me, that was abject terror because if you forgot your lines, you couldn't even fake it well because it was old English. Whereas improv, anything that comes out of your mouth -- hey, that was exactly what I meant to say.

Randy: It's interesting that the audience can have a role to play in improv. Hope, what has been your favorite audience participation over the years?

Hope: That's what makes improv really different than other community theater -- the audience has such a role and sometimes we've had shows where the audience is really, really involved. But even if they're sitting in the audience and they're just watching a scene, they still feel a part of it, even if we asked for a one word suggestion and then from there did a 30 minute show. The audience is so much more connected in an improv show because they want to see a connection be made. Some of my favorite are what we call short form games. Like Arms Behind -- improvisers are standing in front. We've got two improvisors doing a scene and they have to put their arms behind their back. Then we had audience members put their arms through and do a whole scene. We did a cooking show. Oh, it was really funny because there was a mess on stage. The audience really was into that because two of them get to participate. It's fun to have that kind of unexpectedness that came from that scene.

Randy: Jim, does something that stands out for you that you've enjoyed?

Jim: What I really enjoy is that no matter how passive you are once you watch how people can interact, you can usually get most everybody to at least shout something out. We play a game where it's I think it's some variation of the smartest person in the world and it's a creature that has three brains so each improviser can only say one word at a time to answer a question. Getting those questions from the audience, even the most timid person will occasionally be, "Okay, I'm going to get involved in this." To see those people take part and the more ambitious or energetic people, you can get them up on stage. Unlike say straight comedy where that's considered heckling. If the audience gets involved, it's the beauty of improv. You get people to relax and laugh a little bit and they can become as involved as they want.

Randy: You're listening to Community Voices on NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS. I'm Randy Eccles. We're talking about Capital City Improv with Hope Cherry and Jim Dahlquist, a couple of the members of the group. How have you gotten through the pandemic?

Hope: Right before it, we had just finished a show in late February (2020) That was our first long form shows. Doing a whole 30-minute show, it really was one of our best shows. The audience was really into it. We were planning our next show which was going to be a sketch and improv show. Then the pandemic shut us down. We lost a little bit of momentum within our group. There's no way to really perform.

We typically do a holiday show in December, so we have a variation of that where we had everybody record short, one or two minute videos that we made into a 25-minute video that was shared for free. Typically, we would have had a show people come and paid for.

Also as an improv troupe, we did a couple Zoom improvs, which I know a lot of people have been doing, and it worked out pretty well. One of the little skills that you learn from improv is turn taking, and you definitely have to learn turn taking very well when you're on a Zoom call because you can't have five people people speaking all at once. It just doesn't work.

Once the pandemic started to wind down, the last like month or so, we've started meeting in the park with masks. As people were getting vaccinated, we're still meeting outside for our rehearsals. It has been a struggle and it's not just our truth. Improv across the United States has been trying to figure out a new way to reinvent themselves during this time.

Randy: Now as you get ready to come back, you have your first event set for later the summer.

Jim: It's Saturday, August 21 and given the beauty of improv, we fortunately know each other well enough and have performed a number of these games enough together that it should be something to to get up and running quickly. We thought it would be a courtesy to both the Hoogland and the public. This is a show that doesn't need as much rehearsal so let's get in there early and give people something fun to watch before the fall or winter when they will hopefully have more traditional shows running. We can fill that gap it until then.

Randy: That's the Summer Improv Olympics August 21. Like the Olympics in Japan, is there going to be an audience?

Jim: We hope so.

Hope: Yes. The event should be going up sometime this week so or in the next week or so and you it'll be on the Hoogland page, but then we'll also have it linked through our Facebook page as well. I don't know what ticket prices are, but I know you can buy them online, just like any other Hoogland show. Everybody's setting their own plan for how we're going to do it safely. We'll have to go along with whatever the Hoogland asks for their plans. But we we plan to do a show, so it's going to be nice to see an audience again. Improv is is really fun to do. It can be a practice. It could be something that you don't have to have an audience to do. When you do it for entertainment, it's definitely a lot easier when you have people that that give you ideas and also feed that laughter and energy. It'll be really nice to to see an audience again and and be able to have that back and forth with them.

(Dog barking in background)

Jim: And you can actually hear our leader, Eric Flick. He's yelling there in the background to Hope. I'm not quite sure what did you say?

Hope: He's saying, "Let me in the door." That's my dog.

Randy: Riff on that for a couple seconds, if you don't mind, and show people some improv.

Jim: And that's improv in itself.

Hope: Eric is my dog. I locked him outside he wanted to be in this interview so he's shouting from the back door, "Hey, remind them to come see the show!"

Jim: We would have had him on but last time he cursed way too much and we thought that's probably not good for family entertainment.

Randy: You would think the mask would help with that, but it doesn't.

A key part in improv is the concept of, "Yes, and..." Do you use that and it can you explain that?

Hope: One of the building blocks for improv is, "Yes, and..." The concept is like the example of Jim hearing the dog barking and it becoming one of our other team members, Eric, who's yelling from outside. There's something happening so we say, "Yes, this dog is barking and then add more information. Now it's become somebody that we know and that's where you can generate a scene. Basically, that's what we just did back and forth -- yes, sparking. Now you know now he's this other person. Yes, and last time he was on he said too many curse words. Yes, and if it's not a great idea, by saying yes, this the information I've given, now I'm going to add to it. It moves things forward. If you were to say, "No," or, "Yeah but." then you're cutting that scene like at the root. It's funny for a second when somebody is like, "No, what are you crazy?" Never really bringing us the scene forward. That's one of those building blocks that we tend to use for improv.

Randy: We've been talking with Hope Cherry and Jim Dahlquist of the Capital City Improv group. Anything you'd like to make sure we know before we wrap up?

Jim: I would say that we're going to have a great time and we love the audience participating so plan to come out and just enjoy yourselves. It's going to be non traditional theater. Hopefully, this will will be a good repertoire of people go see four or five shows in the next year.

Hope: Keep an eye out for future things. We're hoping this fall we can do a few more shows after this one. We also hoping to hold a couple of free workshops for folks -- a few hours on a weekend. We'll have those dates in the next few months. We'll announce those to people who follow our page. Lastly, we're always looking to expand. There's been several waves of people that have been involved with Capital City Improv and we're always looking for new folks in the community to to join us. Again, look for that information on our Facebook page.

Randy: The Capital City Improv troupe will be doing Summer Improv Olympics August 21 at the Hoogland. You can find more details out at nprillinois.org. We'll have a link to their site.

This is Community Voices. Thanks for listening. Jim and Hope, thank you so much for joining us today.

Jim & Hope: Thanks.

Bonus segment: UIS Music Jazz Ensemble virtual performance of Mack the Knife.

UIS Jazz Ensemble - Mack the Knife

Randy Eccles is thrilled to be talking with community members and joining them in becoming informed citizenry. Please reach out at randy.eccles@nprillinois.org.
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