Stamford Advocate April 28, 2005
Walking a tightrope: Improv group makes it up along the way
By Mary Lee Grisanti
"Improvisation" * noun 1: A creation spoken or written or composed on the
spot without prior preparation. 2: An unplanned performance. Adj:
improvisational Slang: Improv.
We have all had moments when we've had to improvise, from the trivial ("I
wasn't eating the cookies, just putting them away ...") to the terrible
("You're not pregnant?! Well you just have that glow ...") We know how it
feels to be on the spot, searching for the right thing to say. But imagine
having those moments on stage in front of an audience, and it's not a
nightmare, it's your job!
This is exactly the situation a group of friends who call themselves World
Class Indifference seek out on a regular basis. It's an ironic name for an
improv comedy team, since the members have to react to audience suggestions,
different every time. Tomorrow, WCI performs at the Music Theater of
Westport to benefit Save the Children. In a generous and unusual gesture,
the team will be underwriting the theater, the crew and every other expense
so that 100 percent of the box office will go to the Westport-based charity.
It will also mark a rare local opportunity to catch the group, which has
performed only in New York since forming a year ago. "As soon as we got
started, things started happening very fast, and we have worked exclusively
in New York," says WCI's director James Jorasch. "But all of us live in
Fairfield County and we wanted to give something back to our own community."
Group member Gilda Bonanno says: "Save the Children is local, but their work
with kids in the Sudan and India is incredible." Bonanno was in India during
the tsunami. "We were supposed to be jogging on the beach at the time, but
we were evacuated right after the earthquake. Seeing such destruction really
makes you stop and ask yourself why you are doing what you do. The average
American lifetime adds up to something like 28,000 days -- it's really not
that many when you think of the ones you've already wasted. How you spend
the rest of them becomes incredibly important."
All of WCI's members are the kind of people who seize the opportunity to
reach farther and do more. The eight-person team includes professional
actors, stand-up comedians, public speaking professionals and specialists in
corporate training and sales, many of whom met in local chapters of
Toastmasters, a volunteer organization that helps people overcome their
fears of the speaking in public.
Jamie Gerelli came to the group via Toastmasters, which he says "is designed
to make people get up and talk about something they are totally unprepared
to talk about. Someone throws you a topic like 'the worst gift you ever
received.' You can't get stuck in reality for 30 seconds saying 'Um, I think
I was, um, seven, no ... eight ...' while you search for a memory. You're
forced to come up with something: 'Well, there was that time Uncle Jimmy
gave me a porcupine ...' "
In their performances, the WCI team works off random suggestions from the
audience, playing games with names like Dysfunctional Office Quirks and
Movie Style. The former sends an office manager offstage while everyone else
is assigned a quirk for him to guess; the latter makes the performers behave
in the style of a specific movie genre (a recent example: Science Fiction
meets Silent Screen). "It sounds strange," says Jorasch, "but improv has so
many rules. It's arbitrary. You never know what the audience is going to
come up with. But actually we love the really obscure suggestions."
Such as? "In a game called Audience Direct, someone calls out a location and
an emotion and you have to turn it into a scene," Gerelli recounts. "We had
the suggestion Lenin's Tomb. I was supposed to be greedy and my partner,
Chris, was supposed to be goofy. I became Vladimir exhorting him to repay
the proletariat. But Chris was thinking it was John Lennon's tomb and kept
going off about 'Strawberry Fields.' Yet there are no mistakes in improv,
you make it work"
"You look for that one person in the audience who's smiling and nodding,"
says group member Melanie Szlucha. "That person makes you relax and smile,
which makes everybody else like you more. You get into the zone (a weird,
focused state of awareness) without concentrating too hard, or it won't
"Even if it doesn't work, it's still funny watching someone struggle,"
maintains professional stand-up comic, Chris Harwood. Fellow group member
Chris Noel-Bentley agrees. "I just love to make people laugh," he says.
what: World Class Indifference
where: The Music Theatre of Connecticut, 246 Post Road E., Westport
when: Tomorrow, 8 and 9:30 p.m.
price: $15, benefit for Save the Children