Making things up for laughs
July 22, 2011
Improvisation requires people to concoct, contrive, cook up, devise, invent, make up, ad-lib and extemporize.
Mix in some comedy and anything goes.
That’s what John Spung, founding member of Improvabilities, a comedy troupe that performs every Saturday night at the Egyptian Theatre Studios, loves about the craft.
"There are specific rules you need to follow when doing improv," Spung said during an interview with The Park Record. "You have to listen to everything that is going on. You have to heighten the scene and make it urgent. Then you always try to achieve conflict and try to resolve it."
If the troupe members stick to those fundamentals, they can pretty much do anything, Spung said.
"The goal isn’t just to go on stage and be funny," he said. "The goals are to stick to the rules and play the game. After that, the funny will come. It always does."
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Spung discovered improv comedy 10 years ago, when a friend of his, Houston-based comedian Dee Macaluso, taught a comedy class in Park City.
"I was a business major and I’m a sales guy, so there is a lot of improvisation going on there," Spung said with a laugh. "Sales people have to think on their feet all the time and if someone asks us a question we don’t know the answer to, we have to make something up or make a funny comment that will detract them from knowing we don’t have an answer."
Spung and the other students had so much fun in Macaluso’s class that they created their own group called Off the Top.
"We kept at it, even without any thoughts of performing," he said. "We just wanted to do it because we had so much fun every week."
Off the Top ran out of steam a couple of years ago, but Bryan Buttars and Jack Diamond reignited the improv torch in the fall of 2010.
"They held auditions and a bunch of people, including a large number of us from Off the Top, came and an sort of continued on," Spung said. "We’ve played a bunch of places, but Improvabilities has always been affiliated with the Egyptian Theatre and the Egyptian Theatre Studios."
The performances are made up on the spot, with suggestions from the audience, he said. "It’s a lot like the TV show, ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway,’" Spung explained. "We perform every week in the studios."
In addition, the troupe holds a free improvisational comedy class two hours before each performance.
"Bryan teaches the class and it’s designed so people can try it out and see if it would be something they would want to do," Spung said. "An improv troupe is a difficult thing to maintain. We have to recruit and train new people so we can keep an active troupe of 15 to 20 players. That way, everyone can have a turn and everyone can have a break, even if it’s a break over the weekend.
"When we were Off the Top, we ran out of steam, because we ran out of improvisational players who could devote two to four hours a week to practice and performances," he said.
Still, improv comedy is a craft that takes years to master.
"I’ve been doing it for 10 years and still feel like I’m learning stuff. I learn something new during every class," Spung said. "Bryan and Jack have been great. They’re young guys, but have been doing it for quite a while and they’ve taught me some new styles."
Spung, who is also a huge stand-up comedy fan, said the Improvabilities performances are family friendly.
"We have full families in the audience," he said. "We have eight-, nine- and 10-yer-olds having a great time, sitting next to those people who have brought in their wine and their beer, because it’s BYOB, but everyone has fun and it’s quite the mix of crowd."
The decision to keep it clean came from within the troupe.
"We have a 14-year-old student from Ecker Hill Middle School who practices and performs with us," he said. "So we took a vow to make the shows PG-13. We decided we were not going to swear and all that, even though the innuendos come out a lot
"It’s always harder to be clean funny than dirty funny, because anybody can throw out a swear word and get a laugh," he said. "But if you’re making people laugh without swearing, it’s more of a challenge and more rewarding."
Improvabilities perform each Saturday at 9 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre Studios, 333 Main St., in the basement of the Main Street Mall. Admission is $10 cash only. The performances are family friendly, but also BYOB. For reservations and information, call Bryan Buttars at (801) 731-5799.
Also, the company offers a free, weekly, drop-in class taught by Bryan Buttars of Improvabilities each Saturday at the Egyptian Theatre Studios, at 7 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002004697677&ref=ts