Improv comedy to meet traditional storytelling Dec. 4

Photo of a stageImprovisational comedy debuts at NIU’s School of Theatre and Dance with its Studio Series presentation of Storytellers Theatre Improv, opening Thursday, Dec. 4.

The show replaces the originally scheduled “Many Voices, Many Lands: Storytellers Theatre” and blends the format of the former Storytellers Theatre with the comedic style of improv.

Instead of the usual well-rehearsed solo performances by members of the school’s storytelling classes, Storytellers Theatre Improv will mimic the comedy club style used by the popular CW television program, “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” In a similar fashion, audience members will be asked to give scenarios for the actors to create and enact on the spot.

Second-year MFA in acting candidate Jake Ben Suazo, who is directing the production, firmly believes there is something magical about actors being able to perform this way.

“You can sometimes be wonky, or weird or awkward,” Suazo said, “and the audience still enjoys it because it’s only being created in and for one moment; never again.”

Suazo has 18 years of improv experience, having first entered the improv realm through a ComedySportz venue, an improv chain.

“I did it, then I liked it, then I did it a lot more,” he said. Since then, he has taught improv and even founded an improv comedy troupe, The Thrillionaires.

Photo of comedy and tragedy masksCasting for Storytellers Theatre Improv was open to all NIU students, and now includes at least one non-theatre student. Because improv is not officially taught at SoTD, Suazo said, nearly everyone in the cast is starting fresh.

“The rehearsal process includes improv training, several aspects of acting and team-building activities,” he said. “The casts will rotate, so every night will be an entirely different experience.”

The production is slotted to run 90 minutes, and will present both short-form and long-form improvisation. That is as far as the planning goes for this production, said Suazo, because audience involvement is at the heart of improv.

“Audience members may suggest a fable, a famous event, even a bible story. People should just come – and if they feel like participating, then they should,” he said. He also indicated that the production is being “steered in a kid-friendly direction.”

Storytellers Improv Theatre will perform from Thursday, Dec. 4, through Sunday, Dec. 7, in Diversions Lounge of the Holmes Student Center. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. weekdays and Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday. All general admission tickets are $6 and are available by contacting the box office at (815) 753-1600 from noon to 6 p.m. weekdays.

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