Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble: Down Center

S2E5: Skits and Giggles: A Deep Dive into BTE Improv

December 01, 2023 Amy Rene Byrne, Abigail Leffler Season 2 Episode 5
Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble: Down Center
S2E5: Skits and Giggles: A Deep Dive into BTE Improv
Show Notes Transcript

Join RAC member Amy Rene Byrne as she grills the mastermind behind Bloomsburg's favorite (any only) resident Improv troupe. Learn what improv is and isn't, hear Abby Leffler’s favorite improv story, and find out what gets Abby and Amy's pinkies up!

Recorded and Edited by: Amy Rene Byrne
Original Music by: Aaron White

Transcripts of all Season 2 episodes available on our Buzzsprout website.

Check out our current season: http://www.bte.org
Ensemble Driven. Professional Theatre. Arts Education. Rural Pennsylvania. For Everyone. With Everyone.

Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble: Down Center
Episode 5: Improv
Transcript

[Intro Music]

AMY
 Welcome to Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble Down Center, a podcast where we throw focus on our company, our people, our art, and our town, front and down center. 

Wow, it's cold out there. Snag your cup of cocoa, snuggle up by the fire– or not, if you're driving, or walking, or whatever you do while listening to podcasts–  while Abigail Leffler and I warm you up. You met her two episodes ago, she's our Education Director, but Abby wears many hats, and for some reason, multiple pairs of pants.

Today we are speaking with her as the facilitator and mastermind behind BTE's improv group. Hello, Abby. 

ABBY
Hello, Amy. 

AMY
So tell me about all of these pairs of pants. 

ABBY
Well, as you mentioned, it is the winter months and it's really cold outside. So I like to make sure I am super warm and those gams of mine stay toasty. Also, it gives me an Awesome hourglass figure. 

AMY
I love the use of the word GAMS. 

ABBY
You're welcome. 

AMY
All right. Can you tell us a little bit about what improv is? 

ABBY
Absolutely. Improv is short for improvisation. And essentially what it means is it's a performance style where you kind of make up things as you go along.

You get suggestions from the audience for ideas or content, and you play improv games, and around those games you make up all of the, the…

AMY
So thinking on the spot is really important. 

ABBY
It's, it's really important. 

AMY
Go, go back. Go back. 

ABBY
I'm tenuously close to being kicked out. You can totally keep this in if you want.

AMY
Maybe. I don't know. We'll see. 

ABBY
Improv is short for improvisation, and essentially, uh, for lack of better terms, it means that you make things up as you go along.

It's a performance style where you get no script, no costumes, no props, no nothing, and you get ideas from the audience, and you take those ideas and run with them, and make up scenes and games, and hopefully you'll get some laughs as you go.

AMY
Yeah, that sounds like it could be really fun. 

ABBY
It's a ton of fun!

AMY
It also sounds like it could be really stressful. 

ABBY
It's super scary. But that's, I think it's a lot like, you know, how there's like thrill seekers and stuff. I think this is thrill seeking for the, uh, tame of heart. You know what I mean? Like it's safe. You're not going to be bungee jumping or jumping out of an airplane.

You're just making things up on the fly and it's safe. You're not going to splat onto the ground doing that. You're just going to. Maybe accidentally say something, you know, not that smart and that's okay because you get another chance and another chance and another chance and another chance. So you get hundreds of do overs.

AMY
Hundreds of do overs. 

ABBY
Only hundreds, though. Oh, okay, so once you're into the thousands, it's over. 

AMY
Oh no…

ABBY
Yeah, you're running out of do overs, Amy Byrne.
 
AMY
Oh, oh no. Yeah, full disclosure, I am part of our improv group, and I'm gonna be honest with you, I do it for the love of Abigail Leffler, not for the love of improv.

ABBY
I'll take it!

AMY
Because improv puts me out of my comfort zone as a performer, which is good for me. It is growing my skill set and, you know, stretching my, my... 

ABBY
Your acting muscles? 

AMY
Yes, thank you. 

ABBY
You're welcome. 

AMY
I was like… my legs... stretching my…I couldn't, that metaphor fell flat on its face. 

ABBY
I saved it. I picked it up for you.

AMY
You did. Thank you. 

ABBY
You're welcome. 

AMY
That's another thing about improv performers. They always have your back. 

ABBY
They do. That's actually what we say before a show starts. In theatre, you say break a leg. In dance, you say merde. But in improv, this is something that I learned when I first started. You say, “got your back.”

AMY
Got your back. I love that. 

ABBY
Yeah, it's super sweet. 

AMY
That is kind of lovely. So how did you get started in improv? 

ABBY
Well, I started in North Carolina I spent ten years down there teaching theatre and doing theatre and all that stuff and when I did a show called Sweeney Todd I was in it with a bunch of friends that were unbeknownst to me in an improv group And when Sweeney Todd closed, they came up to me and was like, Hey, do you want to be in this group?

Just like, I'm joining a gang or something. And I was like, sure, why not? It gives me an opportunity to perform regularly. It paid. It gave me a chance to like rehearse and work with my peers on a regular basis, which I didn't always have a chance to do down in North Carolina. So I took them up on their offer.

And I never looked back. I had never done improv before, and the fact that I jumped into it and fell in love with it so quickly was very surprising to me, but that's how I got started. 

AMY
And now you are the face and mastermind of BTE improv. 

ABBY
Yes, unfortunately I am. 

AMY
I wouldn't say unfortunately. 

ABBY
Well, we'll see. But it's, yeah, I'm kind of proud of our little group that we started. Our first show was March 13th of 2020. 
AMY
Which was my birthday. 

ABBY
Which was your birthday. And unfortunately the day before everything shut down for the pandemic. 

AMY
Not related to my birthday. 

ABBY
Nor the improv show. I promise, I promise, I promise.

AMY
So how did you bring improv to Bloomsburg? Because as far as I know, this is the only improv group in the area. 

ABBY
It's the only improv group in the area that I know of as well. So if anybody gives us a call and goes, ahem, hem, hem– 

AMY
 – you're stepping on our toes. 

ABBY
I apologize now. 

AMY
And then we will have a West Side Story style battle–

ABBY
An improv battle.

AMY
Oh, nearby Improv groups find us. Let’s have an Improv battle. 

ABBY
Improv battle. Its like a rap battle but for geeks. So, How did I get started with it in Bloomsburg? Well, it's a simple story. I moved back up here in 2019 and I started the education director job, but I saw that there was no improv group here and I really missed doing it. I really, really love doing it. And. So I saw the demographic of people that it could interest in this town, and there's a really big demographic of people that, like, this plays to, so I was like, you know what, I'm just going to start the group, and BTE jumped on board and supported me, and through both of our collaborations, we've got the group, and we have a following of people who come to shows regularly, and that's pretty great.

AMY
That is pretty great. I really love how we've been able to sort of watch our audience kind of grow as we go through, and we have regulars! 

ABBY
We do! We do, thank goodness. Uh, some of them are quite lovely, and without them our shows would not be the same. I'm going to mention Laurie McCats, who is pretty amazing. She is one of the great audience laughers of an era. And I'm so thankful for whenever she's in the audience. 

AMY
She's an amazing audience member, no matter what kind of show you're doing, especially comedy, because she's so vocal and you can recognize her laugh and you're like, Oh, I know I've got an ally in that audience.

ABBY
Yes. She is here for us. 

AMY
Yes. 

ABBY
You so need, especially in comedies, even if it's like scripted comedies or improv. You need somebody who is unafraid to laugh. They are almost the cheerleader for the other audience members to be like, It's okay, you're allowed to laugh out loud. You, you know, have some fun. Let loose.

AMY
Yeah. So they're invaluable. As somebody who is not a natural out loud laugher, I very much recognize how important that is to the process. 

ABBY
For sure. 

AMY
Like I will think things are hilarious and I'll realize like, I'm just like in my head. I'm like, that's funny. It doesn't come out. 

ABBY
Oh, I am a big out loud laugher. I used to not be. I used to be made fun of for my laugh. It's a witch cackle. But– 

AMY
I have never heard your laugh and thought witch cackle. 

ABBY
Oh, well, maybe it was just a jerk in sixth grade. 

AMY
Or maybe I just like witch cackles. 

ABBY
Maybe you just have an affinity for witch cackles. 

AMY
Yeah, those are my people. 

ABBY
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it makes sense. But as I got older, I stopped caring about what other people think and nothing makes me happier than to laugh, which is like a duh comment. It's, it's a really big, important thing in my life. 

AMY
No, I don't think that's a duh comment. I think that's an important thing to remind ourselves of. 

ABBY
Yeah, it's important to laugh and it's important to laugh freely. And it just, it releases that serotonin and all those happy chemicals and it's just lovely. And that's why I love it so much. I love to laugh every day. 

AMY
Aw, you gave me goosebumps. 

ABBY
Aw, yay. 

AMY
Yeah, I love that. Do you have a favorite improv story? 

ABBY
I do. So this comes back to North Carolina. What happened was, we were doing a show at a bar, and we were playing a game called Weekend at Bernie's.

And what that game is, is it's a four person game, and you play a four person scene, and then the audience votes for people to be killed off. Now those people still have to be involved in the scene, they just have to play dead. And the other actors have to do their bits with their body parts and stuff like that.

As you go along, Weekend at Bernie's is a very apt title. You play the scene four times. And by the fourth time, there's only one person standing whose job it is to move everybody else's limbs so that they're involved in the, in the scene and all that stuff. So you're doing that game. And, uh, my friend George, who is like 6’5’’ a very large man, the kindest person you'll ever meet.

He was the one left standing final, uh, no, second to the last stand final, and he split his pants open just his pants. Thank goodness. But he split his pants. 

AMY
He was wearing underwear?

ABBY
Yes, he was wearing. It's an important fact. But the only reason why I know he was wearing underwear was because when he's when it was his turn to die because he got voted, he fell right in front of my face, so it was like butt to face, and I saw that his pants were indeed torn, and he is a boxer man. 

AMY
And you were closer to his nether regions than you had ever been before. 

ABBY
That I cared to be as well, yes.

AMY
I love that. I mean, I don't love that for you, but I love that story. 

ABBY
It makes a good story, so I'm okay with living through that to have a good story in my back pocket.

AMY
Love it, I love it, that's great. Um, is there anything important about BTE's improv group that you would like to share with our audiences? 

ABBY
Sure! I mean, we're always looking for new regulars, so if you want to join us and have fun and laugh in the audience with us, come on down to BTE and watch our shows and have a lot of fun.

They're always two weeks before our main stages go up, so always look to around that time frame. And also, if you're worried that, like, Improv might not be for you, I promise you. Improv is like the everyman of performance styles. 

AMY
Yeah. I feel like sometimes improv gets a little bit of a bad rap in the performance community.

ABBY
It does. And I'm not sure why. Like, I was one of those people too. Yeah. Until I joined an improv group. And I don't know why it gets a bad rap. 

AMY
I think really in depth, long form improv is why improv gets a bad rap. 

ABBY
Maybe. It's too, it's too niche, almost. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's like, Oh– 

AMY
It like, it feels very California. Like come out to my improv show, man. 

ABBY
Yeah. We're not going to tell you it's long form. So you actually show up. 

AMY
Ours is not long form improv. 

ABBY
No, ours is not. We do short form improv, which means you do, you do short, episodic almost games. So and and long form improv for anybody who does not know–  we're being a little niche– 

AMY
We are. We've got our pinkies out. We've both grown handlebar mustaches. 

ABBY
We have and I'm wearing a monocle. But for anybody who does not know long form is essentially you show up and it's an hour and a half long story that is improv through like a formula that is it's hard. There's different formulas that you can perform in and so it's essentially an hour and a half show like a like a play would be, but it's improv.

Sometimes it can be a little out there or it's not funny. It takes a serious tone and there's value in those performance styles. It's just it's less every man more niche. 

AMY
Yeah, exactly. And ours are short. So, you know, if one game is like, not to your liking or it's not going well and, or it's falling flat, the great thing is, is that we're going to shift in a few minutes and there's going to be something new.

ABBY
Yes. I'm glad you said that because that's why I think it is like an everyman kind of performance. There's going to be something that you're going to really enjoy and you're going to take home and be like, you know what, that was hilarious. I'm going to remember that. You're going to giggle about it. And like I said earlier, release those serotonin chemicals, man.

AMY
Yes. And I have to say, as a performer, I don't think I could do long perm, long perm! [laugh] I don't think I could do long form improv. I need to be able to switch to something, because if I'm having an unsuccessful game, like the ability to just move past that and jump into the next one, is essential to me. Otherwise, I will snowball and it will all become cataclysmic and the world will fall down around me. 

ABBY
I totally empathize with that. And I think that's what the real value is of short form improv. 

AMY
And one of the great things to thinking about, like if a scene is not going the way we want it to go. I always find in those moments, like, if I think I'm not interesting or not funny, or I'm trying too hard to be funny, which as an improver is bad.

ABBY
Yes. 

AMY
You don't want to try to be funny. 

ABBY
No. 

AMY
Being able to take in the other members on our team and be like, you know what? Like, they are having the funniest game of their life right now. 

ABBY
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think it's a comfort sometimes that even if, like, you feel like you were the person who made the scene fall flat. You know that the next game there might be somebody who's really on their game and they're going to save whatever happened, you know, because it's unavoidable every single improv performer is going to fall flat sometime. You can't like we only have so much brain powers. 

AMY
Yeah, exactly. 

ABBY
It's unfair to think that we're not going to.

I'm going to say fall flat again because that's the only way I can–  fall flat, but that's the whole reason behind got your back, you know, like, yeah, it's, you got to rely on your fellow performers and there's going to be more people behind you who are on their game and they're going to save the day and you're like, who fell flat? Thank God so and so's here. 

AMY
Yes, and being able to trust in that safety net allows you to make bigger, bolder choices, which are always more interesting. There's nothing worse than watching somebody try to safely do anything comedic. 

ABBY
Yes. 

AMY
Like safety is not funny. 

ABBY
No, no, no, no, no, no. That unexpected surprise and what's going to come next is so essential.
I love a good surprise laugh. That is my favorite. 

AMY
I do too. I do too. Uh, could we do a quick shout out to our current members? 

ABBY
Sure, of course. Now, I'm going to count them off by my fingers because I'm worried I'm going to forget somebody. There is me, there is Amy Rene Byrne, there is Michaela Tlochinski, there is Renee Fawess, Johanna Gelbs, Abby Golden, Crystal Comuntzis, Kyle Bauer, Rory Gaughan, and Violet Race.

AMY
Bless you. 

ABBY
Thank you. 

AMY
Those are some names. 

ABBY
I know. I love it. And there's some performers, they're all amazing in their own right, and I'm so thankful for them. 

AMY
Yes, every single one of those people has had me uncontrollably laughing at some point. 

ABBY
Oh my gosh, yes. 

AMY
And we're all so weird in all of these amazing ways.

ABBY
In different ways, that's the beautiful thing. We all have our, we're going to use this word again, we all have our niche. And to be able to accept that and run with it is a beautiful thing, and I'm so thankful that we have such an eclectic kind of human topography. 

AMY
Ooh, I love that. 

ABBY
Thank you. 

AMY
Human topography. What do you think your niche is? 

ABBY
I have no idea. Like, I think I do a lot of characters, and I think sometimes the characters are my niche. The self deprecation is a big one for me, but I really have no idea. I like, I can identify everybody else's, but mine's mine. 

AMY
What's mine? 

ABBY
Um– 

AMY
Should I theorize what mine is first?

ABBY
Go ahead. Go ahead. 

AMY
I think that I am a reliable constant. I think I don't usually have the out there ideas or thoughts, but that I'm always going to be physical as much as I can be, and I'm going to try to go for it as much as I can, but it, like, I'm not going to be your Rory's that pulls something, like, completely out of the blue.

ABBY
Yeah

AMY
Like, super bizarre and weird like how did your brain even go there?

ABBY
Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

AMY
And I've accepted that, and I'm good with it. 

ABBY
You also have an innocent candor. Behind yours. Yeah, you have just this, like, where you can predict somebody's going to go out there like Rory. Like, you have this unexpected candor that you're like, Haha, of course that's what you should say.

Like, that's, that's what I always find when I watch you. So that's the only thing I would add. Everything else I would say is spot on.

AMY
 I love that. Okay. Uh, we do have just a few minutes left and I would love to try an improv game. So I want to try to take a game that we use for warm ups called Mind Meld, and I want to try to morph it into a podcast improv game.

ABBY
[laughs]
Okay. 

AMY
We'll see if this works. Okay. I have no idea if it's going to work. So for our listeners, Mind Meld, we get together in a circle and we like to try to get on the same wavelength, get our energy synced up in the room, and so two people will think of a word. Any random two people standing in the circle, they'll put up their hands.

We'll count to three, we'll say the word together, and then we will, as a group, try to get to the same word. So like, say Abby and I said the first word together, and then two different people can put up their hands, and then two different people, and two different people, until we get the same word. Does that make sense?


ABBY
It's word association, but with people speaking simultaneously in hopes that They'll all word associate to the same word. 

AMY
Yes. This was a terrible explanation on my part. 

ABBY
No, you totally had it. It's good. It's good. So, but there's only two of us. 

ABBY
So it's going to be harder. 

AMY
It's going to so be harder. Okay.

All right. Do you have a word, Abby? 

ABBY
Yes. 

AMY
Okay. One, two, three. Three. Burrito. 

ABBY
Cheese. Oh. Okay. One, two, three. Beans.

AMY
Taco. Come on. We're so close. Taco and beans. Okay. One, two, three. One, two, three, 

BOTH
Mexican

ABBY
We got that in three! 

AMY
Unprecedented, unprecedented, I'm not going to touch that. 

ABBY
No, we're not going to touch it. We're going to take that as the win and we're not going to play the game again because it'll be a million, a million, a million. 

AMY
Yes. And that's one of the great things about Mindmeld sometimes, like as a group. Sometimes its instant and then sometimes 47 rounds later, we're like, we're never going to get it. We've got dandelion and horcrux. 

ABBY
And I think that's the funnest, right? Like, it's the funnest because you get so frustrated with yourselves, but like, it's a completely acceptable thing. Of course, you're not going to have like the same brains, right? Not all the time, at least, but it's, it's a lot of fun. 

AMY
Yeah. Love it. That was great. Thank you so much. 

ABBY
Of course, thank you for having me. 

AMY
Anytime. 

ABBY
Oh, well, I'll hold you to it. 

AMY
Abby just starts bursting into all podcast recording sessions. 

ABBY
Like the Kool Aid man.

[Outro Music]

AMY
This has been Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble Down Center. Ensemble driven, professional theatre, arts education, rural Pennsylvania, for everyone, with everyone. We would like to thank the foundation of the Chamber of Commerce for the use of equipment that makes recording this podcast possible.  A Christmas story is in full swing. Don't be fra-jee-lay. Get your tickets today. Oh, that's, that's bad. 

ABBY
It's lovely. 

AMY
Check out our website, www.bte.org, for show information and to purchase tickets.

Also, follow us on Facebook and Instagram. That way you can get the most up to date information about what's happening at BTE. 

[Outro Music]

AMY
[Boing sound of hitting mic]
Ooh! Ow! You've got six minutes.