Behind the curtain: The faces of Mile High Comedy Theater
Anyone who's seen improv comedy can attest to its fast-paced spontaneity, but everything can change in the blink of an eye. In only a second, a joke may fall flat or go on for too long, a performer might introduce a new element to the joke or maybe a suggestion is just plain odd.
However, the performers of Mile High Comedy Theater, Prescott's resident improvisational and standup sketch comedy group, know just how to keep their heads when the difference between a room of dead silence and a crowd roaring with laughter is a matter of only seconds.
Not everything is going to be funny and sometimes a joke is just going to bomb. But when that happens, performer Bliss Streetman said the key is to continue with the scene.
"You just keep going," Streetman said. "You don't let that get to you."
Fellow performer Cisco Ortiz furthered Streetman's sentiment, noting that sometimes a lack of reaction is funny in itself. He said if they can make a play on a failed joke, then at least they got a few laughs out of the response, even though it wasn't what they were trying for at first.
But sometimes, a successful joke may stick around and lose its welcome. Cynthia Sobo, director of Mile High Comedy Theater, said that's the advantage to having a director. She said she's on the sidelines and for certain scenes, they're trying to give them a beginning, middle and end, no matter how simple or extreme that might be.
"Once it feels like there's closure, I'll yell 'scene," Sobo said.
Yet, an improv comedy show isn't just one person, there's a whole team. Sobo said the whole foundation of improv is support, stating the performers should always support and accept what's on stage and the actor they're working with to advance the show to the next level.
Performer Jennifer Tobin said she believes Mile High Comedy works well as a team because of their practice times together.
"We learn when somebody's struggling or stumbling based off their facial expressions or delay of delivery," Tobin said. "In any good team situation, somebody's always there to pick up the ball."
For that first person in the scene though, deciding how to take a suggestion can be a comedic risk. Performer Jantina Russell said taking those risks and jumping into the scene with two feet, even though not knowing how the landing is going to go, is how a performer improves. She said going with the first thing that comes to mind could either be great or fall flat.
"Hopefully in a performance, it's great," Russell said. "It's just taking that risk, leaping without knowing where it's going to land but knowing that you're going to land softly at least because your team members are going to be there."
Streetman also said the concept of accepting what's given in a scene means to accept imagination, physicality and awkwardness. She said her challenge has been not thinking about what she's going to do before doing it, but throwing herself into the mix and trusting it's going to come out right.
Performer Brent Nielsen also spoke of the interpersonal relationship between the performers, stating it makes comedy better.
"You have an inside joke with everyone about something weird and all of a sudden, it goes on stage and that joke all of a sudden, a hundred people get," Nielsen said. "There's so many different things that happen, even in a practice space."
As for suggestions, Sobo said there's some that she won't take from the audience, but only in terms of taste.
"Sometimes I will take something strange and I don't know where they're going to go with it and it's brilliant," Sobo said. "I don't try to filter out ones that seem impossible, just try and filter out ones that are in bad taste."