At its core, improv is about starting with a simple idea and turning it into something new and unpredictable. But what unites Shrill Boy, The Pushers, and the Alchemy Comedy Theater TourCo is that once they get in the driver's seat, there's no stopping them and no telling where things will end up.
After participating in an all-female comedy workshop during a 72-hour improv festival in New York, Rachel McKay Steele was inspired to form a female team of her own. The Charleston native soon recruited Rosie Cardozo-Weingarten and together they began to assemble what would become Shrill Boy. The seven-woman improv team, including Taylor Maxwell, Mary Elizabeth Kelly, Carly Hoogendyk, Lauren Christianson, and Christine Chang, have developed their skills by studying with the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City and gained a good deal of confidence from training in the comedy mecca.
"With the success of Broad City and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, it's exciting and motivating to see women in comedy who studied at UCB kicking ass," Steele says. "But on a daily basis, the best, and probably most important part of UCB, is that it's a community of supportive, passionate people, who are doing comedy both because they are very driven and because it's so much fun. Though, I did see Amy Poehler on the street once, and I was pretty star struck."
Shrill Boy focuses on long-form improv, so audiences can expect an extended set based off of a single suggestion from the audience. The troupe then begins to build the scene, creating conditions, settings, and identities for the characters they've established.
"You need to really support and trust each other. After we get a suggestion, we will do an opening for a few minutes to generate ideas, and then go into scenes. As we don't always do the same opening, you'll just have to come see us if you want to know what's going to happen. Sorry if you had plans," Steele says. "We get into some pretty absurd situations, and I'm constantly amazed by the wonderful, weird minds of my teammates. Sometimes there's dancing. We have a lot of fun performing together, and I think it shows."
Coming out of the Push Comedy Theater in Norfolk, Va., The Pushers have been performing for more than a decade. Although the lineup has changed and evolved over the years, the group is still not afraid to take things to their limit in terms of racy subject matter. A good example of that brand of humor being the off-Broadway hit written by troupe founders Brad McMurran and Sean Devereux, along with one-time members Jeremiah Albers, who penned Cuff Me: The Unauthorized Fifty Shades of Grey Musical Parody in 2013.
While there's no way of knowing how far The Pushers are willing to go, whether they're skewering local politicians or subverting sexual stereotypes, audiences can always expect something lively.
The team from Alchemy Comedy Theater in Greenville likes to start out slow. Beginning with a story based on suggestions from the audience, the veteran touring ensemble crafts a back-and-forth dialogue between two characters. As that conversation begins to change and develop, the group takes those ideas and then expands upon them until the performance erupts into a fast-paced production.
As the show continues to ramp up, founder Harrison Brookie says it becomes even more vital to have a good team on stage. That's why the Alchemy Comedy Theater's most experienced members are hitting the road. Regularly teaching others the art of improv and hosting weekly performances, the Alchemy Comedy Theater TourCo will be bringing the Upstate theater's founding members to the Charleston Comedy Fest. The team made up of Ben Burris, Meg Pierson, Jason Underwood, Jason Farr, and Brookie bring years of stage experience to the Lowcounty and a keen understanding of what local audiences want.
"We found that Southerners like their front-porch stories," Brookie says of the group's improv roots. "That's how this show begins. It starts with the stories and builds until it hits the ground running."