The improv team Gentleman's Falcon likes to get the show started with all of the performers onstage at once. Someone in the audience provides a prompt, and the five actors cook up a scene.
"It's usually a recipe for disaster to tell everybody to get up onstage," says Falcon member Henry Riggs, a Theatre 99 alumnus who moved to the improv mecca of Chicago five years ago. Most improv groups wouldn't attempt such a feat at the start of a show, but Riggs and his crew don't play by the rules.
The members of Gentleman's Falcon met while taking classes at iO Chicago Theatre (previously ImprovOlympic, until the International Olympic Committee threatened to sue in 2001), a proving ground that helped launch the careers of Mike Myers, Chris Farley, and Tina Fey. They took their name from one of the first scenes they performed together. "We were all a bunch of upper-crust, monocle-wearing, falcon-sporting croquet players," Riggs says. Plausible enough. "It's just sort of ridiculous and how we approach improv."
If you go, expect to see what Riggs calls "a very fast, high-energy free-for-all." You will hear stupid puns, he says. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You might even see some chivalrous falconry.
Sometimes the best fiction comes from real life. For the Richmond Comedy Coalition, an improv squad visiting from Virginia, that can mean a lot of things. Sometimes they'll take an audience member's iPod and put it on shuffle, allowing the sequence of songs to inspire their scenes. Other times they'll work with scraps of conversation or true-life monologues from local guests.
"Sometimes I say awful things onstage without even thinking about it, and then I'm like, 'You're classier than that, girl!'" Artistic Director Katie Holcomb says. "But if it makes me laugh in the moment, I can't fight it."
Holcomb's seven-member improv crew still hasn't decided what the format of their show in Charleston will be. "I promise we'll decide before the show, though," Holcomb says.
In addition to leading the Greenville improv group Local Legends, Harrison Brookie holds down a day job as a high school social studies teacher. The funniest thing he's realized about the teaching profession? Even teachers count down to holidays.
It's always amusing — and sometimes uncomfortable — when you realize that some authority figure in your life is a human being just like you. That's part of the charm of the Local Legends format, where the cast convinces a local celebrity to tell a true story onstage and then riffs off that story for an evening of surprisingly personal comedy. This type of improv was pioneered by Chicago theater guru Armando Diaz.
Previous Local Legends guests include Miss South Carolina, a psychologist, a high school forensics coach, and the hype man for Clemson's basketball team. Brookie is open to suggestions for a Charleston celebrity to put on the spot ... Does anybody have Bill Murray's phone number?
Brookie says the students in his social studies classes are well aware of his second life in the theater. He's even started a training program at the high school. "My students are surprised at first, but they quickly see how the wit and fast thinking comes out in my teaching," he says.
Fri. Jan. 18, 7:30 p.m. Sat. Jan. 19, 9 p.m. $12.50. Redux Contemporary Art Center