Eclectic Improv Electrifies Opening Night Crowd

“When you’ve been together as long as we have, you learn to trust each other,” said Don Gervasi, when he was asked about his ten plus years of working with the members of the Eclectic Improv Company. Todd Benzin, who has known Gervasi since college said that they have to be ready to do anything. “It helps that we share the same pop culture references.”

The Eclectic Improv Company opened their season Saturday night to a packed house at Shea’s Smith Theatre. The troupe started the show with an improvised sermon by Peter Cumbo. They said they begin the show with the sermon to promote audience interaction and drive up the energy that is crucial to a good perfomance.

After sequestering Cumbo offstage, Don Gervasi and Todd Benzin asked the audience for a multi-syllable noun, verb and adjective. When Cumbo returned, he discerned, with help from Gervasi and Benzin, that he was to perform a sermon about an organic, filibustering parallelepiped (a geometric shape not covered in fourth grade class).

The structure of the show is short-form, game-based improvisation, according to Cumbo. They can’t prepare jokes, but Gervasi writes down a list of the gimmicks or games on a white board prior to the show. “It’s like a set list you would see musicians with at a concert,” Gervasi explained.

Basic principle of improv is “yes, and?”, meaning that you have to accept whatever premise you are given (in this case by the audience) and build on it. You can’t say no or the scene dies.

Cumbo noted that you can never just relax back stage like you might in a conventional stage show. “In a regular ongoing stage show, you might see people backstage reading, but in improv you have to always be aware of what is going on onstage, even if you won’t be in that scene.”

The audience laughed their way through a song about eggplant, accompanied by pianist Mike Hake and a Spanish version of Goldilocks. The group also performed a musical about foot augmentation in which Todd Benzin spontaneously created a character named “Mr. Galumpers” a funny/creepy clown who taught Peter Cumbo that his tiny feet made him special.

The Eclectic Improv Company will be performing at Shea’s Smith Theatre the last Saturday of every month through June. See www.eclecticimprov.comfor tickets or additional information.

Originally appeared in buffalo.com