POSTED ON DECEMBER 22, 2010:
Off the Cuff
Improv on stage and online
Spontaneous Laughs. “There are things that come up in shows that we do, that are a little bit PG-13. Mostly it’s because we’re all so juvenile.”
Middle school drama teacher by day, and one of our city's favorite performers by night, Sally Adams is a character in her own right, let alone on stage.
She's also a singer in the local band Just Us, and has her own series of podcasts called Express Yourself, which she says is "conversations with artists, chefs, scientists, people like that. I'm really interested in creative process."
No kidding. Her current favorite project? An improv troupe called The Spontaniacs! which has been around for about three years now.
"We've all been around each other for many years, and love performing together," Adams said. "We started saying, 'Let's see what happens if we put together some people we really like, people who are some of the best local performers, and work together regularly.'"
The Spontaniacs consist of Sally Adams, Jarrod Kopp, Angie Mitchell, George Nelson, Eric Peterson, and occasionally several others.
Each member of the Spontaniacs have taught improv, and have at one time been a part of the improv troupe Laughing Matter, lead by Julie Tattershall.
"Julie is one of our dearest friends and supporters. She really taught each of us a lot about improv."
The Spontaniacs' current project is an online radio show called Stories of the Century, which is crafted completely off the cuff, improvised from ideas they receive from audience members at their live shows.
"Everything we do live or on the radio show is completely improvised, and that surprises some people," Adams said. "We typically take 2 nouns from the audience, and one opening line, and then we just go with it."
Stories of the Century is based on fictional characters who battle varied conflicts in the Century Building.
"We had been rehearsing every week, and we noticed a few characters coming up that we loved, and wanted to do more with. So we recorded the first episode around my kitchen table."
While all of the dialogue is improvised, the sound effects are harder to manipulate on the spot. "We'll do as many of the sounds as we can, but if we need a telephone ring or something that like, Eric will add it later. There's a few we can't really do on our own."
The old-timey radio show idea stemmed from a soap opera style performance they were working on together. "In improv, there are various templates. We do a game play called 'Soap Opera,' and we've really reinvented it. We did one that was sort of a mix between Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? And Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that was just hilarious."
While some ideas are borrowed or inspired by other things they've seen, Adams insists that their troupe is highly creative and original.
"We do some things nobody else does. And if they do, they stole it from us."
Adams described several techniques the group uses to communicate within a scene: "tapout and takeover" is when a person is tapped by someone who will come into the scene and take their place. She says they use a circular hand motion to convey the same idea when doing the radio show.
But ultimately, Adams admits to having one main secret when it comes to making audiences laugh.
"You accept and agree to everything, and it's funny! You elicit laughter with surprise. That's really the secret: you just go for it."
Would she rather be doing this kind of work anywhere else? "We are based in Tulsa because we live here. This is our home. People assume you can only find talent in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. But Tulsa has some truly excellent performers.
"Anyone who attends Tulsa shows knows that, and they will recognize the actors we have in our troupe. There are not many others in town who are as experienced with improv as some of the people in Spontaniacs."
And it shows. Each of the characters involved in Stories of the Century are wildly vivid and entertaining. "One of my favorite moments is from our last episode. A train conductor shows up--driving a train inside the Century building apparently--and when his train conducting experience is questioned, he responds, 'I drove a train in the war!'"
Adams reminds us that the Spontaniacs are not always kid-friendly. "There are things that come up in shows that we do, that are a little bit PG-13. Mostly it's because we're all so juvenile."
The Spontaniacs' radio shows are available on Podcastmachine, iTunes, and Youtube. They will be performing live January shows. For more information, go to spontaniacsimprov.com.
Celebrity Attractions presents Burn the Floor at the Chapman Music Hall of Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Jan. 11-13 at 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 14-15 at 8 p.m.; Jan. 15-16 at 2 p.m.; Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. Burn the Floor is a dance spectacular that takes the audience through various steamy and exciting dances.
Theatre Tulsa presents The Scarlet Letter at the John H. Williams Theatre of Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Jan. 14-15, 20-22 at 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 16 at 2 p.m. Michael Wright directs this adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 17th-century novel. For tickets and more information, go to www.tulsapac.com.
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