improv comedy with an audience member

Wanna Laugh? | June 4, 2009

Philly Improv Theater's June lineup continues tonight at The Actors Center (257 North 3rd Street). The college showcase opens at 8 PM, when two Penn State troupes-"Full Ammo" and "Your Ex-Boyfriend's Improv"-take the stage.

"m@&" (Matt Holmes of Rare Bird Show) then defends his CAGEMATCH title at 10 PM, when he selects a random audience member to join him in a 30-minute longform improv act.

"Mr. Lizard" will be the challenger. Both the 8:00 and 10:00 performances cost $5.

Matt Holmes has been performing improv since 1998. His attraction to the art form surpasses its comedic appeal: "I like that improv can be serious, touching, sweet, sad, scary in addition to being funny."

He and his two partners in Rare Bird Show, Nathan Edmonson and Alexis Simpson, have become popular for their approach to the longform style: after soliciting audience suggestions, they build a half hour routine of improvisational scenes from one idea.

"There's a weird deja vu feeling that happens when you're doing great improv," Holmes says.

He describes the thrill of improvisation as "doing something or saying something onstage and it feels like it's been written out, edited, rehearsed, and directed" even though the performer is "just pulling something out of nothing."

We asked Holmes about how the viewers' responses influence the actors as they shape an act in real time. He likens watching improv to watching a DVD at home: "People aren't laughing, because they're listening, or because it's the kind of humor where you're smiling but not guffawing."

More important, he says, is the artist's response to himself and his troupe. "I work best when I'm just having fun."

Matt Holmes teaches Improv classes along with several other area performers at the Philly Improv Theater (PHIT). PHIT also offers workshops and classes for Sketch Writing and Teen Improv.

Interested in getting involved without making a time commitment? Holmes suggests "just coming out to enjoy some shows and meet people."

In addition to tonight's shows, PHIT is also producing two more on Saturday at The Actors Center. Area troupes "Fletcher" and "Secret Pants" perform at 8:00, and local artists "Everything Must Go" will be joined by "Marjean," a visiting group from Boston, at 10:00. Saturday shows cost $10.

Tonight, 6/5
10 PM (College Showcase at 8 PM)
The Actors Center, 257 North Third Street
Tickets: $5