South Sound Improv Comedy Festival
What: Harlequin Productions’ new improv troupe, Something Wicked, will make its debut at an improv festival.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $15 general admission, $25 for reserved seats, $20 for reserved seats for subscribers, $10 for rush tickets
More information: 360-786-0151 or harlequinproductions.org
Coming up: Something Wicked will perform one Wednesday night during the run of each Harlequin show this season. Future dates are March 19, May 14, July 8, Sept. 3 and Oct. 15.
The improv troupe Something Wicked, making its debut on Wednesday, could have been called Something Completely Different.
To begin with, it’s the latest venture from Harlequin Productions, which produces a wide variety of theater — musicals, plays, classics, new works, originals — but heretofore has done so with a script.
Something Wicked not only doesn’t have a script, it doesn’t even really have a plan for the South Sound Improv Comedy Festival, its debut event. The evening of improv will feature three other Olympia improv troupes (Olyimprov, Fools Play and Generation Friends) plus Seattle’s Unexpected Productions.
“We’re trying to make it as random as possible our first time out, just to see if we can handle that kind of pressure,” Wicked leader Christian Doyle said. “Trying to keep everybody on their toes the whole time is my plan.”
The members of Wicked include Harlequin development director and actor Mark Alford, who came up with the idea for Something Wicked; well-known comic talents Lauren O’Neill and Dave Beacham; Harlequin actors Ryan Holmberg, Robert Humes, Maggie Loftquist and Vanessa Postil; and Brown Edition frontman Miguel Pineda.
If the idea of throwing even a talented group into the deep end sounds reckless, it’s all part of Doyle’s plan — his plan not to have plans.
“Every show needs to be different,” said Doyle, a familiar face to Olympia audiences for roles from Judas in Harlequin’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” to Tigger in Olympia Family Theater’s “The House at Pooh Corner,” opening Friday. (See story elsewhere in this section.) “I have no idea what’s going to happen. I think it’s going to be fun, but with improv, you never know.
“It could turn into a bloodbath any minute,” he added, “although it won’t. That was one of my stipulations: Nothing gets to turn into a bloodbath.”
While it might sound whimsical, Doyle — who’s been doing improv for 20 years and teaching it for 11 — has a method to his seeming madness.
“I’ve had a lot of experience with improv groups,” he said. “Generally, they fall apart after a while. The shows get stale quickly.
“We get tired of playing the same ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ games over and over for shows.”
So Doyle has no games in mind for the festival. There will be lots of audience participation, though, and there’ll be lots of mingling.
“In the first half, each troupe gets to take a turn performing, and the second half is going to be more of a mash-up,” Alford said.
The group is slated to perform one Wednesday night during the run of each Harlequin show for the rest of the season.
“I had the idea while I was in school that having comedy shows filling the holes in a theater company’s season would get a different audience in there,” Alford said. “Those shows could fill in time between shows with no rehearsals.”
In true anything-can-happen fashion, Harlequin board president Joe Hyer came up with the same idea and brought it up to Alford at a lunch meeting, and the two were off and brainstorming.
Doyle, who teaches improv in Harlequin’s Conservatory for Young Actors, was a natural addition. He’s “arguably the improv guru of South Puget Sound,” Harlequin managing artistic director Scot Whitney said.
“I didn’t even initially want to do it,” Doyle said. “I made a bunch of crazy demands, which they accepted.”
Chief among them was this: “I get to mix it up as much as I want.”