Don't Feed the Actors from Syracuse, NY registered for the festival before the virtual ink was dry on the virtual paper, so it only fitting that they are the first group to receive the Thumbs UP profile treatment. I sat down with DftA's Dustin Czarny over a snifter of 15 year old brandy and this is the lively discussion that ensued.
Q: Tell us about how your group formed.
Our group officially started doing shows a little over three years ago. However the idea of doing improv had been there for a long time. Many of us have been working in local theater together for over 15 years and for three or four years held annual improv parties where we played many of the games off of Whose Line is it Anyway which, of course, we adored. The idea of doing an improv show came about as a way to do a fundraiser for Appleseed productions a local theater company many of us were active in. The initial fundraiser was such a success we ended up doing four more fundraisers over the next year there. Finally we decided that we wanted to do more shows and in 2009 branched out on our own. We have averaged 2-3 shows a month since then and it has been a blast.
Q: How did your group get its name?
When the original group of us got together and decided to do that first fundraiser we realized we needed a name. Of course the idea of riffing off all of us being involved in local theater was a prevalent theme. My wife Heather Roach, who is also in the group, actually gets credit for coming up with the name after commenting on actors love for free food. And from the name we were able to develop our shtick about rewarding the actors with snacks and other mostly edible products.
Q: Does your group have any favorite games?
Well each improver probably has their own favorite game. Because of our name the game Helping Hands became a big staple in our shows and we close every show with Scenes from a Hat which is always a big hit. We have a few variations on popular games and a few games we have made up as well. The musical games have always been a big hit and we started doing thos a little over a year ago, and now our sets feature 3 or 4 musical games a nigh.
Q: Many in your cast are scripted actors as well? Does doing improv help with acting, or does acting help with improv?
All of our improvers were culled from the ranks of local and community theater. I think it helps with trust, which is an import6ant element in improv, to know that the other person is committed to a project, will show up on time, and understands that sometimes you have to "take the hit" so to speak to get the laugh and let others take the spotlight. But not every comedic actor can do improv. We have had some incredibly comic actors do a show or rehearsal or two with us and decide it is just not their thing, it is a totally different animal. Being unscripted is like jumping off a cliff and either you are willing to do it or your not. We cull all our members from the local community theater population as opposed to holding open auditions mainly because that is how we started and so far it has worked well for us. We currently have a roster of 12 actors of which 4-5 go to each show. This also allows us to keep people fresh and keep this fun.
Q: Any great stories to share about onstage incidents or shows gone horribly wrong?
Two of our most memorable shows could not be more different. The first was one of our first traveling shows at Moniraes in Pennelville. the audience was wild and crazy and being audience based improv our show got wild and crazy as well. The audience went very blue and, well, we indulged them. The other was when we did the Westcott Fair. On the stage before us was a magician and when we took the stage all of a sudden we looked into the audience and saw a ton of elementary school kids. It was not what we prepared for but we had an surprisingly clean and fun show and made the kids laugh. That helped us branch into some youth group workshops we have done.
Q: You do a lot of road gigs, is that something you enjoy? What are some memorable road trips?
While we have some regularly scheduled shows in Syracuse at the Locker Room, we probably do more shows on the road then at home. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be in a band, and this is the closest thing that I will ever come to. The fact that I cant play any musical instruments or carry a tune doesn't help things either. There is nothing like traveling to a place we have never seen, showing up an hour before a gig, unloading the jeep and setting up then playing to a room full of people who have never seen us before is an awesome feeling. The college gigs are probably the most fun, the kids really bring a unique energy to the room and the times where we can team with their own college group is wonderful as well.
Don't Feed the Actors perform at the Thumbs UPstate Improv Festival on Saturday, April 9. Their official site is www.dontfeedtheactors.com