Improvaganza! returns to Howard Community College

An assertive woman and a nervous man walk into the spotlight. Their audience-assigned roles: two cousins at the morgue.

He timidly suggests the morgue is not a good place for “take a child to work day.”

She blithely waves away his concern, saying morgue attendants “help people.”

“How can you help them? They’re dead,” he says.

She’s going to show him and things get strange.

The audience is cracking up.

So begins one of the snap sketches by W.I.G. (What Improv Group?) during a performance by the troupe at its home base, Howard Community College in Columbia.

Audiences will have a chance to see W.I.G. and several other improv groups from the Maryland-D.C.-Virginia region at the second annual Improvaganza! It’s an epic three nights of shoot-from-the-hip comedy and storytelling at HCC’s Horowitz Center on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 29-31.

An improvization festival is a good fit for HCC. The college’s Arts Collective, which promotes a variety of creative endeavors, launched W.I.G. as a project in 2009 and it has drawn audiences to nine seasons of turn-on-a-dime performances.

Susan Kramer, producing artistic director of the Arts Collective, acknowledged the challenge improv presents to those who perform it. No looking before you leap.

“Improv might have a reputation that people are hesitant to do it - who wants to be put on the spot?” she said. “But W.I.G.’s approach is accessible because we view it as honest storytelling based on a person’s truth.”

Plenty of laughs ensue, but improv can take other directions.

“Comedy isn’t always the goal,” she said. “The audience can also be swept into a story that’s endearing or touching. Audiences don’t mind going down a not-so-funny road as long as the performances are honest and grounded.”

What about family suitability?

“We recommend age 14 and up,” Kramer said. “We take the high road, but it is a college show.”

One performer, Emma McDonnell, a graduate of Wilde Lake High School and HCC, has been with W.I.G. since the beginning.

She finds improv exciting.

“There’s no wrong way to do it,” she says, adding that it’s a team effort.

“There are people I enjoy working with. I feel I am growing with them. There are rules, but also different approaches.”

Kramer said this year’s festival will follow the same blueprint as last year’s inaugural show, but with a slight difference. Last year, the Arts Collective offered a class in improv. Replacing that this year will be audience participation in an “improv jam,” when members of different troupes come together for a sketch.

“It’s a fun thing that will come at the end of each evening,” she said.

Improvaganza! is the culmination of many years of collaborations and partnerships among creative people all over central Maryland.

Kramer recalled early workshops at HCC run by Baltimore teacher and playwright Gordon Porterfield. Then, a group from HCC participated in an improv festival in Baltimore.

“We thought it would be cool to have something like that in Howard County,” she said. Improvaganza! was born.

W.I.G. now has partners supporting its creative mission, including the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, Steppenwolf West and the Slayton House Camp for the Arts.

A show lasting about two hours starts each evening at 8 p.m. at the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center’s Studio Theatre. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $10 for students, seniors, faculty, staff and military. A $30 ticket gets you all three nights. There will be free snacks and $1 drinks.

W.I.G. performs each night. The other performers are as follows:

Thursday, March 29: Bandicoot, “which relies heavily on game, physicality, spattered with absurdity;” Bad Karaoke Experience, a Baltimore troupe that performs “full fairy tale improvised musicals;” and Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski, a stand-up comic and storyteller.

Friday, March 30: Moonbot, which “takes on specificity and darkness;” Door #3, creator of improvised musicals; Old City, “chock full of compelling characters, scintillating scenes;” and Dad Joke, relaying the life experiences of “two dudes.”

Saturday, March 31: Couch Money, “one of D.C.’s top furniture-related comedy teams;” the Penthouse Basements, with “short-form improv stylings;: and Charmsical, offering “musicals you have never seen before and will never see again.”

Joining Kramer in coordinating the event are W.I.G. cast members Daniel Johnston and Douglas Beatty.

The rest of the 2018 W.I.G. cast includes Nsikan Akan, Gabrielle Amaro, Makayla Beckles, Chania Hudson, Emma McDonnell, Gavin Brown, Alex Stephan's and Lauren Blake Williams.

Go to howardcc.edu.

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