In recent years, local improv has emerged as a force to be reckoned with at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. In addition to the Bearded Company’s popular improvised Dungeons and Dragons-inspired campaign and My Town’s exploration of the Multiverse, there are two unique musical options at this year’s Fringe: the Shrieking Harpies, who perform an hour-long improvised musical, and the Provettes, a group that alternates longform improv scenes with original dances. The Provettes offer a fresh perspective in their first year at Fringe, while the Shrieking Harpies, veterans of the Twin Cities improv scene, return for a second year.
Having seen the Provettes do a shorter set earlier this year, I was very curious about how they would fill an hour-long slot, and I was not disappointed. Made up of Brooke Fanning, Laura Hild, Mawrgyn Roper, Alicia Wheelock, and DJ Craig Corsi, the Provettes took everything positive about their earlier performance—facial expressions, shiny costumes, onstage DJ—and cranked it to 11. Starting with a (ridiculously) choreographed opening number spanning multiple genres and multiple costume changes, the show immediately drew the audience in, eliciting cheers and laughs from the first dance step. A highlight of the show came in the form of an audience suggestion, with Mawrgyn Roper performing as a cocoon to Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose.” It was so enjoyable and I would have loved to see more solo dances from the other performers. For the rest of the show, the Provettes performed more traditional improv scenes, prompted by DJ “Craigie” to break into dance at emotional high points. The absurd and bizarre are definitely strengths of the Provettes’ longform improv. As far as the dancing goes, the show is worth a watch based on the facial expressions alone.
The Shrieking Harpies
The Shrieking Harpies are composed of Twin Cities improv favorites Lizzie Gardner, Taj Ruler, and Hannah Wydeven. Taking an audience suggestion of something you wanted to be when you were little (cartoonist in this case), they crafted a full- length musical with accompaniment by Justin Nellis on keyboard. The Harpies switched between multiple characters, each with their own hilarious personality quirks. We saw a reluctant newspaper reporter (Ruler) with dreams of becoming a cartoonist, her roommate named Candy trying to overcome the sweet connotations of her name (Wydeven), and a love interest named Barge (Gardner) who gained destructive Hulk-like strength upon feeling happiness. Despite being a musical improv group, their dialogue in between musical numbers is just as strong as their songs. In one example, Candy says, “Imagine reading my resume. My name is Candy Cotton.” Ruler anchored the show as an endearing and sharp-witted lead, with Wydeven and Gardner portraying a host of hilarious supporting characters that included Ruler’s cartoon drawings come to life. In one hour, they managed to create an engrossing story with a clear beginning, middle, and end that tied everything together nicely. The Shrieking Harpies are one of the most polished improv groups I’ve ever seen, with great chemistry and an ease that comes from years of working together.