Editor’s Note: The times listed below were correct as of 3/25/2020. Changes to schedules may occur! To keep up with the latest from the groups below, follow them online:
Jill Bernard: Facebook
Show X: Facebook
Bad Poet Society, Instagram: @badpoetssocietyimprov
Pupppets, Instagram: @pupppetsimprov
The Mess, Instagram: @themessimprov
Foul Play, Facebook
Provettes, Instagram: @theprovettes
Shrieking Harpies, Instagram: @shriekingharpies
After HUGE Improv Theater closed its doors indefinitely on March 16th, Jill Bernard set out to take her acclaimed one-woman musical improv show, Drum Machine, to Facebook Live. What followed was something delightfully silly, and in the words of Bernand, “substantially dumber.” She has now restyled her show as Dumb Machine, which will air Fridays at 10:30 pm on her Facebook page. Bernard is part of a wave of local improvisers who have moved their content to Facebook and Instagram to fill the void left by cancelled performances. As someone involved in both the improv and scripted theater scenes locally, I firmly believe that some of the best things to happen on any Twin Cities stage take place at HUGE. That’s why it was so crushing when HUGE went dark this month. Like Bernard, improviser Chris Rodriguez is also part of the movement to create online content. “Art is as resilient as the human spirit,” says Rodriguez, who was a part of two shows that were supposed to be included in HUGE’s Spring lineup in March and April.
The push to move content online has not been without its challenges, however. “I draw a lot of my inspiration from the energy and participation of the people in the room, it isn’t the same with a chat box,” says Bernard. Musical accompaniment has also been a challenge, with Bernard turning to Amazon’s Alexa for help in her first livestream. The challenges were worth it, she said, for the opportunity to connect with people across the city and the world. “Once it became clear that I couldn’t do Drum Machine, it morphed into something else—a time to be together and be silly in this difficult time.”
Several other cancelled shows have decided to fill their scheduled time slots via Instagram stories. Bad Poets Society, devised by Jada Pulley as a mixture of improvised poetry/spoken word, will be restyled as an improvised poetry battle with a different host each Saturday at 10:30 pm on Instagram Live @badpoetssocietyimprov. Rodriguez describes the effort as striving to “blend the arts of absurdity and the poetic together.” Pupppets, who were originally scheduled as the openers for Bad Poets, have also been broadcasting their improvised puppet show from @pupppetsimprov on Instagram. The show features Laura Berger and Cody Madison, who use puppets ranging from socks to stuffed narwhals to create a montage of scenes. Another group appearing on Instagram on Saturdays is The Mess (@themessimprov) at 9:30 pm. In a post, the the Mess called the content “as incoherent” as their regular shows, which are a chaotic whirlwind of fast-paced hilarity. Show X, HUGE’s all-star Monday night show, has also gone online, posting reruns each Monday on their Facebook page. Foul Play, an improvised murder mystery in the style of Agatha Christie, is also working on putting together online content.
Other groups are creating interactive content, encouraging their followers to get involved. The Provettes, who normally pair improvised comedic dance with scene work, are challenging each other to dances on TikTok and Instagram, encouraging fans to submit their own videos (@theprovettes). Similarly, the Shrieking Harpies, a narrative musical improv trio who had a spot in HUGE’s Friday night Spring lineup, posted a lip sync challenge on Instagram stories (@shriekingharpies) and hope to produce some form of online shows in the near future.
As is the case with small theaters across the Twin Cities, the closure of HUGE is a crushing financial blow. Improvisers are encouraging would-be audience members to donate in lieu of ticket sales at givehuge.com.