Every other week, a gardener, diesel mechanic, psychologist, minister, veterinary technician and maybe one or two others, more or less, gather in the Andria Theatre.
While it may seem like these people have nothing in common, they actually all share one major interest: a love for comedy improvisation.
“I love to make people laugh and entertain people,” said David Zachary Conover, diesel mechanic. “The wonderful thing about comedy is that when people are laughing and having a good time, they forget about everything else that may be going on in their lives.”
These people are all a part of Alexandria’s one and only comedy improv group, Quad Squad. Most of its members didn’t consider themselves theater people before joining the group – in fact, most of them didn’t study theater in college.
“We all have lives outside of improv,” said Amberrose Nelson, gardener and member of the squad.
Group members can’t remember exactly when the group began, but it’s estimated to be a handful of years ago. Scott Giannone, an actor, was in Dave Christman’s acting class at Andria Theatre, previously known as Quad A Theater. Giannone approached Christman, asking for an improv group. The two collaborated on forming the group and soon had 12 members.
When the group started out, it was more of a relaxed setting of people getting together.
“Most of us just wanted a space to consistently perform,” Conover said. Nelson just wanted something fun to do on Saturdays.
But it soon changed into something they wanted to perform in front of others. Now a lively group of seven, Quad Squad rehearses bi-weekly and performs frequently.
The point of their rehearsals is not to script performances, but to practice acting humorously on the spot and to see what works and what doesn’t. Each performance is unique and completely unscripted.
The group will often hold workshops, where members perform and audience members are incorporated into the show. This allows the squad to receive feedback and to teach others what improv is all about. The group also recruits members through workshops.
Besides holding quarterly shows at Andria Theatre – the group’s favorite events because they also draw the largest crowds – the squad regularly performs at events for organizations. The squad is busiest in the fall, winter and spring, when it has shows at least every other weekend. Any revenue generated is donated to the theater.
Usually a performance is made up of only four to five people. Staffing for shows and events is chosen based on who can make it. Recently, five performed at the Lake Region Arts Council’s annual banquet at Grand Arbor.
Quad Squad was named after the theater, Quad A Theater. When the theater changed names to Andria Theatre, the improv troupe didn’t follow.
“When you’re new in town and you change your name, that’s not good,” Conover said. “When people hear our name (now), they get confused that there’s not four of us.”
Scott said being in an improv group has really helped with his acting skills. Before the group, he was interested in radio theater and radio drama. He started acting on stage at the theater, joined the squad, and now he’s acting in independent films.
His wife, Carolyn, is also a part of the group. She is a psychologist in her day-to-day life, and said that being in improv has helped her gain skills for all parts of her life.
“Improv helps you think on your toes, listen to people and actually be present in the room,” she said. “Plus you just get to play as an adult. You don’t get to do that in life."
“It’s helped me go out of my comfort zone,” member and veterinary technician Meagan Lindberg said.
The group has collected games from anywhere they can find ideas. Usually, members loosely base them on other improv games they’ve seen, whether that be from videos on the internet, or the TV shows “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” or “Studio C.” The group adapts each game to fit its needs and how many people are playing.
“That’s the thing about improv, it has to really morph and change,” Scott said.
However, the game can’t change too much – the group tries to keep it simple to understand and tailor to its audience.
One thing the group will never change, however, is making sure each show is family friendly. No matter the audience or venue, the squad won’t cross any lines past PG.
Sometimes, the group will pull a member from the audience and incorporate him or her into the show, which Lindberg said makes things more fun. When audience members recognize someone on stage, they tend to suggest quirkier or more difficult tasks for the players to perform.
Nelson has learned how to be OK with failing. “It’s nice knowing the people around you have your back,” she said.
Conover said no one in the group wants to see members fail at improv, but when it happens, it is a learning experience.
“The audience loves it when you fail,” Scott said.
The biggest challenge to putting on an improv show is getting along with people and relating to others different than herself, Nelson said. But, she knows when she had a good show.
“You just walk off the stage and you’re like, ‘man, that was awesome,’” Nelson said.
Offstage, the members have become close and often engage in social activities such as playing volleyball or going out to eat after a show.
“It’s become a family we wouldn’t have known otherwise,” Scott said.