Theater

Taos Improv Medicine has the cure for what ails your funny bone

By Kathleen Steward
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 6/25/19

Whoever said laughter is the best medicine was spot on. Get ready for Improv Medicine, a local comedy collective that will give their first show at Taos OnStage Saturday (June 29) …

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Theater

Taos Improv Medicine has the cure for what ails your funny bone

Posted

Whoever said laughter is the best medicine was spot on.

Get ready for Improv Medicine, a local comedy collective that will give their first show at Taos OnStage Saturday (June 29) at 7 p.m. The show will be a mix of improvisation, sketch comedy and a Taos-styled "Weekend Update" mimicking the iconic "Saturday Night Live" sketch -- expect to see two anchors using local news sources to make the sketch their own. Future shows are planned to follow.

The compelling thing about improvisational theater is that neither the audience nor the ensemble know what is going to happen. It's defined as the art of composing, uttering, executing or arranging anything without previous preparation; which gives way to an intriguing process.

Improv Medicine was founded by Jason Pfeifer. His back story is anything but funny. He was diagnosed with stage one testicular cancer in 2016. Throughout the year-long process of surgery, radiation and recovery, Pfeifer experienced the all-too familiar communication gaps between doctors and patients. The feeling of not being heard or not having a voice while facing his mortality left a deep impression -- but it gave birth to Improv Medicine.

"It's really a practice of mindfulness, a practice of being authentic, lots of communication skills that are wrapped up into it," Pfeifer explains.

The first gig Improv Medicine had was an evening performance, in July of 2016, for the S.I.M.P.L.E. conference hosted by Integrative Medicine de Taos at the Sagebrush Inn. The response was positive. With one thing leading to another, a board member from the D.H. Lawrence Society saw them at the conference and invited Improv Medicine to perform at their yearly conference. Pfeifer quickly realized that his market had a broad appeal -- grown-ups like the idea of learning better ways to communicate through play and laughter. Go figure.

Actress Irene Loy has been with Pfeifer's Improv Medicine since the get-go and is one of the featured artists launching a comedy show in Taos. Loy says the improv group started out with four people at the S.I.M.P.L.E. conference. Earlier this year, 30 people showed up to audition for the show and 10 were chosen. Laughter is in demand.

"It makes me a better person. I am a born planner - with improv I have to be more flexible, more playful," Loy says. "It's so wonderful."

Pfeifer likens improv to something Cory Marchasin said in rehearsal last week. It's like jumping out of an airplane. "There is this crazy nervousness right before you leave the plane, but as soon as you leave the plane all that disappears, at least for me, all that fear is gone," Pfeifer, who said he's jumped numerous times, tells Tempo. "Nervous, jittery, you are in the moment, you trust the people you are working with." Marchasin is a fellow improv member of the Taos Onstage comedy group.

Loy says for her, "I think there is a moment when you step out into a blank stage not knowing what you're going to say, then you make eye contact, and you get that bounce, that's what takes the panic away."

"You gotta be there present the whole time because the minute you're out of it, you get out of your head or you are off somewhere else, you might not know where the scene is anymore - you missed a crucial piece of information," adds Pfeifer.

The comedy show is directed by stand-up comic Becky Ciletti. Although sitting stereotypically in the director's chair she thinks of herself as more of a guide, with the group being on a level playing field. Ciletti also performs in the comedy show.

"It's all about freedom," remarks Ciletti, "you can be anything you want up there."

Ciletti says she came up in the Upright Citizens Brigade, a groundbreaking improv group founded at Hell's Kitchen in New York City. She morphed into a stand-up comic in the Big Apple, a tough gig if ever there was one.

Growing up in Colorado, she says, "I was shy for a long, long, long time, so I was interested in not being shy." That's one way of doing it, a 180-degree spin.

The birth of improvisation goes back to Italian commedia dell' arte, "comedy of the profession" in the 16th to the 18th centuries. According to Brittanica.com, commedia dell'arte emphasized ensemble acting. Its improvisations were set in a firm framework using masks and stock situations acted out in the streets of Italy. The theatrical method spread to France and England. The "Punch and Judy" show, one of the world's most famous and long-running puppet shows, is a product of commedia dell'arte.

Improv Medicine will also perform sketches. While improv is unplanned, unscripted and made up on the spot, sketches are written, rehearsed and memorized in advance of the performance. Think "Monty Python's Flying Circus," "The Carol Burnett Show" and "SNL."

Tickets are $10. Taos OnStage is located at 101-A Camino de la Placita, at the bottom of Cantu Hill.

Champing at the bit to tame your fears and gain valuable communication skills? Improv Medicine offers drop-in classes on Wednesdays, 6-8 p.m at Unity Church at 69A Blueberry Hill. Each class is $10; no experience required. Call (575) 613-4855.

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