"It's like a play-date for adults," says Savana Rose of On-the-Fly Improv, a group that meets weekly to perform skits, play games and act out unscripted scenes.
The 11-member group came together about three months ago when classmates in a local improv class, led by actor and teacher Eve Smyth, decided they wanted to keep doing improv even when the class was over.
"We had so much fun in Eve's class, we didn't want it to stop, so we connected with other people and started a group," said Rose.
Theater improv is live theater in which plot, characters and dialogue of a scene or story are made up in the moment. Often improvisers will take a suggestion from the audience or draw on some other source to get started.
Unpredictability makes for great improv, but winging it on stage, in front of a group, sounds scary. Before I spoke with the On-the-Fly players, I thought a person must have to be really brave to do improv. But then I realized you need only a little courage, because groups such as On-the-Fly are so supportive and fun.
"We all help each other and, even though it's been a short time, we've become good friends," said member Renée Miereanu. The other players agree.
"With improv, you can't help but get to know one another," said Josh Shupak. Kirk McKenzie added, "That's a big thing that comes from improv, we get to see different sides of one another. We get to see the best of each other."
Previous acting experience isn't necessary. A few members are experienced actors, but most aren't. McKenzie teaches improv in Medford, and members Mike Wills, Cat Gould and Kate Sullivan are working actors. Others have never been on stage before.
The On-the-Fly players had various motives for joining the group. Some wanted to sharpen their acting skills, some wanted a social outlet and others saw it as a way to overcome a fear. Group member Daniel Jokelson said fear was his motive.
"I'm doing it because improv scares the s—- out of me, and I like to face my fears and the elation that follows."
Carolyn Moeglien joined to bring out her fun side. "I tend to get too serious and I know there's a fun person in there," she said.
Regardless of how they became interested, the whole group is having a grand time. "This is a great experience," said Rochelle Webster. "You have to be in the moment. I feel like I'm learning not just lessons in acting but lessons in life."
Ruth Kirby agreed. "I think that's why people enjoy watching improv. It's like real life. You never know what's going to happen next."
The group's advice to anyone curious about improv is to try it out. "Take an improv class or check out a community group," said McKenzie.
The Ashland library hosts an improv group from 1 to 3 p.m. on the second and fourth Sundays in the Guanajuato Room.
Although the group's main intention is to have a good time, theater is, of course, more fun with an audience. The members commit to meeting once a week for six months, and during that time they plan a public performance and prepare for it by playing improvisational games and scenes.
On-the-Fly Improv will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, at the Geos Institute (the old Headwaters Building), 84 Fourth St., Ashland. In keeping with the very thing that makes improv great, the content of the show is anyone's guess.
"Of course, we don't know exactly what's going to happen," said Miereanu, "but we'll all have a great time."
For more information about On-the-Fly Improv and its upcoming performance, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at email@example.com.