Success on the stage of improvisational comedy is a bit of a microcosm for success in life, according to Anacortes Improv founder Martin Iverson: Those who have the most success are able to forget about appearances and do what they need to get the job done.
That’s a tough act when the job is to take the stage and spontaneously inspire an audience to laugh, armed with nothing but your wits.
Anacortes Improv — now with Nate Murray, Brian Geer, Craig Clarke and Tim McLaughlin — has certainly been successful, taking the stage more than 20 years and raising nearly $100,000 for charitable causes.
Iverson said a show can be successful whether the audience is laughing at the jokes, or at the actors.
“If you’re OK with them laughing at you, then it’s funny,” he said. “If you’re worried about your ego, you’re not going to look good.”
Improv performers have no prepared lines or direction. The performers participate in a number of “games” that challenge their ability to think on their feet and entertain the audience off the cuff.
Each game has rules that add to the challenge, and a moderator usually asks for suggestions from the audience to establish setting, characters and conflict.
The players take it from there and try to entertain and surprise the audience.
“We have an idea of what games we’re going to do,” Iverson said. “But we don’t have any idea where it’s going to go from the starting idea.”
Iverson has been acting since high school, and has been taking the stage for improv in Anacortes since the late ’80s when he took a class from Knous Martin through Anacortes Community Theatre.
His shows started as fundraisers at the ACT playhouse with as few as 20 guests in the audience.
Now, more than two decades later, Iverson and the others perform several shows each year at Brodniak Hall, drawing laughs from more than 400 fans.
Iverson said the Anacortes Improv group doesn’t rehearse or practice their craft between shows, but they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses well enough to keep the show moving and the laughs coming.
For the past few years, Iverson has also taught classes as part of the Class ACT program for young performers.
He said the biggest obstacle for new improv actors is the fear of failure, and it’s generally a self-fulfilling fear. It’s also one that has never been an obstacle for Iverson. As a young actor he always relished the chaos of moments when a stage prop broke or an actor forgot his line.
Now, standing on the cusp of failure is Iverson’s favorite pastime.
“There’s a bit of adrenaline that hits you when you’re in front of 300 people and you don’t know what your next line will be,” he said.
Iverson, 48, when he’s not on stage is active in his church, directing community theater, working one of four jobs or at home with his four children.
He works long hours as a physical therapist in Anacortes and Burlington, as a deejay and he has a videography business.
“It’s a lot better than doing 80 hours a week at one job,” he said. “I have a brain that I have to keep challenged.”
Along with being comfortable and confident on stage, Iverson said another important parallel to life is the necessity of accepting his weaknesses.
He admitted he’s not very good at the “alphabet game,” in which each consecutive line of a dialogue must start with the next letter of the alphabet.
“So I don’t do it,” he said. “The audience doesn’t need to see that. Find what your strengths are, and focus on that.”
A handful of safety nets can rescue performers who flounder during a scene — the rest of the team can step in and take the spotlight, or if the scene just isn’t working, the moderator can cut it short.
But Iverson said the biggest safety net is the hilarious challenge of the scenarios themselves, and part of the fun for the audience is watching the performers struggle.
“At the worst, we get funny — at the best we get fantastic. The games are set up against you, and the audience knows that,” he said. “Even if you screw up, you’re going to get the laugh.”
Guest performers and guest moderators also lend a fresh element to each performance.
Iverson said he briefly stopped performing in the late ’90s when the improv TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” became popular. He figured no one would want to pay to see him perform. But the community demanded that the show go on.
Over the years, Iverson estimates that the group has raised close to $100,000 for causes including Anacortes Little League, the Skagit River Shakespeare Festival, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, ACT, muscular distrophy research and Somali famine relief.
He’s always willing to host a show for a worthy cause, but he said his wait list has grown to close to two years.
The next performance will be 8 p.m. Friday, July 20 at Brodniak, raising money for the AHS drama department and the Anacortes Sister Cities’ student trip to Nikaho, Japan.
The cost is $5 at the door — the same as when he started. That keeps it affordable for folks who want to support the cause, and it makes the performance more enjoyable for everyone.
“It’s a lot more fun to do a show for a full house than for a half-full house,” he said.
An Evening of Improv
• 8 p.m. Friday, July 20; Brodniak Hall, Anacortes High School; $5 at the door.
• A fundraiser for Anacortes Sister Cities’ student trip to Nikaho, Japan, and the AHS Drama Department. Young Improv Artists will perform for about 30 minutes before the main show starts. Shows are family-friendly and unrehearsed.
• Other upcoming shows: Friday, Sept. 21; Friday, Oct. 26; Saturday, Jan. 19
No comments found.