February 2018: Make 'Em Laugh - The Hive
Slumped in a chair on the small dark stage, Wesley (Wes) Swedenburg wearily stares up at Kevin Bransford. “Can you sing me a song?” he croaks. A hum of laughter rises through the audience. Four other actors stand in a horizontal line behind the scene unfolding before them. They repress their smiles. Some stare at their toes, one turns his back to the audience with shaking shoulders.
Wes looks straight into Kevin’s eyes as if challenging him to crack. With a serene expression, Kevin sings a lullaby. This is the first time anyone heard this song, including Kevin himself. Nobody else in the world will hear it. Improv comedy creates a special bond between actors and the audience because nobody knows what will come next. We laugh together.
This is no unusual shenanigan at The Box Performing Space and Improv Theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Every Friday night at 10:15 pm, long form comedy improvisers of The H
ive—Kevin Bransford, Tito Dameron, Felipe (Fill) Jeantete, Tiffany Silva, Wes Swedenburg, Elena Warden, and Jason Weiler—spontaneously develop characters and craft stories based on a one-word suggestion.
How can a single-word suggestion from the audience inspire the entire show?
“It’s more of a springboard,” Tito answers.
Elena: “Once you have an idea from those words, you follow through with it to a natural conclusion. You don’t have to stick to the initial word, but it’s nice if you can tie it back around.”
To happen, art needs structure. The same way a painter uses a canvas, The Hive builds their performances on a format called the Harold—an unplanned three-act play with three different stories. With ideas from the one-word suggestion as paint, The Hive can create any picture they want.
“There’s no wrong character choice,” Fill remarks.
They recount their most hilarious moments on stage. A guy pursues a girl who only makes nonsensical noises. A cop and a convict on the run “bond over shared experiences,” then engage in a passionate love affair. Cast members even incorporated the sounds of a gas guzzling car outside the building into a scene set at Dairy Queen.
Jason butts in, “I don’t like rehashing improv scenes… because it’s something you have to be a part of. Once it’s done, it’s done and it can never be done again.”
Wes: “There are brilliant scenes that you’ll never be able to share with anyone that wasn’t there.”
Improv comedy is a conversation between the audience and the actors. Much like rock stars, as Fill puts it, they need to “feel the crowd.” The larger the audience, the more energy there is. “It tells you where to go,” Kevin says, “If you say a certain line and they respond to it… follow the laugh.” The more lively and responsive the audience, (heckling is discouraged), the more entertaining the show is. While making audiences laugh, they also want people to feel like they were part of something.
The best part of The Hive is the camaraderie. As my time with them ends, they mention that they are going to the Empire Board Game Library together. Thanks to the classes they took at The Box (available to all) and performing together, The Hive has a strong friendship. Improv comedy invites people into their world by creating moments that can only be shared between those in the room. Next Friday night, go laugh with The Hive.
The Box present The Hive Fridays at The Box Performance Space and Improv Theater, 114 Gold Ave SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102 at 10:15 pm. Doors open at 9:45 pm. Tickets are available at www.theboxabq.com.