The Liberty Center Association for the Arts is switching up its theater offerings with its first improv group show this weekend.
The new improv group formed this spring with Keith Butts, Nancy Embry and Carl Hutcherson, who credited Butts with getting the group started. Several months later, the fully-formed group includes Hutcherson, Butts, Embry, Sara Schell, Amber Harshner, Leonard Montes Jr., and Danielle Knight.
The group has been practicing once a week for months, with more rehearsals recently as they prepare for Saturday night’s debut show. Each performer had their own reason for why they love improv performances, all with a theme of improv scenes being unique.
“I have always loved the onceness of it, the immediate. It happens right now and it never happens again,” Hutcherson said Wednesday night before rehearsal. “The connection between the performers and the audience is a split-second thing and then it’s destroyed and moved on and something new is created and I’ve always loved that.”
For Knight, she said she loves the adrenaline rush.
“It’s like nothing else because you don’t know what in the world you’re going to say, you don’t know what the audience is going to give you and there’s just this deeper level of trust required between you and your castmates than if you were just in a straight play,” she said. “… You’re going to support me, you’re going to say ‘Yes and,’ we’re going to make this scene funny and awesome together.”
Butts said the best thing about improv is he can be whoever he wants to be on stage, anyone from a police officer to a pirate, a sailor or a gentleman, a thief or a driver.
Montes said a traditional play can be a safety net because the actors have a script and know their characters feel and respond. Improv turns that on its head.
“Here, improv, it’s like that kind of but on spinach, I guess I would say,” Montes said to laughs from his castmates. “Because you don’t know what comes at you or when. There’s no net. That’s what I’m excited about.”
The group said that while there are no rules for improv, there are a few rules, possibly better framed as guidelines: always say “yes,” always say “yes and,” set your partner up, make statements rather than forcing your partner to come up with everything. Butts said there are no mistakes, only opportunities.
“It’s not about me, it’s about ‘how can I set Danielle up,’” Butts explained.
All seven members have previously been involved in improv, theater, the Liberty Center, or a combination of the three.
For Schell, her Liberty Center involvement had been limited to her daughter’s participation in children’s shows until she “auditioned on a whim” for the Christmas Spectacular. It was so much fun, she said, that she decided to continue with theater.
Hutcherson is no stranger to the Liberty Center, most recently leading the stage crew for the youth production of “Cinderella.” He studied theater in college and has been a regular part of the Liberty Center since 2006.
“I’ve always loved improv so I’m happy to help make it happen here,” he said.
Embry is another familiar Liberty Center face, either performing in, directing, producing or working behind the scenes on 16 shows; she said Liberty Center is her second home. Harshner is also well acquainted with the Liberty stage, and other theaters, as she has performed in productions off and on since she was 15.
Knight is the newest Sedalia resident, moving from Ohio just recently. She also studied theater in college and started an improv group in Ohio last summer.
Butts doesn’t have a typical theater background but is well-versed in the world of improv after classes and performances in the Kansas City improv community. He has helped bring KC improv groups and other comedians to the Liberty Center.
Montes also got his Liberty Center start in the Christmas Spectacular, but his theater career started long before that in Los Angeles where he did stage work and was cast in pilots, regional commercials and independent films, then later pursued his love of photography working behind a TV camera. He said the new improv group has been a great way to get back on stage.
Hutcherson said the goal is to host an improv show each quarter at the Liberty Center. And after months of hearing game suggestions from each other, the whole group said they’re ready for an audience Saturday night; audience participation is highly encouraged.
The show will begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 13 at the Liberty Center, 111 W. Fifth St. in Sedalia. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at libertycentersedalia.com or at the door. Beer and wine will be available for purchase.