“And now we need a volunteer to spin the Wheel of Endowment,” said the host in a lofty voice. With a swift spin from an audience member, the wheel landed on the “pop culture” category.
Two actors jumped up on stage and began a back and forth banter about obtaining Lady Gaga tickets. The director repeatedly squeaked a bike horn to indicate when he wanted the actors to re-direct the plot of the scene. After numerous squeaks, the actors ended up having to dig up their dead grandmother’s body and bring it to the Lady Gaga concert in order for her ghost to give them the sold out tickets.
What is this?
This is Chortle Kombat, no affiliation with the popular video game Mortal Kombat. There are no electronic devices needed for this live, interactive comedy production by the Mop & Bucket Co. (MopCo), an improvisational theatre company based in the Capital District. So what’s the purpose of a scene where the actors have to dig up a dead grandmother to go to a Lady Gaga concert?“We make stuff up,” said Michael Burns, co-director of MopCo. “It’s about being willing to play.” MopCo also strongly believes in the power of audience interaction.
One Chortle Kombat scene involved a volunteer who was asked to play a three-headed expert, along with two other actors. After someone shouted “flagellation” as the topic of expertise, the three-headed expert answered audience questions such as, “When a problem comes along, what should you do?” The acting trifecta was quick to whip up the answers.
“The audience becomes a co-author and a co-creator,” said Burns. “People want to be a part of the creative process.”
The members of MopCo have been playing, co-creating and making stuff up since 1995 when Burns founded the first version of the Mop & Bucket Co. In the beginning, MopCo operated out of Ballston Spa with cast members from improv classes. Burns took an extended hiatus from the company until 2001 when the Charles R. Wood Theater in Glens Falls asked MopCo to perform. Burns agreed.
“When I got off the phone, I realized I had made a terrible mistake,” said Burns. “I thought, ‘There is no MopCo. What did I just do?!’”
Burns was able to slap together a last minute show for the Wood Theater, but wanted to kick things into full throttle with MopCo once again. Around this time, Burns became acquainted with Kat Koppett, a 25-year improvisational acting veteran, who had recently moved to the Capital District from San Francisco. The two of them shared their improv backgrounds and began teaching classes together. In 2005, MopCo became a resident company of Proctors in Schenectady.
Many of MopCo’s cast members have come from this improv “school.” MopCo performs at schools, private parties and corporate events. Improv workshops are also available to workplaces as a means of enhancing creativity, teamwork, communication and collaboration.
“We are always improvising in life,” said Koppett. “The same things that help us as improvisers also help us in making friends, socializing at parties and communicating at work.”
In addition to classes, workshops and performances, MopCo is offering a new service called Improvdates. Instead of singles dealing with the awkward, interview-like tension of a normal speed dating, pairs of people are asked carry out improvisational tasks together.
“If you get together and play, you get to know someone much faster,” said Burns. “You don’t have to be an improviser. You just have to be willing to play.”
MopCo will present Chortle Kombat on Friday (July 29) at 8 PM at Underground at Proctors (432 State St., Schenectady). Tickets are $14, $6 seniors and students. For more info, visit proctors.org.