“Comedy has to be based on truth. You take the truth and you put a little curlicue at the end.” –Sid Caesar
Venture Improv is a high energy, fully audience-interactive comedy troupe performing monthly at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts. Originally formed by Venture Theatre in 1995, this improv group is celebrating its 20th year delivering lively improvised performances, fast thinking scenes, and laugh after laugh.
Each performance involves actors, the audience, and improvised scenes, games, and stories. The Venture Improv group asks for suggestions from the audience, and based on the audience responses, hilarious, improvised comedy ensues. The giggles start with the audience creative suggestions and then turn into full belly aching laughter as the talented actors bring the scenes to life.
2014-15 Show Dates
October 4, 8:00pm
November 8, 8:00pm
January 3, 8:00pm
February 7, 8:00pm
March 7, 14, 21 & 28, 8:00pm – Improv 20th Reunion
April 25, 8:00pm
Tickets are $7 for most shows at 2317 Montana Avenue. There are concessions sold at NOVA. The recommended audience are for ages 18+.
The Improv TroupeKevin SchweigertCatherine BergmanTiffany MeliaMatthew MeliaTucker DownsMyra NurreMichael McCallumWill Thomas…and others from time to time!
Past Troupe Members:
December 19, 2014 • By Jaci Webb
With two adult improv troupes, one high school troupe and a lively stand-up comedy scene, Billings is turning into a city of one-liners. And it all started with Venture Improv in 1995.
The comedy group was organized by Venture Theatre co-founder Mace Archer, and it included at least two performers who are still around – Kyle Trott and Aaron Malek.
“Mace put the original crew together and we performed at Lamplighter,” Malek said “At the time, it was about found space and bringing homegrown theater to Billings. Nobody else was doing comedy back then.”
Despite a few bumps two years back, Venture Improv is packing the house and getting ready to celebrate its 20th year in 2015 with a month of reunion shows and improv classes in March.
The current director and emcee Kevin Schweigert said the atmosphere at rehearsals is that of a safe haven where performers feel at ease to try out new material. They usually play comedy games like “Foreign Film,” where the audience picks a language and a plot and four actors turn it into a skit, two performing in a foreign language and the other two translating for them. Then there is “Actor’s Nightmare” where one actor recites lines from a play and the other actor has to justify each line without knowing the plot.
Cast member Matthew Melia said performing improv has helped him as a performer and in real life because it has taught him to trust his instincts.
“It’s freeing to go out there, get a suggestion from the audience and act on it,” Melia said.
His sister, Tiffany Melia, is also part of the group. She graduated from the high school group, Funky Bunch, into the adult group and has spent 11 years performing improv.
“We’re all friends, so there is trust between us,” Tiffany said.
A bond between the performers helps in improv because the expectation from both the audience and the comedians is that outrageous comedy will ensue and you can’t get crazy if you don’t trust fellow performers.
A few years ago, Venture Improv came close to disbanding. Catherine Langlas Bergman said sometimes they performed for audiences as small as five people. She credits Schweigert with bringing new energy into the group. Now it’s standing room only when Venture Improv performs monthly at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts. Their next show is Jan. 3, starting at 8 p.m.
“All of us got on board to make it work,” Schweigert said. “We meld all these backgrounds and ideas into a group effort where everyone has input. I smooth over feathers when they get ruffled.”
Will Thomas, a local stand-up comedian, was recruited this year to become part of Venture Improv. He said the experience has helped his standup act.
“I’m no longer just standing there and telling jokes like a rigid statue,” Thomas said.
Most members of the independent adult group, Projectile Improv, which performs at the Stampede on Thursday nights, started out in Venture Improv.
Buddy McKinder, an alum of Venture Improv, said performing comedy when he was still in college helped him develop an adventurous spirit.
“It teaches you to say yes to things. You can take negative experiences and situations and change them if you say yes. That’s the root of comedy,” McKinder said.
Nick Capetanakis said when he moved to Billings from Los Angeles in the 1990s, he was surprised by the sophisticated comedy network here.
“There was comedy here like what I would see in L.A.,” said Capetanakis, who also does some standup comedy.
Another alumnus of Venture Improv, Chaslee Schweitzer, said sometimes it’s better when the skit crashes.
“They do such a variety of games that if you don’t like one, you might like the next one. They’re funnier when they fall on their face.”
In 1995, Mel Moser approached me about starting an improv comedy night at Lamplighter Lounge. Remember that den of iniquity from our youth? They offered us a pittance and free drinks. We didn’t care much about the pittance, but a place to hang out with our friends and drink for free after a show was inspiring. We embarked on what we thought would be a 3 month run. 10 years later, Venture Improv has become historic in Montana theatre for being the first show ever to run continuously for over a decade. We’ve had over 40 actors play with the improv over the 10 years. We’ve seen actors like Buddy MacKinder and Jared Brandon take off for Chicago, the heart of improvisational theatre. We’ve seen Donita Beeman step right into an improv troupe in New York with her only training having been with Venture Improv. Three years ago we created a youth troupe called Funky Bunch. They have grown stronger and stronger over the years, since the training possibilities encountered on an improv stage are endless.
And that is what’s important about the improv for both the adults and students. Improv has become “an” end, but it is not “the” end. Improv is an evening of entertainment on its own, but the reason that we started the troupe years ago was to make sure that our skills as actors developed and stayed sharp. An actor who becomes adept at improvisation allows him/herself the liberty to be fully creative in the moment. Improv teaches an actor to listen. Improv at its best is topical, insightful, and entertaining. At its worse, it builds better actors. An actor who improvs cannot lose.
I once had a mentor who said, “The artist works in the creative state of I-Don’t-Know.” The improvisational actor is always in a state of “I-Don’t-Know”. They don’t know where the scene’s going, they don’t know what their fellow actors will say, and they don’t know if the audience will respond. And still they are willing to throw themselves at their work and make a go of it in the most dangerous form of drama ever invented. Never take them for granted.
These actors who often make it look easy are my heroes. Their bravery as performers is unmatched. I have loved inventing and reinventing the improv over the years, and every actor who has contributed deserves a great round of applause. But a special toast to those who worked during the lean years. Those who played week after week at Lamplighter developing our skills with nobody ever coming. Had they quit, there’d be no tradition, there’d be no party tonight…
Let’s see if we can reconvene in another 10 years.