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New improv group tells its ‘Origin Story’

A new improv group will take the stage Friday night at the Durango Arts Center theater. And, when the group is done performing “The Origin Story,” will it leave the stage with a name? (Courtesy)
Comedians take the stage at Durango Arts Center

There’s about to be more funny business in Durango, courtesy of our newest improv group.

And its members need your help with a name.

Tonight (June 9) in the Durango Arts Center theater, the group will perform its inaugural show “The Origin Story.”

The company is made up of six veteran improv artists: Jeff Graves, Liz Gray, Geoff Johnson, Cindy Laudadio-Hill, Andre Pierre-Louis and Mary Quinn. A little bit about the cast, according to a news release from the group:

  • Graves trained and performed regularly at the Voodoo and Bovine improv theaters in Denver before moving back to Durango. He performs regularly with Merely Players, most recently seen in this summer’s production of “Art.”
  • Gray is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of Arts, The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and The Upright Citizens Brigade (NYC). Currently, she works with Merely Players as a company member and director, and teaches theater at Fort Lewis College.
  • Johnson was a member of Durango Dot Comedy for 10 years. Johnson is also fixture in local theater with Merely Players and professional productions across the Four Corners.
  • Laudadio-Hill is newly to Durango from Denver, where she performed with the SansScript Players, On the Spot, Sketchers and Acme Players at the Bovine Metropolis Theatre, before starting her beloved Dishwater Blondes (who have performed at festivals across the country). She also created and produced SCRIPTprov (Henry Award) and is a founding producer of the Denver Improv Festival. Training includes Denver Center Performing Arts, The Second City, iO, Annoyance Theater and Players Workshop West.
  • Pierre-Louis was a founding member of Durango Dot Comedy, performing with the group for 14 years. Originally from Denver, he has lived in Durango for more than 20 years working professionally with youth mentoring and being involved with local social justice groups.
  • Quinn started improv in Durango with Durango Dot Comedy. She then moved to Chicago, where she trained with Second City, Improv Olympics and Annoyance Theater. She regularly hosts improv clinics and workshops and regularly performs in the Durango-drag scene.

For Friday’s show, the six will be performing what’s known as “long-form improv,” Graves said.

“When most people think of improv, they think of ‘Whose Line is It Anyway?’ or Durango DOT Comedy, which was the group that was here for so long. That’s short-form improv where the performers play a series of short games together,” he said. “Long-form improv takes the same principles but applies them to a series of full scenes based on the audience’s suggestions.”

Graves said for the show, the cast will do three or four 20-minute sets at a time, and audience suggestions where the comedians will create mini-scenes with relationships, and conflicts.

The idea for the group formed in March, Graves said, adding that because most of the cast have worked with each other, they work together well.

If you go

What: DAC Improv Showcase.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (July 9); doors open at 7 p.m.

Where: Durango Arts Center theater, 802 East Second Ave.

Tickets: Seats sold in blocks of two for $10 each and are available online at https://bit.ly/3hFHuLc.

More information: Visit durangoarts.org.

Note: Durango Arts Center theater will also present the DAC Theatre Co. Play Reading Series No. 1: “Cornmeal the Happy Sock” by Sean Michael Welch, at 7 p.m. Saturday (tickets are free at https://bit.ly/3hr69Ev. Play contains adult subject matter and explicit language); and Silent Sunday with Swanson at 2 p.m., Sunday (tickets are $20 for a pair of seats and are available at https://bit.ly/2UCcALG). For more information about both events, visit durangoarts.org.

“A big portion of improv is creating the group mind. ... we’ve been rehearsing steadily since May, so we’re still in the process of becoming who we hope to be,” he said, adding that all the group needs now is a name. “The title of the show this Friday is ‘The Origin Story’ because it’s our first show, and one of most important things is to come up with a name, so we’re hoping that we will use this show to get some audience suggestions and hopefully generate some ideas for names. We’ll just have to see how it turns out. ... The hope is that collectively as a group with whoever shows up, we can find something that will work and resonate and go forward as we become more of an established presence in town.”

If the comedians select an audience member’s suggestion, that person wins a pair of tickets to the next show.

The group has two more performances for the summer at the DAC theater – July 30 and Aug. 26, and after, it hopes to continue scheduling shows, Graves said.

And when it comes to improv, Graves said the art form serves a few different functions.

“It’s a great way to stay in the moment. When you’re doing improv, performing, you’re not thinking about anything other than what’s happening on stage and reacting. It’s really adult playtime; you create stuff with other adults and do it in front of an audience, feeding off of that energy,” he said. “The short answer is it’s cheaper than therapy. It’s a lot of fun; it’s fun to perform; hopefully, it’s fun for the audience, and we all need a laugh after the last year and a half, I’d say.”


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