Improv Chattanooga works to bring out the creative in everyone
Backstage the atmosphere is like hanging out with the closest of friends, laughing and relaxing. As the clock ticks and show time draws closer, the improv troupe’s energy rises. Eight performers are now standing and milling about, shaking out their arms, loosening their necks. The excitement and nervous energy build like water against a dam. The circle of friends tightens and arms extend as they bring it in to sound their battle cry.
Improv Chattanooga, originally founded as First Draft Productions in 2006, was rebranded in April 2016 by frontmen Steven Disbrow and Kevin Bartolomucci to reflect the true nature of their offerings. Disbrow, a ‘Noogan, started performing stand-up comedy at age 30 after finding himself at a crossroads in life. His computer consultant business paid the bills, but he needed more from life.
Disbrow serendipitously bumped into Bartomolucci who had been doing improv for 20 years. The two joined forces and have been improvising ever since and through Improv Chattanooga, offer up their many talents to anyone who is interested in learning the art of improv.
The troupe breaks and heads to the stage where a row of fold-up chairs is lined up perfectly against a black curtain. The performers sit while Greg Rambin Jr. takes the stage. The stage lights slowly dim leaving behind a spotlight on Rambin. He phones his broker who is helping him locate an apartment in New York. The broker has no idea he is technically on stage.
The conversation is a back and forth over the size of the potential apartment. Rambin calling out the dimensions of what would be considered a closet causes the audience to erupt in laughter. He reassures the broker to keep looking as Disbrow pops up from his chair and runs across stage signaling the end of the scene and on to the next.
A daytime talk show is in progress. A married couple explains how they developed kiwi fruit that hatches from eggs. The curious albeit confused television host, played by Matt Patterson, asks questions in an unidentifiable accent about the kiwi’s fur and its many uses including hamster clothing. Patterson probes the couple about their remarkable 30-year age difference.
The husband describes how he wooed his now wife by rubbing kiwi juice all over her while she was hospitalized to help speed up the healing process. Rambin, from the first scene, leaps onto stage attacking the couple as though he were a T-Rex. Patterson begs for his life babbling in his fake accent. And on to the next.
Improv Chattanooga mostly performs long-form improv where the focus lies on storytelling rather than short-form that is mostly comedic one-liners. Bartomolucci describes long-form improv as “normal people in extraordinary circumstances or weird people in normal circumstances.” He sums it up as, “instant theater where you literally make it up off the top of your head.” Despite such a whimsical approach, there are rules: Listen and respond. Stay in character and tell the story. And above all, respect the scene.
Improv Chattanooga performers are a diverse group who can reference anything from Abbott and Costello to Jay and Silent Bob. In order for improv students to secure a spot in the main troupe, Bartolomucci says, “Gotta earn your spot.” He goes on to explain, “Students must achieve a certain level of comedic quality.”
Disbrow and Bartolomucci unanimously echo the importance of harmony within the troupe and furrow their brows at the thought of an ill fit. Bartolomucci says, “We really are a band.” He continues to explain, “It’s a chemistry thing. We have 11 people but everybody fits.”
The troupe wraps up the show and mixes and mingles with the crowd discussing their performances and the future. Disbrow expresses his longing to turn Chattanooga into an improv destination complete with its own improv theater and even a festival. But he and Bartolomucci refuse to reveal the meaning behind their “go weasels” war cry.
Disbrow replies, “Take a class and find out what it means.”