Chicago has Second City, Los Angeles has The Groundlings and here in Pensacola there’s Improvable Cause.
The group, which started in 2005, doesn’t advertise for their monthly shows inside The Silver Screen Theatre, yet they always perform to a packed room. Last month tickets were sold out 45 minutes before the show.
Director, Debi Kuhn Dunkerley went to the owner of The Silver Screen to ask about doing regular shows there.
“We didn’t know how many people would show up,” she said. “But 115 people came out to the show. We got a couple of standing ovations. I was shocked.”
“We eventually had to move from a smaller theatre to a bigger one,” said Bill Whalen.
What makes Improvable Cause different from big city improv troupes is that most of the members aren’t comedians. They are theatre actors who just happened to like improv and most have only done improv since the group formed.
“Improvable Cause is different because we base our performance on theatre—on the craft,” said Dunkerley. “Although we act silly, we take our performances seriously.”
“Comedy is serious business, but quote me as saying ‘Comedy is business,’” said Jay Bixler.
Much of Improvable Cause includes University of West Florida students and some from IC’s improv class at Pensacola Little Theatre, Lab Rats. As the only three over 30, Bixler, Dunkerley and Whalen tend to stick together. They’re like The Three Amigos and they’re always ready to perform.
“Jay, Bill and I hang out a lot,” Dunkerley said.
When asked if they ever get sick of each other, Bixler gets up and briskly walks away.
“When he overacts, that when I get sick of him,” Whalen said with a straight face.
Whalen credits Steve Martin as his comedic influence, Dunkerley credits Carol Burnett and John Belushi—her first celebrity crush. Bixler’s first answer was “a ball of twine.”
“Actually it’s the Looney Tunes,” said Bixler. “My father was a manager for one of the first video stores in our area and he would copy videotapes. Looney Tunes was my babysitter.”
Bixler’s parents also started a community theatre in Mississippi.
“I was raised in that environment,” he said.
Like Bixler, Whalen did high school plays and continues to act in local theatres. Dunkerley didn’t even get on a stage until she was 20.
“I got drug up on stage to play a game,” she said. “I told them I would throw up if I were on stage.”
Improvisation skills are often handy for a theatre actor.
“You are never more confident on stage in a scripted play,” Dunkerley said.
What you learn from any improv actor is that the most important rules of improvisation are “yes” and “and.” Whatever happens while doing improv has to be agreed upon or else there is no performance. Actors always want to build on a scene by agreeing and adding something to it.
“My experience with acting is that it’s 80 percent reacting,” Whalen said. “When you’re in a scripted play it’s just as important to be in time with your partners. I don’t know any better way to hone that skill than with improv.”
Improv actors are always looking out for one another.
“Your number one job is to make your scene partner look good,” Whalen said.
“It’s the opposite of stand-up comedy,” Dunkerley added. “It’s not about me at all.”
Improv can also be useful in everyday life, which is why Improvable Cause has performed for corporate events.
“We all improvise everyday,” Whalen said.
Dunkerley finds herself using the “yes” technique often.
“When my mother-in-law had a stroke and my kids had a stomach bug I could have had a nervous breakdown or accept the situation and build upon it.”
For those wondering “How do I sign up for Improvable Cause?” be warned, there’s a dangerous hazing process. Not really. About a dozen members are regular performers while a few still train with the group before they grace the stage.
“We have very high standards,” said Dunkerley. “Not only do they have to fit in on stage, but they’re going to be associating with a dozen people so there has to be good chemistry between everyone.”
For Christmas, Dunkerley made t-shirts for Improvable Cause members that had the group’s logo and read “I’m the funniest one.” But in reality, there isn’t a starring role.
“It’s such a group effort,” Dunkerley said. “Everyone is so very different and unique.”
Just recently, Improvable Cause has added a second show to their lineup. The 9 p.m. is more PG-13 and the 10:45 p.m. show tends to be more adult-themed.
“We try not to go too dirty,” Dunkerley said.
Dirty jokes aside, Improvable Cause doesn’t always intend to be funny. But that hasn’t stopped them from receiving plenty of laughs.
“Really the foundation is acting,” Dunkerley said. “Everyone who is on stage is a fantastic actor first. We don’t strive to be funny, our goal is to be interesting.”
WHEN: 9 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. Saturday, June 2
WHERE: The Silver Screen, 7280 Plantation Rd.
DETAILS: Improvable Cause on Facebook