Chris Titus, David Dapeer and Laurie Hidy in an improv skit, trapped in a falling elevator. Photo by Jenny Kirchner
Comedy improv night at the Rustic Theatre joins a busy summer schedule of festivals, concerts and an author series.

“What’s the Worst that Could Happen,” local entertainment entrepreneur Scott Foster’s tip of the hat to famous improv progenitors Kentucky Fried Theatre and Saturday Night Live, will inaugurate what Foster and Rustic owner Phil Calderone plan as a monthly laugh fest beginning 10 p.m. Friday, May 3, and continuing the first Friday of each month through October. Producers hope the unscripted and unpredictable evenings of comedy will entice local audiences to return every month.

“I’m hoping to have a core group for the improv troupe of eight locals augmented by some off the Hill actors, some not so well established but others with impressive credits,” Foster said. “We want to have more variety of late night entertainment available in town and get rid of the stigma that everything in Idyllwild shuts down early.”

Chris Titus, Piper Dellums, Terry Candler and Laurie Hidy, in a scene “At the movie theatre.” Photo by Marshall Smith

Foster, with a high profile background as a performer in stage, film and television, envisions 90 minutes of humorous commentary on whatever is going on in the world on that particular day or week.

“Improv to the actor is what scat is to the jazz singer,” he said, an in-the-moment unscripted riff on contemporary themes, some of which will be suggested by audience members.

When asked why improv is something both actors and audience enjoy, Foster said it’s because, as Forrest Gump said, you never know what you’re going to get. For an audience member, the unpredictability of the evening, the fact that there is no script, means that each improv session will offer new and different zany skits and moments. For the actor, it keeps them in the moment, Foster said. “It keeps you honest. And it doesn’t always have to be funny. You deal with the problems and the scenarios that are in the room.”

For non-actors (and Foster hopes some audience members will participate in some of the skits) improv provides an experience of spontaneity, growth and how to think on your feet. “Once you open that door, forget it, it doesn’t stop,” he said.

The local auditions held Saturday and Sunday, March 23 and 24 were fun to watch. Afterward, several of the improv hopefuls spoke about why they were there and what they hoped to gain from the experience.

Military veteran Terry Candler who has never acted said, “I’m an improv virgin. I have no idea what I’ll get from it. I’ve never acted or done improv. But it’s something new and we need new entertainment up here.” And onstage, in the audition, Candler was game and fully committed. And it was fun.

INK Book Gathering’s David Dapeer said he has done some comedy improv in San Diego and Seattle and his experience showed at the auditions. Dapeer said, “If I’m going to make a fool of myself, it might as well be onstage.” Dapeer mentioned “Whose Line is it Anyway” as an inspiration and one of his favorite television improv shows.

Idyllwild Arts songwriting teacher Kasan Steigen, with a background in professional singing, said she had done some improv and a little acting in the past. “I just think it would be fun,” she said.

Chamber of Commerce President Chris Titus said, “I just started menopause, I’m walking a lot and I need things to level out my mood. With this I’m jumping out of my comfort zone.”

Dapeer, who had auditioned with Titus the previous day, said of her, “She’s a natural physical comedienne, like the Marx Brothers’ brand of physical comedy.”

Laurie Hidy, improv coach and core troupe member, reminded those at the audition, “Don’t be afraid! That’s a key rule. As soon as the fear wall comes up, you’re done. Just find the ‘core you’ of your character in the scene. You never want dead air in an improv. You fill always with verbal or physical.”

A final audition session is scheduled for 10 p.m. Friday, March 29, at the Rustic.

Foster said details about food availability have not been finalized, but what has been discussed is that local restaurants would alternate in making and selling finger food. Beer, wine and Jello shots will also be available for purchase. Tickets are tentatively priced at $7.

“What’s the Worst that Could Happen?” queried Foster? You get a new comedy troupe in Idyllwild. Who knew?