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Local group brings improv to the people

By Susan Bonicillo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, December 1, 2005
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Jacob Konst/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Ari Lerner, Anthony Fama and Matt Dhyr are starting a revolution. A revolution of funny, in the form of improvisational street comedy with their group, The Street-Prov Theatre Collective.

Monday evening I find myself in a not-too-well-lit alleyway south of campus. It's freezing (by Tucson standards). All 57 degrees out here are inducing bone-rattling vibrations.

Yet the cold isn't keeping UA alumni Anthony Fama, Matt Dhyr and Arizona Daily Wildcat designer Ari Lerner, a theatre arts senior, from the beauty and majesty that is improvisational comedy.

They're playing a game called Three Line in which a one-word prompt tests the limits of their creative abilities. I volunteer the word "falafel" and for the next few minutes the trio crank out a series of short sketches with themes ranging from the correct way to panhandle to a reckless Jesus busting a cap into a few innocent people.

These backstreet antics are brought to the unknowing streets and citizens of Tucson courtesy of The Street-Prov Theatre Collective.

It all started off in the warmer times of this past summer. Fama and Dhyr, both veterans of the campus group Comedy Corner, were suffering from the boredom of a Tucson summer when they decided to put their comedic skills to work, if only to remove themselves from the tedium of daily life.

"We wanted to do this improv fight club, basically," Fama said.

Starting from the idea that improv comedy's very essence lies in spontaneity, the two decided to bring the funny to the people. Not just limited to the stage, the Collective brings a brand of what they call "guerilla improv" to any setting, from house parties to businesses.

"One time in Phoenix we went to this pet store and pretended to be a gay couple," Dhyr said. "We ran into this woman and told her we were buying nongenderized toys for our dog because we didn't want to impose any gender roles on him."

Additional stunts include a straitjacketed Fama at a party doing his best to alienate and befuddle the night revelers. Though they aren't prop-reliant, Fama just happened to have a straitjacket handy and decided to incorporate it into a routine.

These are just some of the things that the Collective does. Acting out different scenarios, the Collective includes people in its skits whether they know they're in one or not.

"Sometimes you don't even remember how you got through a scene," Dhyr said. "It just sort of just comes out of you and you don't know where it came from."

The two have since broadened membership to a total of 10 in the troupe. They range from undergraduate and graduate students to people from the community.

However, the Collective is open to all people wanting to explore this artistic field. Weekly workshops are from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Skrappy's, 201 E. Broadway Blvd. Think of it as a comedic outreach program. The Collective is always looking to recruit and educate people and thus do its part to make this world more comic friendly.

Though it may seem paradoxical to practice improv, it takes plenty of time and learning to become more comfortable onstage and learn how to think on your feet.

"You just keep thinking in this mindset all day," Fama said. "You've got to train your mind to think this way."

Advice for the novice includes the counter-intuitive idea that you shouldn't try to be funny.

"People are funniest when they're being honest," Fama said. "You've got be able to inhabit a character and sort of step out of yourself."

"You have to be able to flow with the scene," Dhyr said. "It's got be natural. Improv is all about reactions and relationships. With stand-up comedy you don't get to interact. With improv you're able to get into a group, think with people and create something really amazing."

The Collective also hosts a show from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Wednesdays on KAMP Student Radio. For more information, visit the group's Web site at

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