The people at Free Range Comedy work hard each week to produce chicken and farm-related puns for their Facebook page, even though these have nothing to do with the shows they actually perform.
This improv comedy group consists of six members, otherwise known as “the flock:” Kristi Scott, Matt Brass, Gabby Anderman, Karen Stavash, John Williams and Chris Rose. The name “Free Range” comes from the feeling of freedom a person has on stage. “Freeing yourself from the cage,” said Stavash. “Freedom to lay your eggs wherever.”
They met each other through the larger community of Maui Improv and banded together to pursue their love for short form improv.
Short form improv differs from traditional long form improv, not surprisingly, because it consists of a series of much shorter scenes, or “games.” This rapid-fire style of comedy is most recognizable from the long-running television series Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which the flock says inspires them.
“These games are essentially a set of rules or parameters that must be encompassed in the scenes being acted out,” said Scott.
A classic example is a fill-in-the-blanks style of play, known in the improv world as “Pillars.” Actors are placed on stage with two pillars from the audience–volunteers who stand by and when called upon supply the actors with the next word in their sentence. Once the Mad Libs are filled in, the improv actors must keep acting, regardless of whether it makes any sense.
“We might get turkey, but it depends on who the players are and how you use it,” said Scott. “It could be about cooking a turkey, could be about raising turkeys, it could be about the fact that I just called you a turkey.”
“Or that you are turkeys, waiting for Thanksgiving slaughter,” said Williams.
“We’re given these hoops to jump through,” said Stavash. “So, watching us be challenged is what makes it funny. We’re constantly being surprised, and the audience is throwing obstacles at us.”
Another game they play is called Scene Three Ways. This is where the group will act out a random scene neutrally, and then ask someone in the audience to blurt out a genre. Then the actors must redo the scene, in the style of said genre. Anything goes, from more obvious suggestions like horror and western, to teen vampire drama or even stoner comedy.
“The audience is the gas for our engine,” said Williams. “Their input and also their energy.”
This kind of improvisational comedy can’t really be rehearsed, so the flock practices together in what they describe as “drills.” Running through games, and deconstructing them. But there’s truly no preparing for what might happen once they get on stage. The audience helps keep their shows fresh by bringing unpredictable ideas, week after week.
“You get spoiled once you do short form improv,” said Stavash. “It’s been measured that you actually get more laughs per minute than any other comedy. It’s super satisfying, and we’re all trying not to laugh because we don’t even know what’s coming next!”
“You’re building something together,” added Williams. “We know whichever crazy way we go, we are going to get to a good place, and it’s going to be fun, weird and unique.”
Free Range Comedy has created a unique experience for Maui residents and their new and returning fans. It keeps the actors on their toes. Stavash recalled one evening when an audience member shouted out “Stay Puft Marshmallows” for a game.
“I thought this guy was totally full of it, I was like, that’s not a thing,” Stavash said. I looked over at Williams, who shook his head. “We need to strap you down and make you watch Ghostbusters again,” Williams said.
Due to popular demand, the troupe has also recently begun holding improv workshops. Not necessarily for those with aspirations of getting on stage, but also for people who simply want to learn about improv, or get in on the fun.
“We’re starting to aspire to get into business and help with team building,” said Stavash. “[Improv] helps in building rapport, building creativity and spontaneity. It’s not about the individual, it’s about how you listen and bounce off of each other.” The flock believes that the skills involved with improv are not only fun, but also valuable on and off the stage.
Free Range Comedy performs three times a month. The first Saturday of the month is what they consider their all-ages, family-friendly performance, taking place at the Maui Coffee Attic in Wailuku. On the third Saturday they perform at the Temple of Peace in Haiku. And then on the fourth Saturday they perform in Kihei at the Pro Arts Playhouse–the theater where the group first met. Shows are $10 and are guaranteed to leave you in stitches. Though participation is not required, it’s highly recommended.
“Improv isn’t about shock value,” said Stavash. “It’s more authentic surprise, because it’s the everyday stuff that’s actually really funny.”
Photo: Brett Marynn Wulfson