John Clancy’s young improvisational actors bring ‘An Evening of Comedy’

  • Thu Sep 11th, 2008 12:00am
  • Life

Mild comedy-lovers beware, John Clancy and his troupe of young improvisational actors are about to hit the stage at Orcas Center again.

The wit and talent that brought Orcas audiences “North Pacific” and “I Beg Your Pudding” are back with “An Evening of Comedy” this Friday, Sept. 12 and Saturday, Sept. 13.

How Clancy gets ten young teenagers (the group is mostly eighth-graders, with a couple of high school freshmen and sophomores) to loosen up physically while delivering complex and ironic lines is one of the marvels of life on the Orcas stage. “They’re young, but they’re so smart,” says Clancy.

His actors – Robin Gropp, Ana Ledgerwood, Jules Mann, Aidan McCormick, Halley McCormick, Nile Reed, Clarabeth Smith, Rose Strasen, Sofie Thixton and Rhys Thompson – portray inflatable (and deflatable) hitch-hikers, metaphysical existentialists, pompous teachers, hovering parents to the extreme, student competitors against twine and dowels, and if that doesn’t leave you scratching your head, wait until Kirkegaard Turk, philosopher-detective and his cohorts mount the stage.

“An Eveningof Comedy” is a series of skits, many of them prompted by quantum mechanics – really. Clancy says he asked himself, ‘Oh John, quantum mechanics – are you just indulging yourself?’

“But comic potential always has something to do with words, and when I asked the kids, ‘Did you know you can only see the past?’ we wanted to see if we can get a laugh out of that.”

Even while laughing at the delivery, the audience will feel awed by the kids’ ability to memorize both the words and the timing of their lines and make them meaningful.

Some of the skits are scripted by Clancy and Leo Brodie, some are developed by the kids, and some are almost totally spontaneous within a broad framework as they are performed.

While the lines in the skits may be ridiculously clever, and the expressions and gestures of the young actors are brilliantly spot-on, the real magic takes place during rehearsals as Clancy works with his young cast.

He says, “Improv is such a beautiful thing for kids; it develops their trusting and spontaneous nature within themselves and with others. These kids are well grounded in improv. You can tell they’re succeeding if their partners are having fun and they make each other look good. It takes a generous spirit and these kids have that in spades.”

“Improv has everything to do with mutual discovery as a scene unfolds before your eyes and you have no idea where you’re going to end up. You have to trust in your own nature and that of others; when things are going that way, creativity is just a way of life.”

Clancy says that during rehearsal, when skits peter out, the actors applaud each other in congratulation for taking a risk. “In improv, you always accept what’s going on and build on it.”

The kids’ rehearsal of “Evening of Comedy” begins with warm-ups, brainstorms of advertising phrases, how to act superior or inferior to another, proverbs written by committee, and the kids mirroring each others’ gestures and motions. Then as they move into the skits, Clancy deftly guides them with curious stage directions – “Make it clear that you’re sucking the air from the tire,” “Good job on being very … doonk!” “Everyone grab your kitten.”

“An Evening of Comedy” is sponsored by Orcas Recreation Program. Freddie Hinkle has given invaluable assistance to the production, says Clancy. The fun starts at 7:30. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for students, available at 376-ACT1 or online at