Improv group providing laughs during dark time

Members of the First State Improv group are continuing to bring the funny by way of their Facebook page. They play games every day submitting funny responses to different scenarios. Others are invited to come follow along and join in themselves. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — In times like these, you need a laugh whenever you can get it.

That’s where Melissa Brenner has come in. Her First State Improv Facebook page has kept a lot of people smiling over the last few weeks.

Ms. Brenner, of Dover, runs the improv groups for both adults and teens and has hosted shows at the former Rockshop in Camden and the Kent County Theatre Guild’s Patchwork Playhouse in Dover.

In fact, one of those shows was scheduled just as the stay-at-home order started to take shape so the program had to be canceled. But Ms. Brenner wanted to keep the laughs coming.

So she started using the First State Improv Facebook page as a way for the performers to stay sharp, flexing their funny bones as she would give them humorous scenarios to build on, such as suggesting a band for this time in which we are living; if you had to write a play about 2020, what would be it be called; or making up funny words and asking for definitions.

The idea caught fire and folks have been playing games with her throughout the day during a time that isn’t exactly the most cheerful.

“The Sunday before we were scheduled to have a show, I was thinking ‘we’re not going to have one and we’re not going to have our final workout.’ We’re just going to put everything on hold because we don’t know what’s going to happen. My husband’s actually a physician. And he’s worst case scenario guy. He said ‘Yeah, this is gonna just get worse and worse and worse.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, sure,’ but he was right,” Ms. Brenner said.

“We still needed a way we could play some improv games and just kind of do something lighthearted during all of this, not knowing that it was gonna last as long as it’s lasting. But I just kind of said, ‘I’m going to try and put out a game every day or do something.’ And so that’s when I started thinking about how to adapt the games.”

She thought about doing something through Zoom video software but realized that might be too unwieldy and came up with just throwing things on Facebook. In some cases, hundreds of responses have followed.

Some coronvirus-related movie titles such as “Don’t Kiss Me Kate” and “Annie, Get Your Gloves” have been suggested. This definition of the made-up word “Quaranwinium” came from Rose Spickes.

“The feeling of euphoria one gets when successfully navigating a whole day during a global pandemic when one actually showers, brushes teeth, wears clothes other than pjs or elastic waist pants, and makes a home-cooked meal that doesn’t come from a box.”

Other nonpandemic games such as ones you would see on the show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” are also played.

“My fear is that people will think that I’m making light of the situation that we’re in and I’m really not,” Ms. Brenner said.

“If you watch the news, there’s so much scary stuff out there. So I can’t counteract it, but you can just try and distract. Because it can be immersive 24/seven and you can just go crazy and be depressed.”

Members of the group have been appreciative of her efforts.

“You’d be amazed at the games we’re playing,” said Guy Crawford, who is also president of the board of directors for the Second Street Players in Mlford.

“One day it was ‘Take a movie title and replace a word with toilet paper.’ So it was ‘Gone with the Toilet Paper.’ instead of ‘Gone with the Wind.’ So it’s just these silly things to keep us amused while we are locked in houses or wherever we’re at. And it helps keep us up on our theatrical skills. And Melissa has kept bringing that to us. So we thank her for that.”

Along with the amount of involvement, Ms. Brenner has also been surprised by who is playing.

“I’ve had people I don’t even really know come join. They’re just saying ‘Hey, that looks like fun.’ And they’re really funny and so great. So it’s nice to have new voices in this. People have just come out of the woodwork and been a part of this,” she said.

Not only has she been surprised by who is participating, she’s also been surprised by who is just sitting back and reading.

“We’re inviting people to come play and try these games or just to watch or follow along and laugh,” she said.

“There have been a lot of people who have contacted me and said, ‘Oh, I love what you’re doing. I’m not playing, but I’m watching and thank you for cheering me up. Thank you for that bright spot in my day.’ So that’s what keeps me going”

To join the fun, search for First State Improv on Facebook.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.