BEST BETS: Better Than Bacon pigging out on improv comedy at Smyrna Opera House

Director Dan Stabb, front row, second from left, will bring members of this Better Than Bacon improv comedy troupe to the Smyrna Opera House Saturday night for a show. (Submitted photo)

If you’re coming to Saturday night’s Better Than Bacon improvisational comedy show at the Smyrna Opera House, be prepared to work.

As with all improv, the show is driven by the audience. Whether it’s throwing out a suggestion or being up on stage driving the action, without the crowd, there’s no script.

And that’s the beauty and the beast of improv for Better Than Bacon director Dan Stabb.

“There’s definitely a scary element to it. You don’t know how the games are going to play out. We don’t even know how the audience is going to be when we go out there. They can be raunchy or they can be subdued and you just have to adapt,” he said.

“But you just know that if it works out, it’s great. If not, that’s the beauty of short-form improv, we’ll get ’em next time.”

The Suburban Philadelphia-based comedy group will perform at the Smyrna Opera House Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Six of the 11 team members will perform at the show where Mr. Stabb estimates they’ll play about 17 games, which run about four to six minutes each.

Fans of the long-running comedy show “Whose Line is it Anyway” will recognize some of the games that will be played that night.

There’s “Moving Bodies” where audience members will put the actors in certain positions and have them act out scenes or “Alphabet” where each line has to start with the next letter of the alphabet.

And then there are games such as “Pillars” where two members of the audience on stage are the pillars and as the scene is played, each actor can at any point stop his or her sentence and ask the pillar to provide the next word.

The interactive audience games, especially “Moving Bodies,” are Mr. Stabb’s favorites.

“It’s improv in its purest form. With ‘Moving Bodies,’ the audience moves for you. They walk for you, they move your head. Sometimes you have an active person who manipulates your body a lot and sometimes you have someone who doesn’t move your body at all and you have to make the best of it,” he said.

The Better Than Bacon gang has been together since 2010 and were brought about by “serendipity,” Mr. Stabb said.

Two classes on improv were being taught at Chester County (Pa.) Night School and one class member walked into the wrong class one day. That happened to be one taught by Mr. Stabb.

“I wanted to let him stay in my class but they had rules and he couldn’t. I didn’t even know about the other class. When the semester finished up, the two classes joined forces and they wanted a director and a bunch of us rehearsed about eight or nine months before we started performing in 2011.”

They have gone on to have several residencies at nightspots in Pennsylvania and Penn’s Place in New Castle.

Mr. Stabb said learning the art of improv can be beneficial in everyday life. Not everyone who takes an improv class yearns for the spotlight.

“It can be useful to help people think quicker on their feet, improve listening and communication skills. It’s helped fathers and sons communicate better. It can also help actors get over stage fright,” Mr. Stabb said.

Growing up in Suburban Philadelphia, Mr. Stabb appeared in TV and radio commercials as a kid and did community theater.

His first foray into improv actually came when he joined the world of professional wrestling. He was the evil manager Carlton P. Hightower.

“I was always the manager for the bad guy so my job would be to get the crowd to boo for the bad guy and cheer the good guy,” he said.

“You have to be present and respond to whatever the audience is chanting. You have to assess the fans’ mood and get them into it and let them dictate what’s going on. It was a lot like improv.”

A fan as a kid of the British version of “Whose Line is it Anyway,” he always liked improv and wanted to try.

“I always loved the thought of making things up and making people laugh. So when I took my first class, I was hooked,” he said.

He previously performed with and coached Newark’s Delaware Comedy Theatre North troupe and has performed with Cubed, a two-man improvisational duo that traveled across the country.

He also performed with Fearless Improv at the Smyrna Opera House two years ago.

Never one much on memorizing lines, Mr. Stabb still remains intrigued by the notion that every show is a “clean slate.”

“My fellow cast members take ownership of what they do. There is no script writer to feed us our words. It’s still a rush and still really satisfying to know that when we get a laugh, we get it collaboratively,” he said.

And that includes the audience.

“It’s always new for us and new for them. We’re all in this together,” Mr. Stabb said.

“We experience it all at the exact time. It’s awesome.”

Tickets for the Better than Bacon show are $16 general admission and $14 for Smyrna Opera House members, senior citizens (65 and over) and military members.

They can be purchased by visiting smyrnaoperahouse.org, calling 653-4236 or at the door. The Smyrna Opera House is at 7 W. South St.

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming season includes stops in Dover, Milford and Lewes. (Submitted photo/Joe del Tufo)

New season for DSO

It was announced this week that the 2017-2018 concert season of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra will begin on Friday, Sept. 15 at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington at 7:30 p.m., with a concert conducted by Music Director David Amado that features the best known work in the symphonic repertoire, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. The concert will be repeated on Sunday, Sept 17 at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes at 3 p.m.

The season totals five Classics Series concerts at The Grand, four Chamber Series concerts in the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel du Pont, three Family Concert performances at Milford High School and at the Laird Center at The Tatnall School in Greenville and two Explorer Concerts for children in Wilmington and Dover.

The Dover concert, set for Dover High School on March 8 at 9:30 a.m. and noon, is for school groups only.

There are no details on the program yet nor is there a date for the Milford concert.

“This promises to be one of the DSO’s most engaging and ambitious seasons yet — revisiting well-loved favorites and adventuring through less familiar masterpieces.

“Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, with its indelible four-note motto and Stravinsky’s riot-inducing Rite of Spring share the season with Mahler’s expansive, virtuoso 7th Symphony, and Bartok’s mid-century masterpiece, his Concerto for Orchestra. These works, together with a stunning line-up of guest soloists — including Elena Urioste, Orion Weiss, former DSO principal bassoonist (now Metropolitan Opera Orchestra co-principal) William Short and current DSO principals, flutist Kim Reighley and harpist Sara Fuller — make it a season not to miss.”

In addition to the Fifth Symphony, which continues the orchestra’s survey of the major works of Beethoven, the September concerts will feature Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, “Classical,” and the Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp, with DSO soloists Ms. Reighley, flute, and Ms. Fuller, harp.

Mr. Amado will give a pre-concert talk one hour before each concert.

The remaining 2017-2018 Classics Series concerts will all take place on Friday evenings, Nov. 16, Jan. 26, March 23 and May 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Copeland Hall at The Grand Opera House at 818 N. Market St.

The DSO’s Chamber Series concerts begin on Tuesday, Oct. 17 with the music of Mozart and Ravel and the Brahms Piano Quintet, with pianist Lura Johnson and members of the DSO.

The following Chamber Series events are Dec. 12 — Suite from “The Nutcracker” performed by a DSO Brass Quintet; Feb. 20 — commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. with a selection of spirituals sung by bass-baritone Kevin Deas and the Olivier Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time; and April 24 — music of Schnittke and Haydn, and the Beethoven Symphony No. 4, with Mr. Amado conducting a DSO Chamber Orchestra.

All Chamber Series concerts are on Tuesdays at 8 p.m., in the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel du Pont. Tickets are $60 each, with a four-concert subscription at $220 (plus handling fees). Ticket prices include a complimentary coffee and dessert buffet at intermission, with other beverages for sale.

Tickets are available through the DSO Office only, at 302-656-7442, ext. 1000, or at tickets@delawaresymphony.org.

All seats for Classics Series concerts are reserved, with single-ticket prices of $14, $45, and $75. Tickets are $10 in any section for students age 21 and under with ID. Additional Grand Opera House Box Office fees apply.

Tickets are available at The Grand Opera House Box Office by phone at 302-652-5577, in person at The Grand or at www.ticketsatthegrand.org. Discounted five-concert Classics Series subscriptions are available until Sept. 15 for $60, $195 and $335; student subscriptions are $50.

To order subscriptions, or for group rate information, contact the DSO office at 302-656-7442, Ext. 1000, or visit www.delawaresymphony.org.

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is “War for the Planet of the Apes 3D” and the suspense-thriller “Wish Upon.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is “Kong: Skull Island” and “Resident Evil: Vendetta.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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