Best Bets: Comedy goes rogue at First State Improv

Melissa Brenner, left, leads First State Improv in a show entitled “Unscripted” tonight at the Rockshop Performing Arts Center in Camden. First State Improv also has classes in improv for kids and teens. (Submitted photo)

There’s a group of people in the area who say whatever comes to their mind. And that’s fine with Melissa Brenner. It’s actually encouraged.

Ms. Brenner, of Dover, runs First State Improv. The only troupe of its kind in Kent County, First State Improv teaches adults and kids alike, how to be spontaneous and often, very funny.

“Improv is truly an art form,” said Ms. Brenner. “And it’s starting to get more recognition as an art form and not just an exercise for actors.”

Audiences can see the latest work from the older members of her group at The Rockshop Performing Arts Center in Camden Friday night at 7.

“Unscripted” is an adults-only show where improvisational comedy rules the day with games and exercises such as viewers would see on the hit comedy show “Whose Line is it Anyway.” As the title implies, it’s all made up on the spot.

But being spontaneous oddly takes a lot of practice. And that’s where Ms. Brenner comes in.

An actor in Baltimore, who joined the Screen Actors Guild and was featured in TV shows, movies and theatrical productions across the bridge, Ms. Brenner moved to Dover with her family in 2000.

“I did a show with the Kent County Theatre Guild when we first moved here. But then I started having babies. And it’s hard to be at rehearsal with three small kids. My husband works at the hospital and it was hard to find child care. So we had an agreement that I would do one show a year,” she said.

“But then I did ‘Noises Off’ in Milford with the Second Street Players and I had the most fun and met so many great people. And I said, ‘You know what? I need to start an improv group so we can stay in contact and we can keep playing together. So it was essentially started as me getting my friends together to play.”

The improv fun started once a month with adults at the Kent County Theatre Guild in Dover and then kids started to come. Then she started some summer camps in Dover, which evolved into a series for homeschooled students and then an audition series.

Having a background in early childhood education, she even started a series for very young children, called the Pee Wee Improv.

“I have one girl in that, who is 5 and is a genius at it. They are so fun and so silly at that age,” Ms. Brenner said. “It’s nice to have them young and watch them grow.”

So what started out as a fun time with friends has developed into a full-fledged business. She has even taught improv in three Milford elementary schools.

She puts on three shows a year at the Rockshop with the adult class and is planning a Meet the Troupe Night with her teen group Spontaneous Combustion Dec. 22 at 3 p.m. at Kent County Theatre Guild.

But before that, her adults hit the stage tonight. In her group, she said she has folks from all walks of life.

“I have actors but I also have teachers and scientists. Teachers are always improvising,” she said.

Although it may strengthen actors’ stage presences, improv also provides valuable lessons for everyday life, Ms. Brenner said.

“It’s a way to learn to listen to one another. The whole basis of is the ‘yes and’ concept. It’s accepting the current reality and building off of it. You have to listen to one another and build off of an idea and that carries into the workplace.

“At a staff meeting, you have to listen to each other and understand where people are coming from and then build them up. It’s not about you. It’s about making your partner look good. That’s key.”

She said her improv classes, which are free, are not about hogging the spotlight.

“I’ve had adults and kids come in here and they want to do their own thing and not listen to anyone. It’s all about giving offers and then accepting one another’s offer and moving forward.

“But some just want to be standup comedians and you have to say ‘You’re very funny but this might not be the place for you.”

For others though, improv is just a way to blow off steam.

“They use it as an escape. You come here and play and there is no judgment and lot of freedom.”

Although sometimes, Ms. Brenner said, you do have to rein them in at times.

“If I have an adult that drops the F bomb too many times, I have to say ‘I think you are using it as a stalling technique,” she said.

Hence, the reason that tonight’s show is an adults-only affair. But it’s not always the cast members who go over the line.

“It’s the crowd’s suggestions sometimes. You can ask ‘Where are we?’ or ‘Name a profession.’ and you’ll hear ‘proctologist.’ It’s always the same stuff,” she joked.

Having that freedom that Ms. Brenner talks about is key, especially when she discusses the concept of “failing spectacularly.”

“We always say ‘Don’t be afraid to say something. If you say something and we all groan, that’s OK. We don’t want you to leave here saying ‘Oh I wish I said something.’ It’s better to say something and fail spectacularly then say nothing at all,” she said.

“There are lots of games where we set them up to purposely fail. The audience loves it because they love to see failures.”

Friday’s show will be full of those improvisational games.

“We do a lot of mashups. We will do an alphabet game combined with a genre game and mash them together. It’s nice to have a group like this that I can really push,” she said.

“The shows just get better and better. The adults are working better with each other and trust each other to go to certain places and that’s really important and makes it fun for everyone.”

Tickets for Friday’s show at the Rockshop, 3395 S. DuPont Highway in Camden, are $10 and available at the door.

Dancing with the Delaware Stars

Tickets go on sale today for the 11th annual Dancing with the Delaware Stars at Dover Downs set for Jan. 25.

The Greater Dover Boys & Girls Club joins with Mom’s House of Dover as co-beneficiaries of the popular local event.

Local celebrities partner with dance professionals to perform a judged dance routine, similar to the hit television show. All dance couples vie for the coveted Mirror Ball trophy. Couples are judged based on dollars raised, judges scores and votes from the public.

Jackie Mayan

“We are excited to be presenting the 11th year of DWDS. Terri Brown, founder of the DWDS, has made this fun fundraiser the event of the year. I am up for the challenge, as my first year as event chair,” said Jackie Mayan, who is also a Mom’s House board member.

Dancers this year are:

•Scott Becker, owner of Coastal Carwash, and Jessica Moyer, owner of the Ice House: Wellness & Community

•Ali Bednarik, certified personal trainer, women’s fitness specialist and founder of Momentum Fitness, and Jeron Gordon, a certified personal trainer and women’s fitness instructor at the Salvation Army

•Dr. Anthony Falvello, First State Orthopedics surgeon, and Rachael Mears, Discover senior regulator analyst

•Teresa Gretencord, Sharp Energy director of administration, and Kyle Sammons, Zcom Delaware representative and Zumba fitness instructor

•Shaila Gillis, teacher at Sussex Technical High School and adjunct Spanish professor at Wilmington University, and Robert Sherrell, senior standing ballroom dancing instructor, Hawaii Ballroom Dance Association

•Prentice V. Griffin, Comcast Business senior account executive, and Brittany Faulkingham, owner of the School Of Delaware Ballet

•Brandon Hohrein, Keller Williams Realtor, and Stephanie Pickens Harrison, administrator and financial resource manager for 3As

•Robbie Jester, culinary director of High 5 Hospitality, and Tricia Massey, teacher at the Little School at Kids Cottage and ecarte dance theatre

•Theresa Owens, owner of Blu Vintage Boutique and Stonerail Market, and Nodario Tetruashvily of Society Hill Dance Academy

•Ivy Lyn Sia, Welcome Home Realtor and coach at Ignite Fitness Kickboxing, and Raykeem Ward, founder of Dreams Of Hope and teacher at Postlethwait Middle School

•Marisa Slaten, director at Delmarva Power, and Joe Figueroa, owner and instructor at Living In Rhythm at Take The Lead Dance Studio.

There are a limited number of tickets available for purchase: VIP tickets for $175, include cocktails hour, sitdown dinner, dance competition and dance party; event tickets at $75, include cash bar reception with complimentary hors d’oeuvres, dance competition, dance party and 10 votes. Visit www.dwdstars.com to purchase tickets and vote for your favorite pair.

Can it

Blue Earl Brewing Co. in Smyrna announced recently that it has acquired a new canning line and will launch canned craft beer with the first double can release Saturday.

The first two canned beers include Blue Earl’s flagship beer, Honeysuckle Rose, a Belgian Blonde Ale, and a new beer, Hazy at Heart IPA a hoppy session beer. More canned beer brands will follow in December and into the new year.

A can launch party will take place at Blue Earl Brewing located at 210 Artisan Dr., Smyrna, on Saturday at noon. The party will feature the new canned beers available for purchase in six packs or by the case, with live music by Dr. Harmonica & Rockett 88, and eats by Blue Earl’s Juke Box.

“We are beyond excited to be able to offer craft cans for sale at the brewery and to be distributed throughout Delaware and Maryland,” said Ronnie Price, founder and brewmaster at Blue Earl.

“We have been selling bottled beer for the last four years, and decided to capitalize on the current trend of the can craze. Blue Earl has purchased a new canning line that is replacing the bottling line and will produce canned beer exclusively.”

Evening for the Animals

This year’s Evening for the Animals, sponsored by the First State Animal Center and SPCA, will be held at the Modern Maturity Center on Del. 8 in Dover on Saturday at 6 p.m.

The event will include silent and live auctions, dinner and dancing, and entertainment by Delaware musician Sol Knopf. Mr. Knopf will bejoined on stage by singer Kayley Hill from “The Voice,” and singer/songwriter, Jesse Terry.

Tickets are $75 per person and $140 per couple. Order online at www.fsac-spca.org or call 302-943-6032.

Now Showing

New this weekend in theaters is a reboot of “Charlie’s Angels,” Christian Bale and Matt Damon in “Ford V. Ferrari” and the mystery drama “The Good Liar.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the live-action “Dora the Explorer” and the Bruce Springsteen-based drama “Blinded by the Light.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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