FRONT PORCH IMPROV has been a leading force in the local comedy scene for quite some time, consistently providing incredible improv comedy performances that rival big-name theaters like Upright Citizens Brigade and Second City.
Always looking for new challenges, the Front Porch company is prepping for Best Movie Ever – a truly one-of-a-kind comedic undertaking that will find the performers staging an entire movie from audience suggestions.
Co-Artistic Director Brianne Halverson is just one of the large cast of seasoned comedians who’ll be taking part in the experiment, along with performer Stephen Smith. The idea for the show came from a similar performance at the UCB Theater in New York.
“Stephen and I perform regularly at Front Porch, and do shows every Saturday night. Right now we’re doing a show that’s pop culture-based – this week we’re doing one that’s based off of Wizard of Oz. We do that monthly to challenge ourselves and be weird,” Halverson says.
“We were just kind of talking about things that we thought would scare us, and this definitely scared us.”
Best Movie Ever will actually begin on Dec. 27, when veteran improv director Will Nunziata will arrive to teach the performers how to put on a live movie. 72 hours later, the intense workshop will give way to a live performance.
The show is being split into two performances, starting with a trailer at the top for two 30-minute movies. The trailer outlines the plot of the story, which will be based on audience suggestions for different types of movies, names, and other elements. The two-minute trailer will then be followed by a 30-minute performance of the movie based on the audience’s ideas.
“We’ve been making phenomenal pancakes, but we decided we wanted to learn how to make crepes,” Smith says. “We’re going to spend a couple days just learning how to make crepes, and then we’ll serve them up to the people.”
The process for this type of show, and improv in general, requires knowledge and experience with doing scene work and subtly incorporating forms and structures.
“If you’re doing it well, the audience doesn’t really see it but they’re satisfied,” Smith says. “You kind of intuitively know when you’re seeing a good story or a good payoff.”
One of the things that the performers have done to prepare for this unique undertaking is giving each other movies to study in order to get a sense of structure – which both Halverson and Smith say is key to pulling it off properly.
“We’ve been giving each other bad movies, and we’ve also been setting the trope. So in a coming-of-age film, you need to know that when the girl takes off her glasses and lets down her hair she has to be beautiful,” Halverson explains. “We’re almost like film study majors right now, just so we can all be on the same page.”
The ensemble actually features a few people who’ve worked in film behind the scenes, in addition to the many seasoned actors and comedians involved – making it a group of people who are very much prepared for the unique and thrilling journey they’ll embark on for Best Movie Ever.
“This is a cast that loves movie genres, and is excited to kind of exploit them for our own purposes,” Halverson says. “And our budget is in the millions, clearly.” Smith agrees.
“Sky high, of course,” he exclaims.
The seasoned performers at Front Porch, Halverson and Smith included, are all aware of the high-stakes environment they create on stage and the level of timing and precision it takes to carry a completely improvised performance all the way through.
“The fun thing about improv is that the audience is watching you walk that tightrope. They want you to succeed, but some of the fun is also when you fall. You know in those Japanese TV shows, when they run as fast as they can through a door and sometimes the door opens and they’re fine? Other times they just slam into the door and fall down,” Halverson explains.
“That’s the fun part of it, too. To watch people boldly throw themselves out there. And that’s what we’re going to do – we’re going to take a ton of chances.”