Improv in the parkWhen these kids play in the park, they don’t need swings, just their imaginations.
When these kids play in the park, they don’t need swings, just their imaginations. And everyone is invited along for the ride.
Something Superior, a group of Superior High School students and recent graduates gathered at Hammond Park Tuesday to offer improvisational comedy. The free show included a stop at a MASH unit, a hug-filled trip to an ice cream plant, a driver’s lesson on Naboo, a dating game with contestants Napoleon Bonaparte, Count Chocula and Beyonce, and a glimpse of how Gollum would react during a visit to Chuck E. Cheese.
“It’s generally unexpected and comedic,” said Shayna Schafter, 17. And it’s coming to a park near you. The group will hold an improv show 7-9 p.m. every Tuesday in the second pavillion at Billings Park. In bad weather, the show will move to United Presbyterian Church. The public is welcome, and the shows are always free.
The thespians move through a series of games each night, letting their imagination shape the action. Think of it as a local, open-air version of “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?”
Something Superior offers the students a chance to sharpen their acting skills and have fun with their friends. The audience gets more than entertainment. They can join in by offering suggestions for phrases, settings and characters in each of the games.
“It’s fun for the audience because they get to participate more,” said Rachael Ronding, 18.
Everyone who attends a show can expect the unexpected, said 18-year-old Brittany MacDonell. A game of “freeze tag” Tuesday, for example, leapt from a “Hogan’s Heroes” re-enactment to an exercise show, a motorcycle date to a crime scene investigation, talk about fingernail colors and star gazing to the antics of an evangelical tent revival. These thespians play well with others, and they keep things rated PG.
“Some of these young )ones are so creative,” said Cheri Tesarek, a seasoned veteran who leads the games and gathers suggestions from the audience.
Tesarek has been involved in local theater for more than a decade, working with companies ranging from the Duluth Playhouse and Superior Community Theater to Rubber Chicken Theater.
“I seriously don’t think there is a group I haven’t worked with,” Tesarek said. She started the “Thursday Night Improv” group last summer, and continued to lead improv games with the SHS drama club over the school year.
“I do it because I love improv,” Tesarek said. It develops the ability to think on your feet and communicate. “If you can do this, you can do anything,” she said.
Students approached her about performing in Superior parks this summer, so she brought the idea to the city.
“When I learned it was a mixed adult and student group I was very excited,” said Mary Morgan, administrator for the city’s parks and recreation department. While Something Superior isn’t an official park program, she said, “They have our blessing.”
Now the public can enjoy free entertainment in the park two times a week. Bayside Sounds concerts are held at 7 p.m. every Wednesday, alternating between Billings Park and Barker’s Island, except for July 3. For more than 20 years, local musicians have participated in the concert series. In a good summer, Morgan said, up to 2,500 people attend the concerts.
Superior parks are popular places. In 2012, more than 50 special event permits were issued, for everything from ice stock car races and 5K walk/runs to the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival and a fishing derby. In addition, more than 20 brave brides chose to hold their weddings at Superior parks in 2012. And that doesn’t even count the nearly 100 reservations for use of the Billings Park pavilions each year.
“Truthfully, we have a ton of use,” Morgan said, and quite a bit of it is sparked by out of town visitors. The city has invested in sprucing up Billings Park, Barker’s Island and the Arrowhead Pier areas, she said, and that has made them more desirable for these special events.
Tesarek plans to call on a number of veteran improvisational comedy actors to join in the games. New members are also welcome to try out.
“Bring a lawn chair and a friend, and enjoy some free comedy in the park this summer,” she said.