Talking to NCTC's chief NITWIT

Drew Turner, left, and Jeff Allen, right, model games for the NITWITS class. The games are based on their rules of improv. Photo/Special.

By Joan Doggrell
Special to The Citizen

The popular NITWITS are returning to the NCTC stage on June 18, Saturday evening at 8 p.m. NITWITS stands for Newnan Improv Troupe with Intelligent Talented Stooges. The actors play games that require them to improvise a story or skit on the spur of the moment.

Spencer Jordan talked about format changes for the June 18 show and future plans for NITWITS.

Since your group works together so well, why would you want to change?

The current troupe is tightly knit, functioning like a well-oiled machine. Normally such efficiency would be a positive quality, but not in the case of improv. We feel that we could easily make our show predictable if we kept the same structure and games. I don’t think that’s good, and it could cause us to lose audience. So we are going to be playing new games that feature the audience as participants.

How is that going to work?

At our June 18 show we’ll be bringing audience members out on stage with us. One game is called “Moving Bodies.” Two audience members will be puppet masters, so to speak. They will move the actors physically into places on the stage and position their arms and legs. All the actors will be able to do is speak – they can’t move their bodies of their own accord. They have to come up with a story that makes sense as they are positioned.

Will you play the same games at your show on July 23?
Our next show will feature “Theatre Sports” where we divide the NITWITS into teams playing against each other. The audience will vote on the winners. We originally started with the team format, and then we changed to playing “panel” games. Now we think it’s time to switch back to “sports” games. Changing keeps us on our toes and forces us into new material – this is the essence of improv. -

You held auditions a few weeks ago. Will you be bringing new players on board?

Right now we have 15 potentially new NITWITS. We call them HALFWITS. Bert Lyons is teaching an intensive improv course. The rest of the NITWITS attend in order to model the games and generally work with the new people. During the auditions we were just looking for basic Theatre 101 knowledge: knowing where to stand, how to be open, how to be loud, all of that. And now we’re looking at how well they can do improv.

So some of them will be eliminated?
Yes. We’ve not made any decisions about who we’re bringing in. We’re looking for consistent improvement because we have eight improv rules that we follow. We need to see who can follow them.

What are your 8 rules of improv?

Rule #1 is, don’t deny. For instance, if you and I were in a scene together and I said, Hey look! It’s an elephant, and if you said, No it’s not, you would have denied the idea that I proposed. That would shut me down; it would cause me to say, what do I do now? So denial can kill a scene immediately.

Rule #2 is, no open-ended questions. For example, if I say, Hey look! It’s an elephant, and you say Why, your response is making me do all the work. It’s also called the terminal question.

Rule #3 is, you don’t have to be funny. Some people doing improv try too hard. They fail because the performance seems forced. Generally the best way of being funny is trying not to be funny. Don’t laugh at your own jokes.

Rule #4 is, you look good when your partner looks good. So you don’t want to use your partner as a whipping post. You wouldn’t want to make remarks about your partner’s looks or weight or whatever. Because it makes you look really bad and your partner feel really bad. It breaks trust.

Rule #5 is, tell a story. Not every NITWITS game is a story game. Some of them are just for the punch line. But games that do tell a story have a structure from beginning to middle to end.

Rule #6 is, forget it. Don’t focus on trying not to fail. If you do freeze up or blank out, keep talking. Don’t look at the audience like you’re a deer caught in the headlights. Keep going. You have to trust the person you’re on the stage with.

Rule #7 is, listen and respond. Watch and respond. I could be saying something to you, but if you’re not listening to what I’m saying you’ll miss the inflections or textual references I’m making. Or you could be zoning out and mess the scene up. Watching is vital too. If I’m doing something physical like stealing your wallet and you’re not responding to that, or I’m handing you a hot plate and you’re touching it with your hands, then the scene doesn’t work.

Rule #8 is, use your body and your space. You don’t want to stand still or be stationary. You want to use everything around you. Physically it’s a lot more interesting to watch if you’re moving.
How does Bert Lyons (an experienced actor who played the father in Evie’s Waltz) conduct the class?

In the workshop Bert has been working two improv rules at a time through games that really stress the importance of those rules.

Are these new people going to be in your show on the 18th?

They will not be. But they will be working the show and see how a show is run. We are kind of a self-sufficient engine right now. The new NITWITs we select will be part of our show on July 23.
Come and see the NITWITS Saturday night, July 18 at 8 p.m. at the Newnan Community Theatre Company, 24 First Ave., Newnan GA 30263. Tickets are just $5.

Keep your calendar clear for August 19 or 20. NITWITS is offering a murder mystery dinner theatre with a Harry Potter theme. The setting is a Hogwarts Reunion.

For more information: 770-683-6282 or www.newnantheatre.org