The foundational statement of improv comedy — “Yes, and …” — is one of support, letting an improviser know that his fellow performers will play along, no matter what new twist he adds to the scene. Ferndale improviser Vince Sabatini says that supportive spirit shines through, even among improv troupes going head to head.
“A lot of troupes, before they go out for the show, will pat everybody on the back and say, ‘I’ve got your back,’ ” Sabatini says. “Not only with people in your troupe, but just in the community in general, that is a vibe that really sticks out. Whenever there’s a gathering or a competition, you really feel that.”
Sabatini’s improv troupe, Legally Problematic, is one of 24 groups from Metro Detroit that will square off at Planet Ant Theatre’s annual Colony Fest, which continues through Saturday. Six troupes will compete in four semifinal nights, with audience votes determining the winner of each. The four finalists will compete in a Saturday night show, with the winner to be decided by Planet Ant’s long-running improv “Home Team.” The champions will go on to create an original play for Planet Ant’s next season, directed by the Ant’s Mike McGettigan.
Each of the four semifinal nights will close with a performance by a winning troupe from a previous year of the event That troupe will not be eligible to receive votes this year.
“They’re all really good troupes,” says Michael Hovitch, Planet Ant managing director. “They’re all troupes that have gone on and written a show through the Ant, and a lot of times they’ve performed other places.”
Colony Fest focuses on long-form improv — 20-minute scenes that unfold like a short play, as opposed to the shorter improv “games” best known to the general public for their prominent use on TV’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Sabatini says most troupes at Colony Fest will solicit suggestions from the audience for ideas to work into their sketches before they get started.
“It’s to show the audience that, yeah, we really are making this up,” he says. “You can say, ‘Oh, they really did do that. They did have something to do with tomatoes in that scene.’ Then you don’t think we wrote a tomato sketch or whatever.”
Sabatini, who made the finals at Colony Fest last year with Legally Problematic, has been doing improv for about three years. He says he enjoys the “freeing,” childlike element of making up a story as you go along.
“You can truly play like adults don’t tend to play,” he says. “You kind of lose that when you get older, and improv lets you take it back.”
While there’s certainly a considerable reward involved for the event’s finalist, winning doesn’t seem to be a top priority for the performers. Competing improvisers express the most enthusiasm for the event’s community spirit and fun atmosphere. Maggie O’Reilly, who competed last year with the team Behavior Modification and will return this year as a member of Reclassify Pluto, describes Colony Fest as “one of the most high-energy improv competitions that I’ve ever been a part of.”
“Even if you don’t necessarily win the night, you’ve still won by playing against some of your friends and other improvisers,” she says.
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
Colony Fest 2015
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Planet Ant Theatre