Pecha Kucha: Behind The Slides

Inside an improv comedy group: Who wants to sit at The Cool Kids’ Table?

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 1:15pm

CAMDEN — At the last Pecha Kucha night held at the Camden Opera House on November 10, a Camden-based comedy improv troupe took the stage, giving a PK presentation that departed from the typical format of a slide show. The Cool Kids’ Table, a troupe founded by Heather Ellsworth three years ago, did a live performance in tandem with their 20-second-per-image, 20-slides format.

“Instead of showing slides explaining the process of improv, we decided we were just going to do comedy improv right on the stage,” said Ellsworth. “We wanted to show people how it worked as an art form.”

One of the troupe members emailed the PK organizers 60 words and asked them to pick 15 words randomly. 

“We didn’t know which words would come up every 20 seconds or how we would incorporate them into our improvised scenes.”

Watch the video of the performance to the right.

What they performed for the audience was a game called Four Corners, a short-form game.

“Comedy improv is completely spontaneous,” said Ellsworth. “It’s not like stand-up comedy, where jokes are rehearsed ahead of time. There are structures within improv, such as the structure of the Four Corners game, but within that structure, you don’t know what you’re going to say until you jump into the scene. Normally, a new word introduced every 20 seconds isn’t part of the game; we just blended a traditional game with the Pecha Kucha format.”

The idea of getting up on a stage in front of an audience and making up a scene as you go can be a terrifying concept.

“I first saw comedy improv 20 years ago in San Francisco,” Ellsworth recalled. “I said to myself ‘This is one thing I’m never going to do.’ It’s strange how that turned out.”

The Cool Kids’ Table performs at various local events throughout the year.  They have performed at The Strand, Rockport Opera House, and most recently, the Next Generation Theater as part of the annual Improv ME Festival. Depending on the event, the troupe can range from three to six performers and a show lasts one to two hours.

They usually spend two hours per week rehearsing and according to Ellsworth: “it’s a lot of fun to relate to other people in a way you would normally not get a chance to do in your daily life.  We all need time just to let go and play!”

Ellsworth was also hoping the Pecha Kucha performance would inspire more people to join the troupe.

“Some people will come on board and try it out for just a little while,” she said. “Three of us have been together from the start and a couple of people expressed interest in joining after the show. It can be an intimidating concept, but we assure people they don’t have to perform until they are ready. We probably rehearsed a full year as a troupe before we had our first performance.”

Contrary to the assumption that comedy improv performers are all class clowns and effortlessly extroverted, Ellsworth said: “I look at our group and I think that, except for me, everybody is an introvert. A lot of improv is just about connecting with your scene partners, connecting in the moment.”

The Cool Kids’ Table will be performing again at Rock City Café on Dec. 2 at 7 p.m.

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