Local Improv Troupe 'Kitsch In Sync' Moves Out and On
After leaving their stage at the Puppet Showplace, a local, low-key improv troupe keeps on trucking.
One of the foundations of improvisational comedy is the concept of "Yes, and...?" It means taking whatever the previous speaker said and "pimping it" or building on it — even if it's going in an unexpected direction.
Continuing that theme, local improv performers Kitsch In Sync (KIS) were down to a handful members by the end of last year, and had moved out of their eight-year home, Puppet Showplace Theatre (PST). The troupe now performs in Brighton, at Castlebar, one Friday a month, and has taken on new blood.
The non-profit Brookline arts theatre had been the group's permanent rehearsal and performance space for nearly eight years. However, between several troupe members departing, the possibility of disbanding and new policies from the Theatre, it was another case of "yes, and...?"
Isabel Fine became theatre executive director early last year. She explained that KIS and PST had a long relationship, mutual connections and shared board members.
"By necessity, Puppet Showplace is a tiny, non-profit arts theatre," Fine explained. "We have to be careful and professional, or we will not survive."
The theatre had instituted some new standardized policies, including new a new rental structure, and keeping a member of staff on the premises when groups — KIS included — practiced in their space. Fine said she had also approached the troupe with a proposal, but the troupe had told her they were disbanding.
"I expressed great sadness, because I love what they do," Fine added.
The troupe did not, however, disband. The remaining members regrouped and, believing the Showplace space was no longer an option, began the search for new places to practice and perform.
John Chenier, a member of the troupe, explained, "After some negotiation, it became apparent that we were either going to have to pay through the nose to be there, or find another place to be. Which was very surprising to us..."
Their rent would triple, he said, and they would have to pay a member of theatre staff to be present while they rehearsed — although the staff member would not doing work for on the troupe's behalf.
"We were like, we have [theatre] board members in the troupe. Why do you need to have a staff member here?'" Chenier said. "It can't be a liability issue, because we have board members here."
Fine says they did not return with a counter-proposal, but added that the offer never really left the table.
The troupe continues to meet together between the monthly bar shows, using empty MassArt classrooms after-hours for practice and performing once a month at Brighton's Castlebar.
"We've been drawing about the same-sized crowds, about 30 to 40 people. People can eat and drink during the show, they're not on those uncomfortable benches that are designed for five-year-olds," said Chenier. "We get a little bit more of an adult crowd, so we don't have to worry as much about keeping it PG-13 — but we try to still play it at a higher level of intelligence, not ultimately fart and sex jokes."
The bar, Chenier noted, charges them no rent. He says they're just happy to have the room filled with customers.
Fine said she is really happy for the group, and added she hopes to work with the troupe on future projects as well.
The troupe is made up of amateur comedians with day jobs, people who simply enjoy making comedy — like Brad Brown of The Blue Frog Bakery in Jamaica Plain. Its members come from all over the Boston area, and range in age from their 20s to 40s. It was initially founded by Adam Williams, an Improv Boston veteran, in 1998. Despite members coming and going over the years, and a short hiatus, the troupe has remained ever since.
For Chenier, there is some pleasure in acting. He tells the story of one performance where his father was laughing so hard, he nearly passed out. He was concerned, he said, but there was an ego side to it as well, a "look what I did."
Chenier added, "people have this idea that it's really difficult. It's just giving up control, allowing yourself to be a maniac on stage. A civilized society would think you just got out of a mental institution."