For most performers, a power failure minutes before show time is classified as a disaster, akin to the set falling apart or the piano catching on fire. Not so for the six actors who make up The Focus Group, a Bangor-area improvisational troupe that actually had that happen at its debut show last month.
“It was actually a really great thing to happen, because we made the darkness a part of the improv,” said Rich Kimball, one of the members of The Focus Group. “All the scenes started taking place in caves and stuff. We were a little disappointed when the lights came back on. We might leave them off at every show now.”
The Focus Group will host its second evening of improv at 8 p.m. Friday, May 29, at the Next Generation Theater on Center Street in Brewer. The group includes Kimball, Allen Adams, Adam Kuykendall, Kae Cooney, Abby Hayward and Mike Abernathy, all actors with a long history in eastern Maine. They do long-form improv — the scene- and character-driven style originated by Second City in Chicago, not the punchline-driven style seen on “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”
“It consists of two-person scenes that build and build,” said Kimball. “There are three pairs each doing the same scene, and each time people come up they have to heighten the situation. It’s not as full of audience participation as ‘Whose Line,’ but it takes the audience to get it going. Plus, they ultimately judge how long a segment goes. You can sense when it’s working, and when it’s time to bail.”
Many of the actors in The Focus Group have quite a pedigree when it comes to improv. Abernathy worked with the New York City-based improv troupe the Upright Citizens Brigade after graduating from the University of Maine. Now a teacher at Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln, Abernathy has joined forces with the other members of the group, all of whom are regularly seen in productions by the Penobscot Theatre and Ten Bucks Theatre.
“A lot of us are pretty funny by nature, so we have to fight the urge for the easy laugh and go for something that keeps the scenes and characters developing,” said Kimball. “I’ve never seen anything like it around here. From an actor’s standpoint, it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done. The six of us have been working on it for around five months, so we’ve really learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
New at the show this Friday will be guest performer Dennis Price, a regular with the Theatre at Monmouth who has worked with the Improv Olympics in Chicago. In fact, if all goes as planned, by mid-to-late summer Kimball hopes to add three or four more performers to the group.
“We definitely want to find the right people. It’s a really unique style of performing,” said Kimball. “It’s fast-paced and crazy and incredibly fun.”
The Focus Group will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, May 29, at the Next Generation Theater, Center Street, Brewer. Admission is $5; mature audiences only. For details, call 991-0035.