Jen Shepard and Larrance Fingerhut, the founders and owners of Bar Harbor-based comedy theater ImprovAcadia, have seen their main means of income disappear as theaters and clubs statewide have shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Their 17th season of offering improv comedy shows at their intimate Cottage Street theater was supposed to start later this month. With continuing restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people not likely to be lifted for at least another month, the chances of even having shows at all this year seems increasingly unlikely.
But Shepard and Fingerhut have come up with a novel way to keep an income stream going while staying safe — and also making people’s days a little brighter. For $20, Shepard and Fingerhut will improvise and record a song especially for that most special of people: your mom, ahead of Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 10.
“Since we have no foreseeable income anytime soon, it’s a way to generate something to keep us afloat,” said Shepard. “And everyone wants to do something nice for their mom.”
Those who wish to purchase a song must fill out a brief questionnaire about their mom, with questions about jobs, hobbies, vacations, nicknames, favorite meals and other mom-centric details. From there, Fingerhut will take to the piano, while Shepard comes up with hilarious lyrics based on an individual’s answers to their questions. The performance is filmed and then emailed off to the recipient. They are capping the number of song requests at 100, so they are able to fulfill them all in time for Mother’s Day.
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Improvising songs is a regular part of a typical ImprovAcadia show. Fingerhut, a pianist and musical director for both ImprovAcadia and for shows at Penobscot Theatre Co. in Bangor, actually did a similar thing for Mother’s Day, when he was with a different improv troupe in Chicago back in the 1990s.
“I composed a little frame for the song, and then the improvisers took off from there,” said Fingerhut. “Back then, we did it to raise money so we could go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And that was before the Internet was commonplace, so we either did it live, or we’d call up the mother and leave it on their answering machine.”
The model for Fingerhut and Shepard’s songs this time around will be a bit different from the original, including what Shepard describes as a “William Shatner-esque” dramatic spoken word interlude.
During a normal season, ImprovAcadia welcomes improv performers from all over the country, including from both Fingerhut and Shepard’s comedy alma maters, The Second City and Improv Olympics, both in Chicago. This year, they’re not sure if any of them will be able to come to live in Bar Harbor for the summer.
“Comedy is such an intimate thing. Part of the way it works is that people are elbow to elbow, and the laughter just sets the room off,” said Fingerhut. “It’s really hard to replicate that sort of thing via Zoom. It’s hard to make it infectious. Infectious, in the good way, that is.”
The couple are hopeful that as restrictions begin to lift as the summer progresses, some of their improvisers that live in Maine year-round will be able to join them for some limited performances. They also want to continue offering improvised songs for all sorts of occasions, well beyond Mother’s Day.
“People want graduation songs, birthday songs, anniversary songs,” said Shepard. “We have a really fun idea for Father’s Day, too. The response so far to all of this has been overwhelming. It’s a great way to do something nice for someone, while also supporting local artists.”
To inquire about an improvised song, email ImprovAcadia at firstname.lastname@example.org.