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The City Journals

The Improvinators: South Jordan’s Comedic Heroes

Mar 10, 2016 09:03AM ● By Bryan Scott

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

South Jordan - Being an Improvinator is a coveted position, according to Geoff Beckstrand, 16.  

The Improvinators, based out of South Jordan, is a local improv troupe that provides entertainment to the community by performing live theatrical acts with no script or previous preparation.

During each show, the troupe is divided in half and the two teams battle it out to see who the audience deems the funnier, according to troupe founder Toni Butler. Half of the troupe takes on the role of heroes and the other villains, she said. 

Beckstrand, a member of the Kensington Theatre Company’s Teen Advisory Board, said each member of teen board wants to join the troupe, so in the fall of 2015 they came up with a plan.

“Every hero needs a sidekick,” he said. 

At the request of the teen advisory board, the Improvinators began hosting an improv class for teens one Thursday each month, where they trained teens who were interested in gaining improv experience, or wanted to be an Improvinator, Beckstrand said. In their 2016 season, Improvinators will invite some of these teens to be a guest performers or “sidekicks” during select shows. 

“The idea is that when those kids get a little older and gain experience that they’ll be invited to join Improvinators permanently,” Butler said. 

After five years of its establishment, the group has stayed primarily the same, with 12 of the 14 original members still affiliated with the group.

Butler formed the group after performing in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” with the Kensington Theatre Company. She said she invited members of the cast to be in the improv troupe, based on their “funniness” and “willingness to learn.” They later named the group the Improvinators, using heroes and villains as a theme in each show.

Butler, who had been in professional improv troupes and taught improv classes for the Utah Theatre Association, taught the Improvinators team how to put on an improv show, Jill Bearden, original member, said. Most of them were used to acting, but they were used to having scripts and rehearsals. 

“I came to find out it was like playtime for adults, and it’s been really addicting,” Bearden said. 

Butler said she attributes the group’s longevity to their lack of ego. 

“From the very beginning they weren’t trained, but they had raw talent and were willing to learn. I’ve done pro ones before, but there’s an ego there. Here, everyone’s so giving. They really embrace the art of improv, which is making the other people on stage look good,” Butler said.

One of Butler’s all-time favorite stage experiences with the Improvinators was when one actress was pretending to be Elastigirl, the stretchy superhero from Disney’s “The Incredibles.”

The audience knew who the actress was, and participated in the show to help the actor guess her persona. When the actress was thirsty and reached for a bottle of water that was across the room, each audience member reached out their hand in a ripple “creating an extension” of the actress’s arm.

“There was no prior script for that,” Butler said. “The audience picked up on it.” 

Beckstrand was in the audience at that performance. He said he’s been to a lot of performances, but that the Elastigirl moment was the coolest thing he has seen during an improv show. 

“You just never know what is going to happen,” Beckstand said. “It might not sound that exciting to you until you come and see improv for yourself. There are so many inside jokes.” 

In its first years, the troupe performed every Friday, but that became too big of a time commitment, so now the group performs at least once a month on the Early Light Academy stage, located at 11709 South Vadania Drive, according to Bearden. 

The Improvinators’ next performances are on March 25, April 15 and April 29, all at 9 p.m. 

Bearden said that improv shows are best experienced at night, because people generally get sillier as the night progresses. Because the shows are late at night, children don’t usually attend.

Oftentimes improve teams rely on crude humor, but one thing that sets the Improvinators apart is their focus on keeping their performance content appropriate for family audiences. Still, the troupe recommends that only those age 10 or older attend their shows because they usually last about two hours, and it’s a long time for young children to sit.

For those adults interested in learning the art of improvisational performing, the Improvinators are hosting free improv workshops on April 7, 14, 21 and 28 from 7:30-10 p.m. at Early Light Academy.