MY INTRO TO IMPROV
As and actor and a screenwriter, it feels beyond natural that I would find myself finding a strong connection to the improv community. My exposure was admittedly brought about by reruns of the original British version of Whose Line Is It Anyway, as well as using the short form games to warm up and pass the time in both middle and high school theatre electives whenever the teacher was out, or simply didn't feel like teaching. Even despite the obvious lack of instruction, I have always been a tactile learner and learning by doing would prove to be a beneficial approach for me when learning the fundamentals of improv. It would also be the anchor point through my journey with PONCH.
The things I have learned about myself throughout our practices and performances are beyond insightful and while I could easily bore you to tears with the technical details, I figure it best to focus on sharing who makes up PONCH, what PONCH is, and provide some videos at the bottom of several of our early performances. I only mention the performances bing "early" because I know that improv doesn't tend to translate as well in video compared to live, and because I know how much I and my fellow PONCH performers have grown.
PONCH ORIGIN STORY
It wouldn't be until several years out of high school that I would be asked by my local theatre company to attend their intro to improv class so as to round out the numbers and generally help loosen up the new students. In some ways I was a plant, but it was a free class for me and an opportunity to play. While taking the class, I met some truly lovely people who all came from all different walks of life and with varying intentions as to what they aimed to get out of the class. Some aspired to be better public speakers, others to simply try something new. One of my fellow classmates in particular was a nuclear engineer who also felt inspiration from Whose Line reruns. His name is Scott (with two "T"s, so we refer to him as Double-T, or TT for short). We would hit it off immediately and ultimately stay in touch once we completed the class with a well received performance in front of a paying audience (we opened for the theatre company's actual in-house improv troupe.
Months later, TT and I would meet up and reminisce in fondness of our performance and express the desire to continue playing. We would eventually take it upon ourselves to hold outdoor practices and occasionally utilize other people's living rooms. We were delighted to be joined by the multi-talented Joe Jalette at first and really discovered what would make our approach unique to us along the way. However, as we neared our first actual performance at the Washington Improv Theatre for it's Improv Smackdown Tournament, Joe would decide to shift his focus away form improv and towards his first passion, music. TT and I were, and are still truly supportive of his choice and he has only continued to impress us with his growth as an artist. (check out Joe's band Double Motorcycle on streaming platforms if you're curious)
This would leave TT and I down to the two of us, but unsure as to whether or not we'd be disqualified for our debut performance and unsure as to how we'd even pull a performance off without a third person regardless. As luck would have it, my best friend i would named Tron (by me), just so happen to be returning from a tour in Afghanistan and expressed curiosity and interest in playing with us. While there was undeniable resistance from TT at first, its safe to say that the strongest bonds are forged through fire and I can't express what kind of fire it felt like we walked through together as we progressed to the final tier of the Improv Tournament before having been eliminated.
As we continued to practice and perform, while building a positive reputation amidst the improv community as underdogs of sorts, we would often receive feedback noting our true enjoyment performing together and how our love for one another protected off the stage. Honestly, regardless to how good or bad I felt about a set, that note would always bring a smile to my face. The bromance is undeniable to this day. A little while later, Tron would move away to attend college in CO, leaving TT and I to figure out how to function as a two-some. This exploration would ultimately distinguish the style PONCH would become known for. While we use short form games as warm-ups and baselines, we do what we can to expand upon them and develop character driven long-form scenes that function well enough that the story we build ultimately overshadows the game itself.
I would later move to NYC and again find the improv community to be truly inviting and supportive. TT even came up one night and we were able to put together in impromptu PONCH performance during free-audience-performance at the People's Improv Theatre, where we would get to perform with one other audience member who did an Amazing job. We were so well received, the PIT volunteer running the show called PONCH back up just to perform with us them self.