Not all improv groups are created equal. I’m a fan of improv theater in general, but I have to admit, I’ve been to some painful shows in the past. When done badly, improv theater can be downright uncomfortable to witness. But when a troupe has chemistry, energy and talent, and everything falls into place just right, you’re in for an incredible live theater experience. Austin local quartet Parallelogramophonograph (PGraph, for short) is improv done well. Very well.
Who’s Behind Parallelogramophonograph?
Parallelogramophonograph is made up of a dynamic foursome—Kareem Badr, Kaci Beeler, Roy Janik and Valerie Ward—who have been performing together for over 11 years. They’ve created over 650 shows together, developing a strong rapport.
While they regularly perform and teach classes at The Hideout Theatre in downtown Austin, they’ve also traveled and performed around the world. They have appeared in a number of prestigious improv festivals, such as Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Their accolades include “Best Improv Troupe” in The Austin Chronicle’s “Best of Austin” 2016 and a 2016 Austin Critics Table Award. In other words, if you enjoy improv theater and find yourself in Austin, this group is a must-see.
Improv Done Differently
Parallelogramophonograph specializes in a particular type of improv called “narrative improv.” The group members don’t just do short sketches based on audience participation. Instead they concoct a whole play on the fly.
During the performance I saw, they started with the title of an existing play, read aloud by an audience member. Each cast member then came up with their own synopsis of what a play with that title could be about. In under a minute, wildly different ideas were on the table. Then audience members voted on which play they wanted to see, via applause. After that, the play was afoot. The only limit was the actors’ creativity, as they deftly played off each other and created a multi-act story arc.
As a writer, it’s so impressive to me that anyone can produce works of fiction with such ease and fluidity. The play wasn’t just hilarious, but it had developed characters and consistent themes. The actors were like a hive mind, planning and adapting for what their cast mates would throw at them, while somehow meeting them on the same page. Jokes were called back with pitch perfect timing, made to feel fresh every time.
If you’re interested in learning more about narrative improv, the creators of Parallelogramophonograph have actually written a book on it.
One aspect of the show I particularly enjoyed was the music. Although Ammon Taylor is apparently only an occasional guest star, I was happy to have attended when he was at the piano. Taylor is the regular musician for shows at The Hideout Theatre and is also Resident Music Director for The Paramount Theatre next door.
While watching the play unfold in front of him, he seamlessly weaved in the perfect music for each scene. I was quite impressed by his talent and attention to detail. He was able to adjust to the moods and tones of the play as quickly as the actors could create them.
See Parallelogramophonograph for Yourself
Parallelogramophonograph hosts a weekly show most Fridays at 10:00 p.m. at The Hideout Theater. The cost is only $10 a ticket. It would make for a great date night or outing for a group of friends. Because every show is unique, it’s worth it to go back again and again.
With improv, neither audience nor actors ever know quite what they’re going to get. With Parallelogramophonograph, whatever you end up with, you know you’ll be entertained.
617 Congress Ave. – Website
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