The Belvederes

Life is better when you’re laughing

Dr. Seuss once penned, “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.” He’d probably be pleased to know ‘everywhere’ would include vegetables.

The punch line of the Belvederes Improv show came at the beginning, when a wiggly, six-year-old boy walked into the Timpanogos Valley Theater yelling, “Carrots!” When the MC asked for a suggestion, the boy would insist again that this show was to be about carrots. And it was. There were carrot brothers and sisters; carrots being afraid of being made into a stew; a lively debate about whether hairy carrots, who could run, were good to eat. The boy wasn’t the only one to shout carrots — other members of the audience picked up the refrain as well. And it was funny!

The audience was a mixture of families and date nights, all of them ready to laugh. When an audience member was invited on stage for a game of freeze frame, he was thrown into a story about an odd vacation where a Chewbacca impersonator kept making an appearance.

Some of the performers deadpanned through ridiculous moments, while others demonstrated exaggerated emotional theatrics over the smallest things. And the audience was in for the ride, laughing as they watched the absurd stories that were made up right there on the spot.

The Belvederes Improv was started seven years ago, when a group of theater friends decided to put together an improv group and perform for a Christmas variety show. Ben Ray, a high school science teacher, became involved a few months later. “I knew nothing about improv before I got in,” he says. “There’s a lot of work put in, but it was more for fun.”

David Thorpe, a long-time member of the troupe, explained to Ray that improv is a world of imagination, and the audience gets a chance to go with the performers into that imaginary world and be part of the story. That’s when it becomes the most fun.

From the beginning, the Belvederes Improv has always been a family-friendly and respectful troupe. Though the occasional euphemism might slip in, the troupe doesn’t swear and they avoid certain topics to remain respectful and appropriate. The performers want to entertain both the adults and the kids in the audience.

The Belvederes also strive to be a team. While other improv groups might throw each other under the bus to get a laugh, the Belvederes try to maintain respect and acceptance for one another. Ray says that this intentional difference has allowed everyone there to feel welcome.

How To Improv

Ben shared that when people try improv for the first time, they may feel uneasy because they think it needs to be done a certain way. But the real magic of improv is when the performer relaxes and can embrace whatever character they are playing, acting naturally.

Improv isn’t just trying to be funny. Ray explains, “The funny just happens.” Improv works differently than something like stand-up comedians, who worry about saying the right thing at the right time. With improv, it’s more of a team effort, where they try to set each other up in awkward situations that turn out to be funny. Improv is not a one-man show, and the performers have to practice together so that they are in sync when they perform.

The performers practice basic improv rules: Always say yes. Don’t block or deny what someone else is doing. And then go and build on it.

A large part of practicing improv is learning to listen. If performers are going in different directions, it gets confusing — fast. So a performer must listen closely to what is happening, process it quickly, and then be able to keep the story going.

While playing improv games, memorable moments just happen. For example: the phrase “cat, top, freedom, burrito,” began innocently enough, but soon those four random words became an exclamation that worked perfectly in emotional moments and as secret lyrics to an opening song. The best moments come through interaction with others. And Ray says that improv is “a chance for us to relax and allow silly to happen, which you don’t get a lot of in the real world.”

Keep Going

During Covid, the Belvederes had to shut down. After a short hiatus the group attempted to play online on Zoom meetings, but Ray says that the online meetings were difficult. When they were finally able to meet again, the troupe had changed. Before, there was a regular group that met consistently, but after the pandemic, many of the previous members no longer came, and the Belvederes troupe discovered new people who wanted to be involved. The audience also changed, as many of the audience members are experiencing improv for the first time.

The Belvederes Improv is operated and performed by volunteers, leading to low-cost entertainment. But since everyone has responsibilities outside of the troupe, making it all work can be a struggle. Sometimes they barely scrape enough people together to put on a show; and they can be stretched thin as they figure out advertising, networking, and all the other work that is involved with running the troupe. Ray says that they often improvise on how to run the business aspects of the troupe.

Most people are in the troupe so they can bring joy to other people. They aren’t just there to improve their own skills. Instead, they want to perform for an audience and make that audience happy. And while they may wish for a big, high-energy audience, even when the audience is smaller, the performers still work hard to imagine and create stories and laughter.

Harness Creativity

Even watching improv can help people harness creativity. Improv allows people to step outside the grind of daily life, leaving behind automatic to-do lists and stepping into a place where almost anything can happen. Ray says that improv gives people a place to go and laugh, relax, and step away from reality for a second. And when improv is played right, it can become intellectual, giving the audience a chance to think about things in a new way.

Ray says, “The reason people love it is the release.” The performers don’t care what they look like, and they don’t need to be super good at what they are doing. It doesn’t matter–because every performed moment is soon gone forever, and the performers and the audience together just keep going. “It’s freedom that you don’t get all the time.”

Ray says that doing improv has changed the way he communicates. He listens better and is more willing to follow someone else’s train of thought and add to it. He has learned better cooperation with others. Participating in improv allows people to be open and work together and create something new from multiple minds. Because of the advantages of watching improv and doing improv, the Belvederes Improv are available to work with businesses for team building and listening skills.

They are looking to grow. The Belvederes need volunteers who can work behind the scenes to help put the show together. Ray says, “Anyone who wants to be involved is welcome to join on Wednesdays.” The troupe asks that someone be involved for several months to learn and improve before being invited to perform. The troupe meets every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at the Timpanogos Valley Theater. Bringing your ‘silly’ is preferred; carrots are optional.


 

The Belvederes Improv at the Timpanogos Valley Theater on the last Saturday of the month (unless there is a play being performed). You can see their schedule, purchase tickets, and find out more at thebelvederesimprov.com