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New theater brings improv comedy to Roseville

By: ToLewis, The Press Tribune
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A guy walks into a bar… You might recognize this phrase as the beginning of what usually turns out to be an uninspiring joke that, if the teller is lucky, might earn a chuckle or two. But for Paul Burke, it could be the lead in to a one-hour skit that leaves audiences rolling with laughter. Burke is the founder of Blacktop Comedy, a new theater in Roseville that focuses on entertaining and teaching the art if improvised comedy. For two hours every Friday night, audiences are entertained with improvised comedic sketches in which nobody, not even the actors, knows the direction it will take. A typical improv sketch will begin with the actors asking for a key word or idea from the audience. The actors will then run with that word, phrase or idea and improvised comedic banter will follow. One example of a typical improv show, Burke said, is where the actors take a popular fairytale of the audience’s choosing and swap out the key parts. “So rather than Hansel and Gretel getting lost in the woods, they are getting lost in a casino,” Burke said. “We recreate that fairytale with three or four key parts changed.” In one show, the actors used the music from the cell phone of an audience member and improvised skits based on a random song list played through the theater’s sound system. “We’ll just play around with however we want to do it,” said Betsaida Lebron, co-owner of Blacktop Comedy. “It changes all the time.” Lebron said improv can be a fun, low-pressure way to meet people and make new friends. “You’re being really goofy, which we are not allowed to be normally in our daily lives,” Lebron said. “So just to have that freedom, it makes instant bonds with people.” Blacktop Comedy also holds regular workshops on Thursday nights that are open to anyone who is interested in practicing and learning more about the art of improv, Burke said. “We really teach people how to become a better communicator through not filtering yourself,” Burke said. “Anybody can come and play improv games and just have fun. It’s a great way to meet people.” Burke was a communications major in college and said he never thought about acting as a career. He discovered improv randomly in Sacramento seven years ago through a drop-in workshop he found on Craigslist. After falling in love with the art, he began taking classes and attending workshops and festivals across the United States, including Chicago. “Chicago is like the Mecca of improv,” Burke said. “It’s where everybody goes to learn the art.” A crisis councilor for area youth by day, Lebron said she started doing improv about two years ago after spending several years acting in local community theater. “I realized that I love performing and I love teaching,” Lebron said. “That’s why I’m really excited about Blacktop because it gives me the opportunity to do the things that I love.” Thursday night classes cost $5 and run from 7 to 9 p.m. The Friday night shows are $6, begin at 8 p.m. and will usually run about two hours with a short intermission. With a vast selection of restaurants located within one or two miles from the theater, Burke encourages people to make a night of coming to see a comedy show. “Go have dinner and then bring a date here and tell her it was a $20 ticket, but it was really only $6,” he joked. “We’ll pretend we know you so you look like a big shot with your date.” Burke says that improv has taught him how to be a better communicator, especially in regards to job interviews. He likens interviews to stepping onto the stage for the first time, looking at the audience and having to believe in himself that he has something of value to offer. “I think one of the things for me is that I’m always learning through improv to get over the fear of failure,” Lebron said. “Sometimes you’re on stage and you’re doing something and it doesn’t quite hit the way you think it’s going to, and life goes on.” Lebron said that improv is a lot like life in that you never really know the direction it is going to take. “Maybe that thing that you did that seemed so awful in that moment ends up being the funniest thing,” she said. “You just try it figure it out from what you have, which is very lifelike.” Toby Lewis can be reached at tobyl@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TobyLewis_RsvPT. ---------- Who: Blacktop Comedy What: Improv and sketch comedy shows, classes Where: 7311 Galilee Road, suite 150, Roseville When: Classes 7–9 p.m. Thursdays; shows 8–10 p.m., Fridays Cost: Classes $5; shows $6 Contact: (916) 749-3100, www.blacktopcomedy.com