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Improv group weaves a comic link to its audience

Entertainment? Naturally.

Comedy? In abundance.

Live, uncanned laughter?

What else?

Perpetual Commotion, the local eight-person improvisational comedy team, delivers all that in its 90-minute show, playing next at Hood River's CAST stage Friday, Aug. 17, at 7:45 p.m. Admission is $7.

For the uninitiated, improvised comedy, or "improv," brings the stage actors close to the audience, which offer suggestions for stand-up skits and songs that Perpetual Commotion creates from near nothingness.

Aptly named, Perpetual Commotion constantly weaves its unrehearsed lines -- drawn from history, sports, current news -- into the situation stuck in front of them.

In "Groundhog's Day," the team starts a skit, freezing in midstream at a judge's command whistle. Then they repeat the first part of their sentence (changing the ending) until the judge is satisfied and quits blowing the whistle. After much audience laughter, the judge allows the piece to skitter off in a new direction.

Or "The Battle of the Bands," which pits half the comedy team with guitarist Scot Bergeron, and the other half with guitarist Harold McBain of Mosier. The audience picks band names and song titles, watching the bands battle it out.

"For a lot of us, it was learn by doing," says Janet Renfroe of Hood River. "Incorporating music is just something we've started doing. It's fun to do and it's fun to watch."

Another thing about improv is that, even with the exact actors, you'll never get the same show twice.

Here's what group members have to say:

"I really, really, really enjoy being with people in the improv group," says Bergeron, 40, who's only been with the group a few months. "It's really fun and mentally stimulating people. (Rehearsal is) like going to a party every Monday night where people play charades. It's great. . . . They play with me every Monday night."

While Bergeron speaks, hyena-like shrieks and noises erupt from behind the curtain.

"It exercises my brain, and having to think on my feet in public situations -- it's great!" said Bergeron.

Five years ago, Perpetual Commotion's founding members -- Peter Tappert of The Dalles, Jeanette Burkhardt and Renfroe -- groped their way around before finding some direction.

In some ways, they're still searching, but they have branched out to offer workshops.

"We teach the community about improv," says Tappert, "and promote (Perpetual Commotion) and look for talent."

In essence, the team is looking for more group members -- ones that'll fit in. "Chemistry is a really huge thing with improv," says Tappert.

The team exudes chemistry, and members say it has evolved into something magical.

"We've worked together on other productions -- at The Dalles community theatre and [CAST in Hood River]. It's a rebirth of an old group," says Sergio Fossa, 52, of Carson, Wash. He says the best part is working with the others, developing good relationships and a high level of trust and commitment.

But enough of the serious stuff. Fossa adds, "It's one level of wackiness to the next."

McBain agrees.

"Improv is really a great opportunity for creativity. Your imagination is your only limitation and what's really neat is that everybody else's imagination sparks yours.

"What happens is we become a team, camaraderie, family, formed by participation of the art form. It's great stuff."

In addition to those listed, members also include Emily Silver, a Hood River Valley high school student, and Bill Lytle, a drama teacher in The Dalles.

For Burkhardt, comedy is a great vehicle for reaching deeper levels.

"I'm interested in things that are challenges," she says. " . . . digging deep inside you and pulling things out that you didn't know were there. Especially with this group. It's synergistic.

"We end up losing ourselves somewhere. And sometimes you say things or do things you're not even (aware of) . . . and you're not just amazed at yourself, but at others, too.

"If you think too hard or if you try too hard, it doesn't happen. It's something that just wells up.''

To contact Perpetual Commotion, you can visit their website at www.perpetualcommotion.com, or call Peter Tappert at (541) 386-7660 for more information. CAST Performing Arts Center is located at 105 Fourth St., Hood River.

PULL QUOTE:

'Improv is really a great opportunity for creativity. Your imagination is your only limitation and what's really neat is that everybody else's imagination sparks yours. What happens is we become a team.'

-- Harold McBain

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