Make ‘em laugh: Tahoe iMPRoV Players celebrates 25 years |

Make ‘em laugh: Tahoe iMPRoV Players celebrates 25 years

Twenty-five years down the road, Tahoe iMPRoV Players is still making people laugh. And to founding member Gerry Orton, it's one of the most important — if not the most important — result of performing improv shows in the basin.

"It's an honor, and it's emotional in the sense that I'm proud of the troupe for sticking together. We feel really good about spending 25 years bringing joy and laughter to audiences," he said.

"We've entertained corporations, done workshops — you name it — and it's all fun and feels particularly good. I look back and say, 'Wow, I make people feel good.'"

While Tahoe iMPRoV Players has only performed in South Lake Tahoe during the summer in recent years, the comedy troupe makes its way to Lake Tahoe Golf Course on Friday, March 16, for a performance that commemorates the group's past 25 years of existence — and six of the 11 current Tahoe iMPRoV Players members were part of the original cast.

Troupe history

Tahoe iMPRoV Players began back in 1993, but it wasn't always known by the moniker it is now — originally the troupe was identified as ComedySportz Lake Tahoe, which grew out of a need for family-friendly comedy shows on South Shore. According to Orton, a risqué, blue humor group was the only regular comedic show offered at the time.

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"The guy who ran it wanted to do the same show every time, and you had to use swear words throughout — otherwise you couldn't play. The [Tahoe iMPRoV Players] cofounder was part of it, got disgusted and quit," Orton noted.

From there the cofounder, Frank Riley, contacted the director of ComedySportz San Jose, who then spent multiple months training Riley and Orton in the ComedySportz method.

"It's usually described as theater as sports. Two teams compete for laughs and the audience votes for who wins," said Orton.

ComedySportz Lake Tahoe existed until 1997, when it transformed into Tahoe iMPRoV Players. The transition mainly incorporated a shift in how the shows were presented: Instead of the competition-style theater (which included a referee), Tahoe iMPRoV Players began performing various games weekly.

"We got together every week and worked out — that's what we call our practices. People question the term 'rehearsal' because it's supposed to be improv. But we work on techniques and always play new theater games. We're always working on the basics," Orton said.

These short-form theater games are scenes that often run from two to six minutes, like sketches seen on the renowned comedy show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

When Orton moved to Monterey in the early 2000s, Tahoe iMPRoV Players no longer worked out and performed weekly. The troupe began performing at Valhalla Tahoe — primarily in the Boathouse Theatre — during summers.

But not much changed apart from the schedule. According to Orton, the majority of differences between today's improv performances and those of years past include minor technicalities, such as speeding up the show's opening.

"We ask for a word and boom, we're off running," he explained, adding that the Tahoe iMPRoV Players cast also is now more proficient.

"It moves slower for us when we're on stage. In other words, when a football player gets into the game — like Tom Brady — the game moves slowly for him. He's not rushing, he's calm, cool and collected because he knows his business. The same applies here. We feel good on stage; we're relaxed."

It's a technique he says takes years to perfect.

"The most important person on stage with you is your scene partner, knowing what they want and need, and working with them. Everything else comes along. It's something you have to learn, like not being worried about silence. When you're new, you fill every second with words. Now we've slowed down and it's a more enjoyable way to play. It's taken over 20 years to get there — it's not easy," Orton said.

Anniversary performance

These practices and games will be on display at Tahoe iMPRoV Players' Friday gig, which begins at 7:30 p.m. The show is family-friendly and includes sketches both old and new, and audiences will be invited to participate by selecting games for the cast to perform.

As the show celebrates a quarter century of Tahoe iMPRoV Players, the group welcomes former cast member Kevin Sommerfeld (now general manager at Lake Tahoe Golf Course) to take the stage for a portion of the show.

"Our 25th year comes to an end on March 15 at 7:30. We will be 25 years and a day on March 16. It's going to be our first show for the next 25 years, and we'll now be in our 26th year. We'll keep going and doing it until we get it right — which, of course, you never get it right," said Orton.

Tickets for Tahoe iMPRoV Players' Celebrating 25 Years of Hilarity show cost $15 online (via Brown Paper Tickets) and $20 at the door. There is a $3 discount for seniors, students and armed forces personnel.

The troupe will next return to South Shore this summer as part of Valhalla Tahoe's Art, Music & Theatre Festival.

Call Orton at 530-318-2180 for additional information.