To even start talking about the things Trish Berrong has done for the Kansas City improv community seems like a long and daunting task that will still fall short – but let’s try to do a brief summary!
She founded The Lighten Up Improv Co. in the 90s, which put on a festival that later turned into the KC Improv Festival – one of the longest running festivals in the country. She is the production director for Operations Show, a non-profit program that teaches high school students improv. Trish also performs with the team Ham Kitty, named one of The Pitch’s Best Improv/Sketch troupes in 2017, and has coached countless amounts of teams throughout the city.
To put it lightly, she is a powerhouse of talent, passion and work effort. And, without any further adieu, here is our interview with Trish!
Who is your biggest celebrity crush?
Currently Rachel Maddow. I love her nerdy genius and her gleeful reactions to the absolute ridiculousness of the current administration.
If we looked into your recent Google searches, what would we find?
Best chocolate cake and French 75 recipes.
Without any sort of self-criticism, what do you think defines you as an improviser? If someone saw you at a show, and loved your performance, what about it would you think stood out to them?
I want to say my hyper-realistic object work, but I don’t really believe that wins audiences over. (SIGH.) I like playing real and vulnerable characters, which is an easy way to get people on your side. And I think I make connections in a way that invites audiences to do the math with me, and that lets them feel like co-discoverers.
As much as we are all very entrenched in the improv world, and as big as improv is in a lot of cities, it still feels like an art form that a lot of people don’t know much about. Why do you think this is? Are there things we do that ostracize us from being more popular? Or are we right where we need to be in the public eye?
We can be SO self-indulgent. It’s easy for improv to become an obsession: We fall in love with playing, learning, talking theory, seeing shows, and hanging out with other improvisers. It’s our hobby and our therapy and our social life and then we want to charge people to watch us do it. We feel entitled to “stage time” and we revel in experimental forms and what the audience wants or likes becomes secondary. So non-improvisers see a fair amount of shitty, boring improv.
What’s your go-to improv resource (be it book, podcast, blog, etc)?
First stop: notes from 28 years of classes. I’ve also built a solid library (Napier’s and TJ & Dave’s books are favorites). And I bounce things off Jill Bernard a whole lot.
What’s your pre-show ritual?
Absolutely depends on the group. With Ham Kitty, we have dinner together if at all possible, then play the same series of games: Crambo, Word in the Middle, and Mark Hamill. I’m a big fan of ritual.
If you were able to travel back in time to right before your first improv class, what would you say to yourself?
FFS, see some more shows before you take all the magic away. (I took a weekend workshop with Barry Schreier after seeing my very first ComedySportz show and went to my first rehearsal the next Wednesday.)
Is there something you find yourself working on more nowadays that you used to not focus on as much? How has it helped or hindered your play?
Saying “yes.” Being allies in scenes. The training that helped me move out of explain-everything-all-the-time mode was all super emotional and physical, which can lead to discordant relationships. Getting back to basics has made my play more playful.
Are there any trends in improv you wish would be dialed back a little? Or a pet peeve that takes you out of a set when you’re watching it?
Is it rant time? Goody.
I understand why if you’re teaching classes in LA or NYC it’s vital to your bottom line to crank out students who can write good sketches; but efforts to make improv fool-proof leave me cold. I get why the UCB “manual” exists and how breaking the Deconstruction down into super-specific scenic rules is a thing. But jumping on a game (oh, I’m sorry: Game) before a relationship exists or spinning a one-note joke into a tag-out run or commenting on the scene from a place of ironic detachment? Meh. So very meh.
I hate sweep edits; the ones where someone runs across to “clear” the stage, especially with the “curtain pulling” move or that kinda-embarrassed shuffle. It’s cleaner and braver to step in front of the scene and start a new one.
Every time you set up or immediately justify your audience-given dialogue in Blind Line, an adorable puppy dies of heartbreak because it knows you’ve missed the entire point of the game. Pick up the line, read it, and shut up. Now your partner can let it matter and it can inform the scene.
Get off my lawn?
For improvisers who are in that 1-2 year part of their journey, where they have taken a good amount of classes, but are wondering, “what’s next” what advice would you give to them?
Keep learning. Don’t make a long-term commitment to a group until you know you like each other, have the same goals, and play well together. Find an experienced coach who plays the way you want to play and will challenge you and tell you the truth. Throw your new-improviser passion into projects that are too big for you and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
What do you want to see more of in the Kansas City improv community in 2019?
Scenes that matter.