Sometimes, dressing up as a sexy dinosaur is just part of the job – at least for comedians at The N Crowd, a short form improv group currently housed at the Actor’s Center on N. 3rd Street it is.
In addition to weekly Friday shows, The N Crowd puts on special, seasonal events – like the upcoming Halloween special on Oct. 31.
“We usually wear all black, every single show,” said B.J. Ellis, the executive director and regular performer at The N Crowd. “[The Halloween special] is the one time when we don’t.”
Instead, the troupe dresses up as a theme chosen by fans on Facebook, Ellis said. This year, it is the Muppets. In prior years, The N Crowd has costumed themselves as superheroes, characters from “The Princess Bride” – and yes, sexy dinosaurs.
Mike Connor, another performer in the group, is particularly excited about this year’s theme and his costume.
“I made an actual puppet,” Connor said. “It’s going to barf candy onto the crowd.”
In addition to sharing laughter, the cast at The N Crowd developed strong relationships with each other over the nearly 10 years the group has run, Ellis said.
“We’re at the point that we’re all committed to the group,” Ellis said. “If you aren’t tolerant of other people, you really don’t last long.”
Ellis refers to the four original members as his “second family.” Connor, also part of the founding group, thinks that those close friendships have helped create what he called “a solid group of comedians.”
“We put together a consistently funny show,” Connor said. “Every Friday night, I’m really proud of what we put on.”
Kristen Schier, the artistic director at The N Crowd, said that there is always a moment in each show that she enjoys. Schier remembers one performance when the audience suggested that the troupe do a scene with a prostitute and a pimp.
Connor, who was on stage with Schier, “immediately named himself the prostitute,” making Schier the pimp.
“He did it so quickly and was right on top of the scene,” Schier said. “It’s great working with people who are really smart and quick like that.”
Though sometimes the audience can make The N Crowd’s night a little more difficult, they can also be the best part of the job, Connor said. Connor recounted a time when a 20-person choir came to their show.
The choir asked if the comedians would come back into the theater after the performance. When Connor and his fellow performers followed, they were greeted by a show of gratitude.
“This group of 20 people go up on stage and sing an a capella thank you song,” Connor said. “It was great.”
Sometimes, the audience can create a lot of tension – something that the troupe has to deal with on the spot.
“Someone suggested abortion, and that was a mood killer,” Schier said. “They yelled it out, and we were all like, ‘Oh man,’ but then B.J. [Ellis] takes it and starts talking about how lots of things get aborted – like space missions.”
Everything at the troupe was not always as smooth as Ellis’ delivery, however. Ellis said he looks back at The N Crowd’s performance footage from 2005 and cringes a little.
“We’ve gotten much better and more refined,” Ellis said.
In addition to performing, Ellis became the assistant stage and business manager for The N Crowd’s founder, Ray Reese. When Reese realized he needed to step back, the group reached an ultimatum – either someone else had to pick up the slack, or the group had to take a break for six months, Ellis said.
With the help of other members, Ellis reordered the group. The N Crowd was officially organized as a corporation in 2007, the same year Ellis was elected to become the executive director.
“It’s kind of like the Prime Minister,” Ellis said. “I’m only there because no one else really wants to do it.”
Ellis’ responsibilities, like “remembering passwords, and doing taxes,” certainly are not as much as fun as hitting the stage, but someone has to do it, he said. However, the business side has not gotten in Ellis’ way – he still regularly performs and rehearses with The N Crowd.
“A lot of people get confused about rehearsal in improv,” Schier said. “I think of it like basketball: the Sixers still practice, even though they don’t know exactly what’s going to happen during the actual game.”
Schier said The N Crowd practices various exercises that involve doing characters and coming up with words and scenes on the spot. But the most important factor is what The N Crowd does right before show time – something that is also rooted in how well the troupe has gotten to know each other over time.
“Right before we go on, we need a moment,” Schier said. “We have to fire up our verbal skills and make sure we’re connecting.”
Victoria Mier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org