Improv Troupe ‘Plays’ with the Audience

Article by Miranda Woody

There is certainly more to comedy than being funny, and more to improvisation than being spontaneous. West Virginia’s very own premier improv comedy troupe, known as the No Pants Players, made this very clear to me from the first time we spoke. Each member of the troupe is undeniably hilarious in their own right, and I was lucky enough to sit down with two members of the troupe and get some inside information on their upcoming show at The Raleigh Playhouse.

nopantsplayers2
My first encounter with the No Pants Players occurred over the phone; I conducted a remote interview with long-time troupe member Stuart Frazier. Frazier prefaced the interview by giving me some background on the No Pants Players, Frazier himself having been a member since 2008. Frazier tells me that the No Pants Players were formed in 2001, seeking to bring comedy and improv culture to West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley. The No Pants Players began with a mere five or six members, but now boast a roster of twelve members and their very own host, Adam Jones. Following in the footsteps of popular improv troupes (think of the famous television program, Whose Line Is It Anyway?), the No Pants Players began performing “short-form” comedy sketches during their early stages. Frazier tells me that short-form comedy sketches are, essentially, the kind of thing you’d expect to see at an improv show. Short-form sketches are primarily composed of improv “games” that take most of their content and inspiration from audience members’ suggestions.

Save

Although the No Pants Players began performing in Charleston and remain primarily based in that area, they have since branched out considerably. The No Pants Players have performed in the West Virginia Comedy Festival, and at many of the state’s prominent universities such as Concord and Marshall. To make things even more interesting, the troupe has experienced a sort of “rebranding” in recent years. Now formally known as State 35 Featuring the No Pants Players, the troupe has begun to diversify, performing more “long-form” sketches during their shows and creating more scripted, online content.

nopants playersFrazier tells me about his time with the No Pants Players, and how it has impacted his life since he joined nearly ten years ago. I ask him what moment stands out to him the most, and he seems stumped. “Oh, wow,” he says, “Everyone is so funny, they’re all so talented. It’s hard to pick one moment.” Frazier considers for a moment and then pipes up, “You know, there was one time when Adam King was performing a pantomime. He had to pantomime the cause of death in our improv game ‘Clue’, which is like a live-action version of the board game. Anyway, he’s pantomiming the cause of death, which the audience has determined is ‘crushing debt’. So, you can imagine him pantomiming that. It was hilarious.”
Frazier and I end our interview after a great conversation, full of laughs and witty anecdotes, and I move on to an in-person interview with the troupe’s newest member, Sarah Osborne. Best known by her stage name, “Sarah Renee”, Osborne meets me at a local coffee shop for our interview. She looks stunning when she arrives, and greets me cheerfully. Her demeanor is constantly warm, witty and humorous as she gives me a wealth of information about her own experiences as an actress and comedian, as well as some information on the No Pants Players’ upcoming show at The Raleigh Playhouse. Osborne joined the No Pants Players in January of this year, a mere four months ago, and tells me that she has only performed in three shows with the troupe thus far. Although she is new to the No Pants Players, she is not new to improv and comedy as a whole.

Save

Working as an actress and stage-hand in many shows over the years at The Raleigh Playhouse and other Beckley venues, Osborne was inspired to go to improvisation school in Chicago after constant encouragement from her audience. Osborne threw caution to the wind during her mid-twenties, and decided to pursue acting “for real”. She attended Second City, a famous improvisation school in Chicago, Illinois, that features some pretty impressive alumni (such as Tina Fey and Mike Myers). Osborne tells me that she had never really considered acting until her mid-twenties. She thinks for a moment and says, “I guess I watched Whose Line and shows like that as a kid, yeah, but my biggest exposure to improv was through the shows I saw in Chicago as a Second City student. All through high school and college I never thought about acting or comedy; it really wasn’t until my late twenties after I had been acting as hobby for a while when I realized ‘hey, I can do this’.”

nopantsplayers2I ask Osborne about her thoughts on the upcoming show, and how she will prepare. She tells me that she is excited to bring the No Pants Players to Beckley, which is her stomping-ground: “Beckley is having a huge moment in the art scene right now. Me and my artist friends are organizing events all the time, we just need people to show up! I really hope this goes well, and that more artists will find it worth their while to perform in, or visit, Beckley.” She then tells me how she and the troupe will prepare for the show, which is insanely spontaneous and mostly performed “on the fly”: “We don’t know what we will be performing until we’re doing the sketches. We workshop once a week and practice all the different improv games that might come up during a show, but we don’t get the setlist beforehand or a script or anything. We just show up, and we experience it all organically with the audience. It’s as fresh and spontaneous for us as it is for them. So you get there and the host will call you up, tell you what game you’re playing, and you just make it up as you go.” When I asked

Save

Osborne about her favorite moment with the No Pants Players thus far, she tells me, “This guy Jeff picked me up one time during a sketch. I was supposed to be acting like I was dead, and he just picked me up, deadweight. That was impressive. I mean, I look small but I’m pretty stout! They’re like my family now, though. We always carry each other through the scenes; literally and metaphorically!”

nopantsplayers
As Sarah and I wrap up the interview, she gives me the low-down on the upcoming Beckley performance. The performance will take place this Saturday, May 6th, at 7:15 PM at The Raleigh Playhouse in Beckley, West Virginia. Tickets are $10 in advance, and $12 at the door. Audience members can expect a hilarious, interactive experience upon attending. Audience members are also welcome to enjoy food and drinks in the venue’s basement pub, Sir Walter’s Tavern.