Improv troupe coming to the Colonial flies by the seat of their pants - sort of

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PITTSFIELD — The comedic troupe that launched the careers of Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh and Adam McKay, to name a few, will spin spontaneous, laugh-a-minute acts this weekend in downtown Pittsfield.

The Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company brings its brand of improvisational comedy to The Colonial Theatre on Saturday night featuring four veterans of UCB's East Coast cast that appear weekly at the company's theater in New York City.

Unlike the television show "Who's Line is it Anyway," UCB performs a long form of improv inspired by the audience.

"It's really a live art form many people often don't see," said Molly Thomas. "We bring on stage someone from the audience, interview the person and base the comedy on the answers."

Thomas, a UCB member of almost five years, will be joined on the Colonial stage by James Dwyer, Zack Willis and Carrie McCroffen.

The 90-minute show is split in half, with the first improv act lasting about 45 minutes followed by one or two more unrehearsed skits after intermission.

"Some of what we do is alien and unfamiliar — there's plenty of bizarre," Thomas noted in an Eagle phone interview from New York

While improvisational acts appear to be fly-by-the seat-of-your-pants comedy, there's training and preparation involved, according to Thomas.

"UCB has these improv manuals; dry and piffy at times, but useful," she said.

Many UCB cast and alumni are also graduates of its improv and sketch comedy training center in New York and Los Angeles — the only accredited one of its kind in the country, UCB states on its website.

Thomas says a key to good improv is the comic's ability to listen and react immediately to what is said on stage and keep the routine going without missing a beat.

"What took practice for me was staying in the moment," she said.

The training and practice aside, improv comedy is as much of a surprise to the cast as it is to the audience.

"The big misconception about improv, even though we have no props, no costumes and we're dressed in t-shirts and jeans, is people still think it's scripted," Thomas said.

Upright Citizens Brigade emerged in 1990 from Chicago's ImprovOlympic theater and as their popularity grew, UCB relocated to New York in 1996, establishing their own theater three years later. By 2005, the improv group expanded to Los Angeles, establishing a West Coast theater and training center.

UCB has dozens of performers who regularly appear at either the new York or L.A. theaters, as well as team up for road shows.

The UCB alumni reads like a Who's Who of comedic talent that has consistently done stand-up or appeared/starred in a variety of television shows and films.

Amy Poehler went on to become a star via NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and "Parks and Recreation." Ian Roberts has made his mark acting in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," "Talladega Nights" and other Will Farrell movies, also written and directed by Adam McKay. McKay's first Farrell film, "The Big Short" earned him Academy Award nominations for best director and best adapted screenplay. Matt Walsh garnered an Emmy nomination for his role in HBO's "Veep," appeared in the first "Hangover" movie and has been a late night talk show regular.

As inspirational as that UCB A-list is to career advancement, Thomas is content branching out while remaining rooted in improv.

"I love performing live and doing TV, film, which are a little more lucrative, and writing. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing," said the Michigan native.

Reach Dick Lindsay at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233


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