The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Courtesy photo.

Granite State Theatre Sports 

When: Saturdays, Dec. 30, Feb. 24, April 21 and Aug. 11, 7:30 p.m. 
Where: Hatbox Theatre, 270 Loudon Road, Concord 
Tickets: $17 for adults, $14 for students and seniors 
More info:

The game is on
Competitive improv comes to Concord

By Angie Sykeny

 At most theater shows, hurling a pair of rolled up socks at an actor will most likely get you kicked out. But at a Granite State Theatre Sports show, sock-hurling is accepted and encouraged. 

The competitive improv series starts on Saturday, Dec. 30, at the Hatbox Theatre in Concord, and continues in February, April and August. 
Here’s how it works: Two teams of three to six actors will improvise sketches in a sports-like format based on input from the audience. After each round, the audience will vote for the team they believe gave the best performance, but if they’re really unimpressed, they get to throw rolled up socks, provided at the show, at the team or team member, putting a stop to their sketch and awarding the point to the opposing team. 
“One time, there was a guy who kept bringing the same joke back over and over, and it got to the point where the audience was so sick of it, they started throwing socks,” said Kim Cassetta, who created the show with her husband, Larry Pizza. “The actors know, if their jokes are bad or corny, too over the top or too low, they’re going to get bombarded with socks.” 
Cassetta and Pizza will emcee the show, greeting people as they arrive, explaining the rules, moderating the improv rounds and improvising a few jokes of their own to help loosen up the audience and get them comfortable enough to participate in the action. 
“Our comedy, our husband-and-wife banter, we don’t plan any of it. It’s different at every show,” Pizza said. “It’s all about the rapport we have with each other. We love to team up, and we have a great rapport on stage.” 
One of the improv challenges commonly featured in the show is “Movers and Shakers.” Volunteer audience members are invited on stage and asked to move the actors in different positions. The actors then improvise scenes based on the positions they’re put in. 
Another challenge is “Day in the Life,” in which volunteer audience members share what they did yesterday, and the actors act out the scenes. 
Cassetta and Pizza will often add additional challenges to each round, such as limiting the number of team members who can participate and setting various time limits. The challenges they come up with are also entirely improvised. 
“If the audience seems to be reacting more to the shorter scenes, we’ll keep the shorter scenes going,” Pizza said. “We’re really adamant about making sure we just go with the flow of the show and improvise based on how the audience is reacting,” 
The troupe consists of professional, paid actors who have backgrounds in improv theater and were selected by audition. They rehearse together before the show to keep their improv skills sharp. 
“We wanted to bring a higher level of quality to improv in New Hampshire,” Cassetta said. “These aren’t just some people getting together doing improv for fun. These are very talented and vetted actors who have done this before, and it shows in their performances. I’m in awe of what they can do on stage.” 
Cassetta and Pizza have a background in improv themselves, which started with ImprovBoston in the 1990s. They first discovered theater sports at a Canadian improv festival and were impressed with how effectively the format got the audience engaged. 
Pizza said he hopes the show will encourage people to look at improv in a new light. 
“It’s a form that has sort of been underestimated and parodied incorrectly,” he said. “Improv isn’t just something actors do in their classes to help them know how to improvise if they drop a line. It’s truly an art form, and that’s what we want to bring to everyone.”  

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