Point of No Return Improv Troupe Laughs it Up with Spring’s Arrival
Bart Sullivan, 07-17-2018

Stephen Mulé
Despite their smaller than usual cast on April 21st, the Falls-based Point of No Return Improv troupe (PNR) celebrated both Earth Day and National Humor Month at Quirk Cultural Center. The night’s five participating members—Richard Harrison, Phill Skoff, Sean Gilbow, Tracy Cubbal, and Al Mothersbaugh—brought the audience to tears of laughter through a mix of emotion, audience participation, and music as the spring weather finally made its way into the theater.

Improv comedy performances generally begin with actors requesting call-outs from the audience, incorporating these words or topics into a preplanned scene idea or game. PNR relied on these in such scenes as a school conference on technology in different styles, a musical review of a band throughout the ages, and a conversation with a hitchhiker. This even included several games, which involved bringing brave audience members on stage to enact scenes for and with the players.

What allows audience members to easily join and interact with the players is that theatre experience is not necessary for improv, though it is often useful. PNR co-artistic director Tracy Cubbal said “about half our members had theatre experience when they joined and half did not.” As such, the somewhat even playing field allows audience and cast members alike to play along, even if only via the call-outs. Audience members may even be thinking about how a scene could be played out as they respond to call-out questions.

Currently in their 16th year, PNR currently has 10 performing members along with four new actors in training as of the 2018 season. The performances have changed a bit over time as the cast has rotated. In fact, Rob Walter is the last remaining founding cast member still active with PNR.

Beyond the cast changes that have arisen, however, “a more subtle difference has evolved,” which Cubbal explains “is the inclusion of more ‘long form’ style material. Long form content adheres to a standard format, but there aren't rules that the players are required to follow as there are in short form games.” Short form games, such as quick 5-minute skits, as well as longer acts such as the music review performed April 21st, are excellent examples of the group’s evolution.

For each performance, there is a master list of about 50 types of scenes and games from which the group chooses, some adopted from outside PNR and others created specifically for their shows. Each of the scenes performed throughout the night are part theater, part comedy, and all fun. The various scenes and games are a way to engage with the audience, which saw a fairly average turnout on April 21st, consistently producing responses and never letting the show drag.

“Our shows provide entertainment for members of the Cuyahoga Falls community and surrounding areas,” Cubbal explains. “We try to keep our content to a ‘PG-13’ level so that people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy them together without the risk of feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable.”

PNR has been featured in many places outside of Quirk, including the Big-Little Comedy Fest, First Night Akron, and the Oberlin College Improv Conference. If you have never seen PNR or any improv performance, coming to any of these upcoming shows is an experience beyond that of a regular theatre show. A PNR show is like coming to a play with no idea of a plot, and leaving having seen twenty shows in the span of two hours. Cubbal remarks that “an audience member who has never seen improv performed can expect to see a group of people working together to have fun and create something novel for the entertainment of an audience.” If you are seeking an adventure without having to find a show whose plot fits your tastes, you can expect exactly what you’re in the mood for with PNR Improv.

The troupe regularly performs two Saturdays a month in the third floor theater of Quirk Cultural Center, 1201 Grant Avenue, with occasional changes to their schedule. Performances start at 7:30 p.m. and admission is only $5. Upcoming shows are scheduled for July 14th, and August 18th. More information about the troupe can be found at pnrimprov.org.

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