Local improv group celebrates fifth anniversary

Nathan Baker • Feb 4, 2019 at 2:12 PM

What do a rutabaga, 36th President Lyndon B. Johnson and a day-old tuna melt have in common? You might be able to see local actors connect the dots between this disjointed group and other oddball pairings at two live performances this month.

Local improv troupe Blue Plate Special will celebrate its fifth anniversary with two shows at Greeneville’s Capitol Theatre at 7 p.m. on Feb. 9 and 23 before heading to the Gatlinburg Improv Festival on March 1 and 2.

Actors Erin Hensley Schultz and her husband, Steve Schultz, founded the group in 2014 after moving to the area from Greenville, South Carolina, and finding it devoid of improvisational theater. Blue Plate Special performed for the first time that year on Valentine’s Day in Johnson City’s Blue Moon Dinner Theatre.

“A lot of our current lineup has been with us since the beginning,” Erin said. “Improv is a great acting exercise. It lets you hone your craft and lets you work on acting when you’re not in a show.

“It’s a lot of fun, especially when you’re doing it with a great group of people like we have. We’re all really close.”

Performances are enjoyable and rewarding for the audience, too, she said, because those watching get to participate in the shows. Before many of the short-form improv scenes, the actors take suggestions from the audience to set the stage.

By taking part in the creative process, Erin said the audience is more invested in the scene and get more enjoyment out of watching the actors create new worlds and characters based on their suggestions.

“Sometimes it works great, and sometimes it fails miserably, but the audience usually gets a kick out of it either way,” Erin said. “There’s such an energy and intensity, where the audience is rooting for us to succeed, but if you don’t, they’re still with you.”

Plus, the two shows at the Capitol this month are family friendly and cost only $5 apiece.

The festival in Gatlinburg with put the local actors together with improv groups from all over the Southeast. Erin said it’s a good opportunity for actors to network and learn from their peers.

The Schultzes also hold a children’s improv camp at the Capitol Theatre in the summer with three groups for kids between the ages of 5 and 18.

Erin said the lessons help introduce children to acting, even before they can read and memorize scripts, and can help with their social anxiety and shyness off stage.

Erin said her and Steve’s son has performed with the group periodically since he was 8 years old. He’s now 11, and Erin said the on-stage work has improved his self-confidence.

For more information about Blue Plate Special, look them up on Facebook under the group’s name or on Twitter @bpsimprov.

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