Members of the Teachers Lounge Mafia improvisational comedy group are used to making things up as they go.

From its impromptu beginning seven years ago, the group, which now numbers three central Maine teachers and a Farmington administrator, formed the improv group in the style of TV show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” Since then the group has traveled the state, giving quick thinking performances of unscripted comedy.

There have been good shows, where the off-the-cuff audience cues resulted in performances that drew roars of laughter. The comedians can also remember the rough shows with painful clarity, where things fell apart on stage during their improv games but the performers had to work with what they were given by the audience.

And there was that one performance in New Hampshire when they were arrived to learn they were booked at a bar by a biker gang and decided to roll with it.

“I’m a notary so I just did a wedding and then we drove down and didn’t know what the gig was all about,” said Natalie Simmons, a Mountain Valley High School teacher. “They just loved it.”

Following their anniversary performance this December, the improv comedians, including Simmons, Jeff Bailey, Dan Ryder and Kyla Wheeler, agreed that their longevity was anything but planned.

“I didn’t think we would last this long,” said Wheeler, an administrator at LEAP, a non-profit group that works with people with disabilities. “I didn’t know there would be such a draw.”

Simmons said she had always thought when she had children of her own, she would have to call off her time with Teachers Lounge Mafia, but said she loved it so much, “it was definitely not off.”

Their first show was “Stale Milk and Cookies,” a Christmas-themed show for charity at the University of Maine at Farmington. Ryder said he was not sure what kind of turnout they would have, but the room was packed and the show has become an annual event for a different charity each year.

Along with “Stale Milk and Cookies,” the group’s gigs vary, and they have performed at Ryder’s parents’ church in Bangor, at bars, at schools and at Stone Heart Cafe in Farmington. They are regulars at area improv festivals such as the Western Maine Improv Fest and Portland Improv Festival.

For most gigs like “Stale Milk and Cookies,” the group’s poster advises the show is for people 18 years old and up, though they vary their performance for the audience.

“And then afterwards, a lot of the time we’ll have people come up to us and say, ‘Hey, can we book you, too?'” said Bailey, also a Mountain Valley High School teacher.

The four friends say that improv comedy, or comedic acting without a script, is a way to unwind, be creative and have fun.

“It’s a lot about getting in the same mind space,” said Wheeler.

“You read each other’s body language,” added Bailey. “You take what you’re given and try to make something of it in the moment.”

On average, they have maybe one show a month, though the schedule varies with the time of year and their workload.

“Working with these guys lets me be a performer,” said Ryder, an English teacher at Mt. Blue High School, who also directs and teaches theater.

As the group continued to perform, they came to realize that the group chemistry they developed are concepts that can also be used in team building. — accepting, communicating and trust. Using ACT as an acronym, the group began a small side business holding workshops for businesses, student sports teams and a range of other organizations.

“Accepting is taking what you get and going with it,” said Ryder. “In improv and in life, you have to take what you’re offered and go from there.”

Improv teaches you about communication, said Ryder, because the four had to learn that they communicate volumes with their words, tone, facial expressions and other body language.

“You’re often saying more than you really realize or intend to,” said Ryder.

Trust, said Ryder, is the most challenging of the principals.

“Trust seems to be the big one. In a group, problems that we call communication are usually more about trust than communication. You know what they are communicating, but you don’t trust what they are saying,” said Ryder.

Simmons said at a recent workshop with the New Gloucester soccer team, it was rewarding to see them come together as a group after the presentation.

“The best thing about this group is that we do good things,” said Simmons.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]


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