For lovers of “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” take note: on Saturday, Jan. 14, Johnson Hall in Gardiner will host a performance by Capital City Improv and to that end, an interview was conducted with the founder of the group, Dennis Price. From his home in Readfield, Price filled me in on the history of his troupe. From his hometown in Virginia he first visited Maine’s Theatre at Monmouth before moving to our fair state in 2003 (after living and studying improv in Chicago for two-and-a-half years). He discovered that there was very little in the way of improv in Maine at that time, unlike what he’d been immersed in in Chicago. Then a husband and wife team from the windy city moved to Bar Harbor and set up shop doing short-form improvisation, and from them he learned how to do it.

Q: When did you start doing short-form improv in your new hometown?

Price: About four years ago at the Emporium, a little restaurant here in Readfield. It started out as the Dennis Price Comedy Hour and it was basically like a comedy show where I would do improv games — I had a couple of people who would improvise with me and I’d call up people from the audience just to create my own shows and do it. It started to catch on and people liked what we were doing, so we sort of outgrew the space and needed to find a place to go. Also, I didn’t want to do the Dennis Price Comedy Hour anymore; I wanted to open it up and add more professional improvisers. So I made the decision to work with Geoff Houghton who runs the Liberal Cup and a place called the Governor Hill Mansion in Augusta. He let me produce a show in his Columbus Room — like a banquet room at the Mansion — so we moved there. That’s where Capital City Improv was born.

Q: Now, you’re coming into Johnson Hall for a show on Jan. 14. Have you ever played there in Gardiner before?

Price: Absolutely, we have.

Q: Do you know in which room you’ll be?

Price: We usually are in the downstairs theater, what I guess would be sort of the studio?

Q: Do you get over there often?’

Price: Yes, Mike (Michlon) is very good about having us in there two or three times a year.

Q: Now, how many are involved in this improv troupe?

Price: Well, it’s a rotating cast and so there are usually three people on stage — three improvisers — and we usually have a piano player that improvises music along with us.

Q: So when you say “rotating” I would assume that there are more than just the three of you, plus the pianist.

Price: Yes, that is correct. I use a rotating cast of six, including myself, in and out of things. It varies because there are so many good improvisers around here that sometimes I’ll ask somebody to join me for the first time just to play with that sort of new energy.

Q: Usually, I’m chatting with musicians who perform songs that are, for the most part, carved in stone; that is, the same for every show. That is definitely not the case with what you guys do.

Price: Right, exactly right. And I think the two are very close together, though. What we do with short-form improv is that we have games and certain rules that we play by in order to create a scene. We justify relationships — we have these sorts of things — and so while the rules of the game sort of remain the same, every time you do it, every time you perform it with someone it’s going to be different. The audience is different, the way that you attack the game, the things that you say, the moment is always different. So in some ways I think there is a strong relationship to how you improvise in music — what we come up with is totally right there on the spot.

Q: It sounds like a very challenging gig.

Price: Well, I think you have to be able to trust people immediately to work well as an improviser. I have done shows in Bar Harbor where people have met for the first time and we have to go up there and do a show together, you have to trust each other.

Q: Do you know who is going to be with you in Gardiner on that evening?

Price: Yes, I believe it is going to be Lizz Mathews, Jen Shepard and myself, and I believe that Marcia Gallagher is going to be playing music.

Q: You augment what you do with the troupe by being a teacher at Winthrop High School, correct?

Price: Yes, absolutely. I use improv in my classroom every single day, and I think it appeals to young people. For a young person who may have a short attention span, coming up with something quickly isn’t really as laborious as you might think. So I do improv exercises in my classroom. I do it all the time. I think that keeps me sharp when we do these shows.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the readers of this article?

Price: Well, I guess that I love to do these shows and I think improv is a vital way of watching and being a part of the experience. I think when you see improvisation that is done in that manner — professionally done — I think that is a beautiful thing and the games you play makes it an absolutely interactive experience, I would say.

Lucky Clark has spent more than 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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