'Cult Following: Rated G' brings improv to the 'mini' masses

Cult Following Rated GA scene from ‘Cult Following: Decide Your Destiny’ in 2015. Next, ‘Cult Following’ is offering performances geared for third- through fifth-graders. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA’s NewsCenter. 

The Cult Following actors don’t have to awaken the
inner child of this audience. They still are their inner child.

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

At its best, improv comedy is essentially game night – with a playful audience. A group of highly trained actors perform completely invented scenes driven by audience suggestions. It is unscripted theatre without a net. And when it is done well, the actors behave with the abandon of a third-grader – and their audiences snickering with the abandon of a third-grader.

Which is what makes professional improv actors – and young audiences – the perfect match. And the Denver Center is doing some matchmaking. Better stated: The Denver Center is arranging a play date.

Since 2011, Cult Following has been DCPA Off-Center’s signature series of unrehearsed team improv comedy evenings. They feature the fast-talking and quick-thinking talents of some of Denver’s best comic performers typically performing for a pretty cool crowd of generally younger adult audiences.

But on April 29, and again on May 13, Off-Center and DCPA Education are joining forces for Cult Following: Rated G. Essentially the veteran Cult Following lineup of Jessica Austgen, Sarah Kirwin, Brian McManus, Nanna Sachiko Thompson and Chris Woolf will be creating improvised fairy tales with the help of (ideally) audience of third- through fifth-graders and their families.

Cult Following Rated G Allison WatrousDCPA Director of Education Allison Watrous says the goal of improv comedy is to get audiences to think like a child, to be willing to play in a sandbox, to think on their feet and laugh at some seriously silly things. The Cult Following actors don’t have to awaken the inner child of this audience. They still are their inner child.

Watrous emphasizes Cult Following: Rated G is an audience-involved performance, as Off-Center shows always are, but this is not a class teaching young people the basics of improv. (Those kinds of classes are separately available through DCPA Education.)

“Improv is all about cultivating a sense of play, and all of us were more connected to our sense of play when we were in elementary school,” she said. “As we move through middle school and high school and into adulthood, we are in constant danger of losing that sense of play. Improv comedy is a good reminder for all of us how important play is, and also how productive play is.”

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

The Rated G program, developed by Watrous with Austgen, DCPA Associate Director of Education Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski and Off-Center curator Charlie Miller, will include two mid-week matinees for participating schools coming on field trips. The goal from the start was to create a program that will appeal to educators by complementing their classroom work, especially as it pertains to creative writing and effective storytelling.

“Educators are really looking for experiences for their students that have real value,” Watrous said. “We really wanted to make sure that we are connecting to what English teachers might be covering in their classrooms. We’re playing within a form that really teaches the students about story structure, about character, about plot and about story climax. So if I were a teacher in an elementary school, I would be really excited about this opportunity to give their students an amazing, fun time, and yet they leave knowing their writing also just got stronger, their vocabulary also just got stronger and their understanding of literary terms also just got stronger.”

Cult Following Rated G Jessica Austgen and in a previous ‘Cult Following’ performance. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Cult Following: Rated G

  • 11 a.m. Saturday, April 29: Public performance in the Jones Theatre
  • 11 a.m. Sunday, May 13: Public performance in the Jones Theatre
  • Ticket price: $10
  • Run time approximately 60 minutes
  • Age recommendation: All ages. Designed with families of elementary-school children in mind. Children 4 and over are welcome.
  • Tickets: Teachers or schools. Call 303-446-4829 or email groupsales@dcpa.org. There are two student matinees currently available, at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 16.
  • Tickets: Public and families: Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
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