A Fortified Fearless Tests Their Strength


They say there are no mistakes in improvisational comedy, only opportunities.

Starting Friday, Wilmington and the region will have the opportunity to see the city’s only improv group, Fearless Improv, at their home at City Theater Company’s The Black Box for Titanium 22 – a so-called “showcase of strength in comedy”.

Founded in 2012 for a performance as part of that year’s Wilmington Fringe – an annual five-day experimental art festival – the Fearless troupe has since grown, adding members and subtracting others, while performing IN and around Wilmington. And recently, audiences have had the pleasure to enjoy them during their monthly gigs at Penn’s Place in Historic New Castle.

On display will be the talents of longtime members and CTC players George Tietze, Lew Indellini, James Kassees, Dave Duszak and Mary Catherine Kelley; the return of past cast member Melissa Bernard; and newcomer Cara Schmidt. The Titanium 22 showcase is being produced by improv veteran Jana Savini and City Theater Company – and its shaping up to be anything but a typical Fearless performance.

“Titanium 22 is the only time this year Fearless Improv will be performing on City Theater Company’s main stage,” Savini said. “That means we have the full strength of City Theater Company’s resources available to us in terms of marketing, promotion and house staff.”

Savini is especially proud of her troupe’s contributions to Titanium 22. The group has written two short plays, invented two long form improvisations and will perform a newly-learned short form game.

“Its also a much bigger room than we normally play to,” she added, “so these will be the biggest audiences we perform for all year.”

A Philadelphia-based graduate of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater Training Center with an apprenticeship at Chicago’s famed Second City on her resume, Savini took over directing the group almost two years ago after cast member James Kassees asked her to come aboard and help coach.

“We’re fortunate that she agreed to work with us,” Kassees says. “Fearless has always tended to blend long- and short-form, and now we’re really dissolving the boundaries under Jana’s direction. She is a terrific coach and teacher and director.”

But a tightened up troupe doesn’t happen overnight; improv definitely takes practice and discipline. Players regularly go through exercises that train them to react to their partners in a way that respects what they created and adds something to the routine. Saturday Night Live alum Kristen Wiig described improvisational comedy as “a combination of listening and not trying to be funny.” To the audience, an interesting – and not necessarily funny – scene is the best kind.

“In improv you’ll hear the phrase ‘truth in comedy,’” says Cara Schmidt. “The funny things are the things that are real, are discovered, and have been there all along. Most of the joy comes from discovering the laugh actively, so the audience is involved and invested in that moment.”

Getting the audience involved is exactly what Fearless does. Many sketches will call for crowd participation and some members of the audience are selected to perform on stage with the cast. Kassees maintains that unknown element can add a new dynamic for players to riff off of.

“When we bring an audience member up, we try to make that person feel as comfortable as possible, and give him or her the same kind of support and encouragement we give each other,’ he says. “It’s always fun when the audience member gets into it and adds something strong to a scene or a game.”

As much fun as having a stranger on stage can be, supporting your fellow cast members is integral to a successful improv performance. Accepting what your partners offer can help build a story and engage the audience by adding subtle details that make the characters more believable.

“Improv is a team sport,” says Kassees.” The Fearless team has worked together for a while, so we’re comfortable with each other, we understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we support and encourage one another.”

In light of the camaraderie brought on by improv’s demands, the medium has grown to become a teaching tool, with many colleges offering improv classes as part of their theater department curriculum. And troupes all over now offer workshops that instruct a wide range of people on the basic fundamentals. These courses help hone communication and public speaking skills while improving reaction and comprehension of ideas.

This year, Fearless and City Theater Company are offering their own classes under Savini’s watchful instruction. They’re currently in the middle of a three-day course in the basics, and participants will perform as part of Titanium 22’s Saturday night show.

Following the festival, Fearless will get back into the habit of smaller, more regular performances in and around the city, though at this time, future dates have yet to be announced (of course stay tuned INto inWilmingtonDE.com for details!).

“My hope,” Savini says, “is that even more people come out and see a Fearless show and get excited about the possibilities improv offers. A lot can be accomplished with ‘Yes, and…’.  I’d love to see that turn into more classes and workshops being offered so that anyone who wants to can learn to live, work and perform more creatively and collaboratively. Once there is a solid community of students, I’d love to see some rehearsal groups form, and even another performing group come together out of what we’ve built.”

See what Fearless has already built during Titanium 22, this Friday and Saturday night at City Theater Company’s The Black Box located at 4 South Poplar St, Wilmington, DE 19801.