EVERETT — Things get weird at Everett Improv’s “Splash Zone” shows.
The monthly comedy concert is a test kitchen for wacky new concepts. As if the spectators were throwing Easter eggs on stage to trigger death scenes. There was the “emotional burrito stunt” show and the show where people drew tattoos all over owner Britney Barber’s face.
Some concepts live and die in the Splash Zone. The last to make it out alive – “Boozie Newzie” – relies on this diary.
(As the show’s tagline reminds us: “Print is not dead.”)
The show involves hard copies of the Daily Herald and an audience armed with scissors and highlighters. Cut out the headlines, paragraphs, comic strips, and classifieds, throw them in the hat, and those clippings will inspire endless, absurd scenes from your local improv troupe.
“I take the concept of improv very seriously,” said Barber, who recently won the Mayor’s Arts Award for his improv lessons. “I’m not into novelty that can’t be sustained.”
This means avoiding fruits within reach. Instead, improvisers dive into 15-minute scenes, full of fleshed-out characters and over-the-top monologues.
“We (expletives) dig deep,” she said. “Like, let’s make this baby pool look like an (expletive) lagoon, where there are creatures at the bottom that you can’t see because it’s so dark and so deep.”
The current affairs-themed show was such a hit in April that Barber is making it a recurring thing. Catch the next performance this Saturday at 9:15 p.m. Barber performs alongside Dan McGivern, who began his acting career at Mountlake Terrace High School. When he’s not on stage, McGivern works in the aerospace industry and represents low-income tenants facing evictions, pro bono.
“The fact that Everett Improv can thrive downtown is good for the city and hopefully a sign of things to come for Everett,” McGivern said.
Stick around after the show for a beer, a bubbly CBD, or a game from the giant Connect Four, and Barber might tell you how she went from Philadelphia to Everett, now with a wife, a baby, and a new black box theater on Colby Avenue. . If you’re lucky, the longtime improv teacher will steer the conversation towards aliens and her fake seven-year marriage to a man she “barely knew”.
It all started in eighth grade, when Barber played Helena in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Or was it Hermia?
“Whoever it was,” Barber recalled. She was able to play “the hot one” later at La Salle University.
At 18, she was the youngest member of a professional improv league. But she found this league embarrassing, with uniforms reminiscent of “Olive Garden waiters.” She’s resolved to never utter the troupe’s kitschy name again.
“It’s not even worth printing because it’s so bad,” Barber said.
She’ll tell you about the student improv troupe she founded instead, and how she scammed her university into paying for performances, despite the group never being sanctioned by the school. It was on purpose, Barber said, because “surveillance means censorship, man.”
She will remember when improvisation was not common. Back when people only knew “Whose Line is it Anyway”, the hit short-form improv TV show.
“To me, that’s not real improv,” Barber said. “If you look at improvisation philosophically, there are no rules, there is no shtick, there is no game.”
The short form is “like the improvisational, G-rated, mainstream version, sweetened with your medicine,” she said.
Next, Barber could tell you about her marriage at 22 to a gay man she worked with at a restaurant. He gave up a career in Mexico to be with his boyfriend in America, where he had to work as a busboy. Unable to legally marry his love, he was about to be deported. Barber recalled her own experience of discrimination as a lesbian in show business.
“Guess what? You don’t want gays to work or get married? Well, you know what? We’re going to get married to be gay. You know what I mean?” Barber said. “It felt like it was the right thing to do.”
The non-couple had a restaurant ceremony, made fake photo albums and moved in together.
If someone looked down on Barber’s life from above with their mouths full of popcorn, it would make for a great sight. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what Barber thinks is going on.
In his head, it’s probably aliens looking down. Or ghosts.
“Or the cosmic consciousness of when people die, and our souls create this collective, whatever,” Barber said.
Whatever comedic voyeurs are, they want a show.
“Isn’t that all? Barber said. “The world is a stage.”
The idea helps him laugh at his own misfortune, or at least see it as a plot twist.
Everett is where she wants the rest of the story to take place. She and her wife bought a house downtown a few years ago.
“We love Everett so much,” she said. “We want to die (here). They’re going to have to transport our lesbian bodies out of this house.