IMPROVincetown’s June 16 show began with an unusual advisory. “Normally at a show, you’re told to turn your phone off,” announced improv troupe member Katie Pentedemos.
“But we want you to take your phone out and tell us your most recent text.”
This request followed an exercise to “get you used to screaming at us,” according to Pentedemos, whereby, on the count of three, everyone in the audience screamed their names at the same time.
“There are a lot of Bills here,” remarked Pentedemos after the cacophony.
A chorus of responses to the text request erupted from the Wellfleet audience. Among them were “Where?,” “Call me in an hour,” “Like a swimsuit or a business suit?,” and “Grrrrrr.”
Justin O’Connor, Eric Scholl, and Pentedemos, three members of IMPROVincetown, shared the stage at Wellfleet Preservation Hall that evening. The group also includes Holly Tarnower and Ari Stern of Boston and Sarah Bell of Marblehead, but the three Wellfleet residents performed primarily as a trio in the last year because of the challenges of scheduling across the Sagamore Bridge.
IMPROVincetown’s shows rely on improvisation not just from those on stage but from everyone in the room.
Audience suggestions are used generously and creatively. “Grrrrrr,” for example, became Pentedemos’s guttural iteration of “girl” as she and O’Connor scouted Scholl, looking poised and innocent, as a potential third participant in their improvised relationship. Another audience suggestion led to a gag about “Pickleball: The Musical,” perhaps a bit of an inside local joke, that included improvised numbers about tiny tennis courts.
Pentedemos, 33, moved from Boston to the Cape in 2018, leaving behind a full-time comedy career to teach at the Provincetown International Baccalaureate Schools. She’s currently the schools’ special education teacher. Soon after moving here, she noted that, though Provincetown was full of cabarets and performers, there wasn’t a lot of comedy. She wanted to fill the gap, and so she called Tarnower and Stern, close friends from Boston’s comedy world.
By two strokes of luck, she found other locals to join the troupe. Pentedemos met O’Connor when he was hired by the schools as a “substitute custodian,” a title she says they both find humor in.
Scholl, 60, spent most of his career as a journalist covering politics for CNN, CNBC, and Yahoo. He says he started doing improv in New York about 10 years ago as comic relief from the 16-hour days spent reporting. One IMPROVincetown show he attended less than a year after the group’s debut led him to audition and ultimately make a year-round move from New York to Wellfleet.
Improv is all about the audience. Both Scholl and Pentedemos say the eagerness of their friends and neighbors makes Wellfleet Preservation Hall a perfect venue.
“At most of the shows I did in New York, 80 percent of the audience was other improv people,” says Scholl. People would compliment him on particular beats — that is, moments when improvised scenes reach a climax or draw to a close — but performing for professionals wasn’t the same as engaging a group that’s there simply to listen and laugh.
Even when the audience isn’t so close to home, Pentedemos finds that improv communities are often more supportive than performers and consumers of other comedic arts. “I did standup for years,” she says. “It’s very isolating. Being the only woman at an open mic was completely brutal.” She feels she received far more compliments by male collaborators on her looks than her sets.
IMPROVincetown comes to the Preservation Hall stage again on Wednesday, July 13, at 7 p.m. Every show at the hall this summer will be preceded by an improv comedy workshop; Wednesday’s is 3 to 5 p.m.
With no script, improv is notably contained in the moment. Scholl says he’s drawn to the uniqueness of each night’s jokes, bits, and characters.
“It’s the same reason I went into journalism: the ephemera,” he says. Like a news story, “when a show’s over, it’s over. You’re never going to do that same show again.”