by JAKE CHECANIFor many of us, our improvisational peak may be the job interview. The questions are random and unknown and our gut responses build our character — for what it’s worth.
Katie Michels’ performing life draws off similar ambiguity, carving a burgeoning career in the now.
Improv comedy brings Michels back to Pullman for the first time since her graduation in 2008. She will perform alongside five former Cougs as part of the Nuthouse Alumni All-Stars, a group built specifically for “A Midwinter Night’s Gala” on Friday.
Joining Michels is husband Jake Michels, along with James Katica and Urban Yeti Improv members Mallory Hanus, John Hanus and Erik Dahl.
Celebrity guest for the evening is Kerry Swanson, station manager of Northwest Public Radio.
Organizers would like you to arrive an hour before showtime to nibble complementary hors d’oeuvres and a sip drinks from a cash bar catered by Pullman’s Birch & Barley. Then, they want you to bid with abandon at a silent auction, with proceeds going towards Washington State University’s Performing Arts’ programming and outreach.
Michels’ substantive resume since her departure from Pullman includes, most notably, work on the last two season’s of IFC’s “Portlandia.” Her debut on an episode called “Healthcare” from 2015 shows improv’s fingerprint.
Michels said she showed up on the “Portlandia” set day one with her lines memorized. Laughing, she recounts, “The first thing, the director walks up to me, Jonathan Krisel, and is like ‘hey you ready to not use this script?’ ”
“Then they roll like four cameras ‘Go!’”
Unlike that scene, where the character had an overall theme with which to work, improv doesn’t walk on even these feeble scripted crutches.
She said this improv show will take the shape of a living organism and will depend of the audience to provide the sustenance.
Audience members will shout a cacophony of suggestions — “Car” “Pavement” “(Insert word here)”– which are spontaneously acted on to build a scene. Then, a bell will ring, and the performer must erase all previous statements and fire anew until the bell stops ringing, roughly five minutes later.
All the performers were once part of Nuthouse. But for some years, Katie, Jake and James have been based in the Northwest while the Urban Yeti-ers have been in Anchorage, Alaska. Michels said they have run into each other at improv festivals. A few of them attended the Del Close Marathon together — a sort of “Bonnaroo” or “Sundance” of improv shows in New York City last summer..
This just fuels the unexpected and true spontaneity in which familiarity is coupled with talented, in-the-moment, raw expression, she said.
“Come to the show, you have no idea what’s going to happen,” Michels said.
If You Go
What: A Midwinter Night’s Gala
When: 6:30 p.m., Friday
Where: Daggy Hall, Washington State University campus
Cost: $35 and includes show and hors d’oeuvres