Spontaneous compulsion: Improv troupe prepares


What do you think of when you hear the word improv? Chances are, you don’t think of it as spontaneous ensemble theatre, but that’s exactly what it is – a group of dedicated performers working together to improvise stories on the spot. It’s freeform theatre at its most exhilarating, based entirely on audience suggestions.

At its best, improv can be fast-paced, unpredictable and highly entertaining. At its worst, it can be amateurish, clunky and dull. Luckily for those of us living in Las Cruces and the surrounding areas, the Super Secret Improv Troupe falls into the former category, made up as it is of seasoned actors who regularly tread the boards of local theatre.

Who are these players? Erin Wendorf was part of the highly acclaimed courtroom drama “The Trial of Billy the Kid,” directed by Ross Marks, among many other local productions. Both Joshua Taulbee and Rachel Thomas-Chappell had featured roles in the No Strings Theatre Company’s latest production, “Ben Hur.” Taulbee also received rave reviews for his powerful performance in the one-man show, “Fully Committed,” in May of 2023. Casi Galban gave her own riveting performance in the one-woman “Gun Show” in 2022. Both Thomas-Chappell and Galban had pivotal roles in Taulbee’s directorial effort, “Murder by Poe,” in October of 2023.

Founded in February 2000, just a month before the pandemic lockdown, the ensemble’s first year was spent in Zoom meetings and occasional in-person workshops, in which the members had to wear masks and keep an appropriate distance from one another. Not the most auspicious beginning for a fledgling troupe, but perseverance and a focus on expression forged what would become a core group of passionate performers, dedicated to the craft.

That dedication comes from adherence to a set of basic rules, including trust, and listening carefully to what your partners are creating.

“Trust is so important,” says Thomas-Chappell. “Being on stage with somebody and knowing that they’re going make me look good. As long as we’re looking out for each other on stage, our characters are going to be on point, and the story is going to be there.”

“It allows us to go to some very weird places,” Taulbee admits. “We can go deep, because we know that everybody else is going to go along with it, not mock it or bury it.”

“That’s why we can tell a heartwarming story about a poodle who joins the circus and falls in love,” Galban adds.

It’s this easy repartee that gives the troupe its dynamics. It also guarantees that every show is different from the last. Each starts off with a few fun exercises to get the juices flowing, with names like “Copycat,” “Movie Pitch” and “Letter of Complaint.” These tend to be short and funny, based on themes suggested by audience members, some of which can be pretty strange.

“The weirder the better,” Taulbee admits.

The fun really begins once the troupe rolls into their longform segment, in which the audience is asked for a word that is then used to create a story.

“The aim is always the story,” says Wendorf. “They’re usually weird stories, but they have storylines and characters that the audience can follow. In the end, we really want to have them go ‘wow, that was unexpected.’”

“It’s like creating a one-act play, with a beginning, a middle and an end,” adds Thomas-Chappell.

“It may not be a great story arc, but we do try to have character growth, high points, low points, and a resolution,” Taulbee agrees. “We do try to tell a complete story.”

So what’s the secret to success in the improv world? “We’ve never repeated a story,” says Wendorf. “All of our scenarios are completely different from anything we’ve done before. They’re individual to each show because the word is always different. We never know what kind of show we’re going to have. It really all depends on the audience.”

“The nice thing is,” Thomas-Chappell adds, “we’ve never had a bad show.”

 The Super Secret Improv Show returns to the Black Box Theatre on Saturday, January 20. Doors open at 7pm, and the performance starts at 7:30 p.m. More information is available online at Facebook.com/SuperSecretImprov, or on Instagram @TheSuperSecretImprovShow.