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Talking turkey with April’s Fools

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The April’s Fools Comedy Improv, ready for some turkey. Photo by Otis & Lucy (otisandlucy.com)

Comedy Central

Funny business with Sandy Marchese of April’s Fools

by Bondo Wyszpolski

Sometimes, when you ask a member of a group to describe what it is they do, there is a lot of hemming and hawing, false starts and detours, but Sandy Marchese puts it all in a nutshell:

“April’s Fools Comedy Improv Troupe got started around 2000, and has been performing in the South Bay consistently throughout the years, the last 10 years at Second Story Theatre in Hermosa Beach on the second Saturday of the month at 7:30. The troupe right now has 15 members and it represents most of the South Bay – the Beach Cities, Torrance, et cetera.”

That could be the most information-packed paragraph in this entire newspaper, but why quit while we’re ahead?

Anyway, what happened 17-plus years ago that culminated with a group of comedians still going strong today?

“Most of us took classes from (the late) Gloria Policare,” Marchese replies, “who was a really respected improv teacher. We met through that and ended up starting our own troupe. I think we’re one of the oldest troupes around. The members have professional daytime jobs and businesses; some are actors and a few are retired people.”

She notes that April Scott and Mike Stern were the founding members of April’s Fools Comedy Improv Troupe, but I’m guessing that Mike’s Fools lost out by a slim margin to April’s Fools. It just lacked a certain… something. Fast forward to 2017 and, along with Marchese, Valerie Gorsuch and Doris Usui have been with the troupe since close to day one.

That’s not to say everyone in the ensemble is getting senior discounts at Walgreens.

“We have a wide range of ages, late 20s and into the 70s,” Marchese says. “So, for a troupe or any group to have that kind of mixture – male, female, a range of ages, different ethnicities, it’s just a pleasure to be around.”

But wait, we haven’t really explained what it is the troupe does.

STAYING IN THE MOMENT

“Improv itself (involves) taking suggestions from the audience and doing comedy in the moment. So, it’s not scripted: What you see on the stage is fresh right then, and it’s basically being created in front of your eyes.”

As for the kind of humor one can expect:

“It runs the gamut,” Marchese replies. “If there’s something in the news quite often it can be interspersed. We try to make people laugh at things rather than poking things. We don’t take a political side, so whatever is going on we could be on either side, or maybe the show is on both sides at the same time.”

But can we bring our great-grandmother Ethel? Or will her ears turn red and catch fire?

“Most of the shows are family-friendly,”Marchese says, quickly dousing any potential flames. “Occasionally if there’s one that’s not family-friendly we disclose that ahead of time.” (Look for the skull and crossbones or the finger sliding slowly across the neck.) “But usually even kids, I would say 10 and above, will enjoy the comedy.”

The shows are usually themed (4th of July, St. Patrick’s Day, and so on; this past summer the group performed a Hawaiian-themed show). The one this coming Saturday is entitled “Turkey, Friends & Fools” (written by trouper Valerie Gorsuch), and I’m guessing it has to do with the bird and not the country.

“Additionally, during the November show, we are also doing a sketch,” Marchese says, letting the cat out of the bag. “Sometimes we do a sketch in between the improvs, and a sketch is actually a written short scene. Also in the November show we will be featuring a few scenes with some seniors. Two of the April’s Fools members, myself and Doris Usui, have been teaching (a comedy improv workshop) over 10 years in Manhattan Beach (through the Parks and Recreation Dept.).”

I guess you can’t have rehearsals, because it’s improv, but do you meet up apart from when you’re all on stage together?

“We meet up because you need to work with each other so that you’re really comfortable” with other members of the troupe and, I’m surmising here, each person’s particular sense of humor. “Also,” Marchese continues, “we work on technique and characters. One of the important things of improv is staying in the moment and not trying to preplan.”

As one might imagine, this is a kind of exercise, and also something that keeps a person on their toes, especially those who work in theater or in film.

“The actors find that improv is necessary because when they do auditions,” Marchese says, “quite often they have to improv the material because it’s not totally written at that point. Also, Doris and I have found over the years, when we teach our older adults, that it keeps them engaged and mentally agile.” Lastly, she adds, “I think for everybody that improv is really good (because) it can be used (anytime, anywhere), whether it’s in business presentations or just daily life.”

Sandy Marchese. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

ADDING THEIR OWN TOUCH

Just as a car needs a driver, a show needs direction and thus a director.

“The directors for the show are various members of the cast,” Marchese explains, “depending on what month and on people’s schedules, and sometimes there’ll be co-directors.”

In other words, anyone could be in charge in any given month. But what would one director do that sets him or her apart from another?

“A director could be more into music and tie more music in with the show,” Marchese responds. “One director we had loved including some dance because they were more choreography-driven.”

It’s kind of a small space for dancing in.

“Yes.” Marchese pauses. “We can make ourselves big in a small space. The theme of the show, how the show flows, the interaction with the audience, is all director-driven.

“I’m directing the November show, Doris is directing the December show, and the December show is going to be a ‘Comedy Sportz Show.’ We’re actually doing a little competition on stage between April’s Fools and Mira Costa High School improv students, so it’ll be really fun.”

WOMAN OF THE YEAR, TOO

So, is Sandy Marchese an actor, a comedian, or a writer of sitcoms?

“I come from a corporate background,” she explains. She’s lived in Redondo Beach, and in the same house which has an impressive view of the ocean, since 1991.

“When I retired from corporate I started getting involved in the community in different ways. I’m currently on the Redondo Beach Public Safety Commission.” She pauses for a moment. “I ran unsuccessfully for City Council in ‘15.” Nonetheless, “In July I was named Woman of the Year for Redondo by the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. I was President of Redondo Beach CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) for two years, and headed up all the volunteers that came down and cleaned the fish from the harbor when it was fish-infested. I was a volunteer in policing for Redondo Beach for a few years, and I currently work for the Palos Verdes Estates Police Department on a part-time basis.”

Clearly that’s a more serious and profound side to a woman who steeps herself in humor.

“I got into improv in 1999,” Marchese says, referring back to the class with Gloria Policare. “It was kind of a bug that if you enjoy it you want to do more of it. It’s almost an addiction of choice, but it’s a clean, good fun.”

APRIL’S FOOLS COMEDY IMPROV TROUPE, which additionally does charity events, corporate events, as well as private parties, presents “Turkey, Friends & Fools” at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Second Story Theatre, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. It’s a small, intimate venue, conducive for interacting with the audience. Besides Sandy Marchese, the performers this month include Doris Usui, Valerie Gorsuch, Tom Bauer, Lloyd Leifer, Rick Ramirez, and Rashel Mereness. The keyboardist is Bob Mitchell, with special guests the Joslyn Jokers. Tickets, $10 general; $8 seniors and kids. (310) 318-1705, email Foolstickets@aol.com (for a ticket discount), or go to AprilsFoolsImprov.com. ER

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