After taking all the local improv classes they could find, a group of friends decided it was time to bring their love of improv comedy to the masses.
“How about we start our own troupe?” Lauren Henry, one of the founding members and current Creative Director, remembers saying to the group. The agreement was near universal, and the idea of Better Than Bacon, the Chester County-based improv troupe, was born. They would just need a director to get them started and a paying gig to make it official. By 2011 they would have both.
“That’s when we became professionals,” Lauren said of their first paying gig at the Kennett Flash.
Since then, BTB has brought its off-the-cuff comedy to numerous venues across Chester County, including regular performances at West Chester’s Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center. Shows feature a lineup of improvisational “games” or acting exercises that require participants to react in real-time. Improv games are famously informed by audience suggestion, meaning no two games are ever entirely alike. Yet, for all the seemingly free-wielding chaos, each game follows a set of rules that provide guidelines for the players and bind them together as a group.
Unlike stand up, which often features a single comedian presenting a highly rehearsed and refined script, improv is a team sport that is less about your own personal spotlight and more about, as Lauren puts it, “boosting up another cast member.” Each core cast member will appear in several different skits throughout a performance, and most will take a turn playing host – describing the game and gathering suggestions from the audience.
“We have an amazing group of people that just love playing together,” Lauren said about the current cast.
Which is good because they play together a lot. Not just at shows, but at regular practice sessions where the actors refine their craft and prepare for different situations. Do you ever have an audience that won’t give you anything? I asked. According to Lauren getting suggestions is “typically pretty easy.” It’s keeping the audience from getting too involved that’s the more common problem, but it’s not something she’s worried about. “I have a taxi whistle, and I’m not afraid to use it if things get out of hand,” she said.
Improv for the people
BTB has been at it for over a decade now. Starting when we were all still chill, not yet wrung out by the stress and anxiety brought on by two years of pandemic living. Even then, they described themselves as “a few crazy folks,” but it turns out, we should have all been so crazy.
A 2020 study published in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity found that doing just 20 minutes of improv a day can increase creativity, decrease social anxiety and increase “uncertainty tolerance.” I don’t know if attending a show offers the same benefits, but it is sure to be a good time and as one well-worn health adage claims, “Laughter is the best medicine.”
You can catch Better Than Bacon’s upcoming shows … Friday, December 16th at the Kennett Flash for their “Annual Non-Denominational Holiday Extravaganza,” and Friday, January 20th at Uptown! Get detailed information and a complete list of upcoming performances on their website. Ready to reap the benefits of improv for yourself? Lauren teaches improv classes at Uptown. Lots of laughs guaranteed!
This is a sponsored post. A special thank you to Better Than Bacon for their support of Hello, West Chester!