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Finding Minnesota: Uptown’s HUGE Theater

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The element of surprise is part of any drama or comedy at the theater, but what’s unusual is when the performers on stage are surprised and unaware of what’s happening next.

HUGE Theater puts on nearly 600 shows a year in Uptown, and no two shows are ever alike because there’s no script. Everything is improvised.

Butch Roy is the theater’s executive director.

“The Twin Cities is an amazing place to be not only a performer but an improviser,” Roy said.

It takes nerve for the performers to step out on stage, working with no net, but their strength comes from letting go of fear.

Jill Bernard has been performing and instructing for many years.

“It’s training yourself to take risks that a normal person would back away from,” Bernard said.

Six nights a week, the performers go on a journey in the spotlight. No one has a map, and sudden turns come frequently.

“When I found improv,” Bernard said, “it seemed like everything I loved was there. Spontaneity is rewarded and creativity is rewarded and I felt instantly at home.”

Nels Lennes is the theater’s artistic director who says doing improv is unique.

“You’re having a shared experience when something is so funny and only these people saw it,” he said, “and they’ll never see it again. There’s some power to that which I really like.”

It’s a tribute to the cast that people in the audience often doubt that everything was unplanned.

“They insist that we must be cheating somehow,” Roy said, “(as if) there’s no way that we really just did that.”

They do it, in part, by practicing basic principles of taking what you’re given, and building on it — principles they teach others in class (http://www.hugetheater.com/classes/).

It’s a skill that’s helped many people become better communicators, by knocking down barriers.

“It really is just getting back in touch with that thing that allows you to be silly and pretend again,” said Roy, “and know that that’s OK.”

Other spots in town, like Stevie Ray’s and ComedySportz, do shorter-form improv shows, but HUGE Theater bills itself as the only place for long-form improv. Once their performers begin, they keep going for 45 minutes or so.

If you have a Finding Minnesota story idea, let us know here.

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