Tri-Valley teen improv troupe wrapping up 9th season with superhero musical | News | |


Tri-Valley teen improv troupe wrapping up 9th season with superhero musical

Creatures of Impulse performs 'Heroes & Villains: The Musical' this weekend

What if Superman, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor were pitted in a love triangle, and they felt like singing about it?

The big final battle between Batman and The Joker, but as an epic musical climax?

What introspective songs might Wonder Woman sing while preparing for her next mission or The Hulk bellow while in the shower?

Or imagine if the radioactive spider burst into song just before sinking its fangs into unsuspecting Peter Parker?

Those are the kind of far-out questions the Creatures of Impulse may well find themselves trying to answer when taking the stage Friday and this weekend during their newest improvised show, "Heroes & Villains: The Musical."

"The whole entire show is a musical based on superheroes," said Tommy Herz, an Amador Valley High senior in his fourth year as part of the teen improv troupe, which is based in Pleasanton and draws from throughout the Tri-Valley, including San Ramon. "What's kind of fun about the genre is we can interpret it in a few different ways, so we've been learning about all these different types of superheroes to do."

"I really like the genre. In the musical, it's very, very difficult, so I think it's a perfect way to end it off, with something big and a lot of fun," Herz added about this weekend's show, which wraps up the troupe's ninth season -- and marks the last one for him and other senior Creatures.

"Heroes & Villains" is a long-form improvised musical play, and like all Creatures of Impulse performances, the storylines are unscripted, completely made up on the spot and inspired by suggestions from the audience.

"An improviser's 'mantra' is 'Yes, and ...,' a philosophy that encourages performers to accept all offers that come to them in the moment, use them and treat them as gifts," said Mark Duncanson, recreation coordinator for the city of Pleasanton and the troupe's director and founder.

"Because of the positive and accepting nature of improvisation, Creatures of Impulse members enjoy a creative and stress-free environment. In improv, being 'right' is not a requirement, something that teens these days in Pleasanton find refreshing and liberating," he added. "In addition to improv creating a safe place to create, improv teaches teens to be great listeners on and off stage."

Attentive communication is just one of the lifelong skills Creatures learn, with current and past members also citing trust, teamwork, friendships, quick-thinking and problem-solving among their key takeaways.

"It's definitely influenced my life in such a positive way," Amador Valley senior Maddie Peterson said. "Before I joined Creatures, I was very reserved and not that self-confident, but since I joined it, I've been able to just put myself out there and learn all sorts of things that improv can bring to the real world."

The award-winning city youth program first formed in fall 2007, born from Pleasanton teen performers' desire to expand upon improv exercises and classes led by Duncanson.

"It was an amazing feeling to be a part of the maiden voyage of a ship that has been smooth sailing ever since," recalled Drew Reitz, a 2010 Amador Valley grad who was on that founding Creatures team nine years ago.

The 24-year-old, now a TV commercial and theater actor, said the years of improvisation that began under Duncanson's mentorship helped him develop skills vital in the audition room and in life.

"Improv teaches you to really listen to someone, be able to fully take in what the other is saying and support them by responding," Reitz said. "You really don't get that too much anymore -- a real conversation where someone fully takes in every detail you give them."

For Eddie Rivera, another founding Creature from Amador Valley, improv tools continue to help him grow professionally as an associate industrial engineer for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

"What I remember most is how COI made me feel," Rivera said, adding:

"Performing informally or on stage is incredibly stress-relieving. It also taught me how to speak clearly, communicate, be courageous, think on the spot and seize the moment. I can't begin to describe how many meetings I've been in where I needed to use those skills."

Creatures of Impulse has evolved over the years and remains one of the most recognizable teen improv troupes in the state.

The group represented California in the Teen Comedy Festival in Chicago from 2010-13, won the Creating Community Award of Excellence in Youth Programming from the California Park and Recreation Society in 2012, and last October became the youngest troupe in seven years to perform in the New York Musical Improv Festival.

This year's squad has 27 members of ninth- through 12th-graders. The city-sponsored program receives funding from participant registration fees, ticket sales and fundraising, Duncanson said.

The vast majority of participants each year are from Pleasanton, though the troupe has drawn from San Ramon, Livermore, Dublin and Fremont. For the 2015-16 season, there is a Creature from California High and one from Livermore High.

"What stands out about this season's troupe is that a majority of the performers have spent their elementary and middle school careers going to Creatures of Impulse shows," Duncanson said. "Some members have been taking our middle school and high school improv camps and classes and are performing more diverse shows at a more frequent rate than some adult improvisers."

A third-year Creature, Foothill High junior Bryn Doyle lauded the group of peers she's met and improvised with.

"I love the people that I have been introduced to. We're a bunch of really open and fun people because we're open to new experiences," she said. "I have made some of my closest friends, and we're like family in there. There's a lot of trust."

Freshman Megan Farrell, wrapping up her first year with the troupe, recalled, "I was really nervous to be a part of this. I just decided to put myself out there, and it's been a really good experience."

"I've learned it's OK to make mistakes, and it's good to trust people you're on stage with," added the Amador Valley teen.

Creatures of Impulse typically performs four marquee shows per season on the Firehouse Arts Center main stage, plus their summertime "Tri-Valley High: The Series" improvised soap opera as well as fundraising performances and appearances at community and private events.

The final performance of the 2015-16 season, "Heroes & Villains" is directed by city recreation leader Jeff Zavattero and features veteran improvisational musician Jacob Russell-Snyder.

The concept is "inspired by the recent generation of superhero movies that aren't afraid of taking on heavier topics, while still having light-hearted moments," Zavattero said. "At the beginning of the show, we are going to ask for suggestions from the audience, and we will use those answers to form the show. It will take place like a movie, with a beginning, middle and end."

Doyle said she was really looking forward to the musical improv showcase.

"For me, the emotions that I have as becoming a character really easily flow out through music, easier than if I was just trying to have a scene and talk," she said. "I love to sing and I don't get nervous singing, so that really is just my happy spot."

"Heroes & Villains" began its run Thursday night and continues through Saturday night, with each performance presenting something totally new under the superhero umbrella. Fourteen troupe members are in the show overall, with eight or nine participating on a given night depending on availability.

Since the performances are unscripted, the Creatures spent the past several weeks training on skills and strategies to take with them onstage during the show, preparing for how to react to the twists and turns the improvised narrative takes.

At their practice last week, Zavattero led a discussion on types of songs that the actors can call on based on an audience prompt, topics like "I want/I wish," "the villain song," "the hero's journey" and "confrontation songs."

The Creatures also spent time breaking down Spider-Man's origin story, with students shouting out song ideas before warming up with traditional short-form improv games -- such as those made famous by TV's "Whose Line is it Anyway?" -- and vocal exercises and then practicing long-form improv techniques.

As the troupe he helped found winds down its ninth season, Duncanson said his proudest moment might again shine through after "Heroes & Villains," like it does after all Creatures performances.

"One of my favorites is the moment after a show when the performers are on a natural high from the show, the audience is pumped and they converge in the lobby together with massive energy to celebrate," he said. "That's what improv is about, sharing those moments with the audience and including them in that great feeling."

Superhero showcase

What: "Heroes & Villains: The Musical"

Who: Creatures of Impulse

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave. in downtown Pleasanton

Tickets: $10 general admission; $5 students. Visit or call 931-4848.

2016-17 auditions

Creatures of Impulse is holding auditions for next season's troupe. Actors must be entering grades 9-12 in the 2016-17 school year. Audition dates are May 30 and 31: 4:30-6:30 p.m. or 7-9 p.m. For more information, visit

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