The sound of the cast’s final rehearsal before the show stops. It is replaced with laughter and then silence as Pablo Rojas, the founder and Executive Director of Boston Unscripted Musical Project, announces that the box office is open. Visitors either show their $10 prepaid ticket or present $15 at the door as they move from a small waiting room in Somerville’s Rockwell Theater into a thrust stage surrounded on three sides by the audience. The space is dimly lit by purple light and filled with music playing from hidden speakers in the walls. The relaxed and playful ambience that viewers can expect from the show is clear even before the performance starts.
Audiences are searching for a place to unwind on a Friday night. They are brought to B.U.M.P. by its unconventionality and uniqueness in the theater world. Friends mutter among themselves as the rest of the audience files in.
Many people don’t know what to expect. Some have never seen improv at all.
The cast runs onto the stage greeted by strobe lights. Their energy is immediately palpable as they jump right in, explaining briefly what improv is and what their project is. Improv is a type of theater where the entire show is unscripted and made up on the spot, and B.U.M.P. is an entire improvised musical. With the formalities out of the way, the cast asks for suggestions for a title of their musical. Two suggestions are consolidated into “Pregnant Robot Invasion.”
“Welcome to the opening—”
“—night of ‘Pregnant Robot Invasion’!”
The theater goes dark. The show begins.
B.U.M.P is one of the first groups of its kind in Boston. The musical improv scene in Boston has been shifting recently, driven both by the arrival of Mike Descoteaux -- one of the most influential musical improvisers of modern day -- and by the increasing success of B.U.M.P. and its members. Musical improv has become more competitive and, as a result, more sophisticated.
Cohesiveness is critical in improv. Misch Whitaker, the director and a founding member of B.U.M.P., says that for warmups, she’ll have the cast sit around and talk. People need to connect in real life as well as on stage to be successful improvisers.
This cohesiveness comes through in the show. All B.U.M.P shows begin with a large group number to establish the tone and to unite the audience and actors, but after that, the cast lets the show develop on its own.
Misch says, “Because we want to create a narrative, I ask that the cast looks for a protagonist in the first few scenes. Then I ask that everyone figures out how to best push or pull the protagonist. And that’s really the only structure we have...But the goal is for there to be some sort of wish or want for the main character and for everyone else in the show to have some sort of part in either propelling the character towards their goal or keeping them from it.”
More so than in other theatre, the audience is paramount in improv. As the cast members develop the primary story lines and combine the scenes into a cohesive narrative, they feed as much off of the audience’s energy as that of their fellow improvisers.
“There’s always a different and fun energy,” says cast member Ruth Green. “You have to stay open-minded and let the laughter be your barometer.”
Misch, too, believes in the importance of laughter. “It opens your lungs. It has been shown to burn calories and boost your immune system. But, most importantly, psychologically and socially, laughter is where people connect.”