Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe hones its craft in Pittsfield


Photo Gallery: Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe

PITTSFIELD -- A Sunday afternoon at the Colonial Theatre finds the Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe rehearsing scenes from a shopping mall. Six of the cast members pair off: two pretend to be a mother scolding her son; another twosome portrays a couple's awkward reunion; the third scene is a woman with a New York City accent ordering tasty baked goods.

"I'll take three extra frosty buns for my family," says the customer.

"Would you like one for your mom?" the clerk asks.

The woman wryly replies, "My mom is dead, but "

Wait a minute, improv rehearsal? That's like jumbo shrimp -- a contradiction in terms.

By definition, improvisational comedy, or improv, is a theatrical art form created in present time, without the benefit of a script.

Nevertheless, improv performers still need to hone their skills just as stage actors do while learning lines from a playwright, according Alexia Trainor, the troupe's co-artistic director.

"You work on technique, structure -- there is a set of rules," she noted. "The easy part is the punchline, the hardest part is knowing when to end the scene."

Since late October, it's been a new beginning for the Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe, landing a regular gig at the Colonial Theatre. RBIT, or "Ribbit," performs a two-hour show on the last weekend of the month in The Garage, the Colonial's second stage.

Tonight's show is set for 8.

RBIT came on the local comedy scene in January, 2001, regularly appearing at Main Stage in North Adams. The homegrown comedic talent has also performed throughout New England at improv festivals, competitions and numerous fundraisers for local schools, nonprofits and civic groups. From July 2011 to June 2013, RBIT had a standing date at the Spectrum Playhouse in Lee, before taking a break to re-energize and move to the Colonial.

"I think we've upped our game now that were in a higher profile venue," noted cast member Frank LaFrazia.

The four-man, four-woman cast -- five of them founding members -- perform a mix of theater games reminiscent of the television show, "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

RBIT does short-form improv based on concepts developed in rehearsal or suggestions from the audience -- the more unusual, the better.

"Once we had a woman suggest a scene with an Israel horseback-riding guide -- the funniest thing I've been part of," said RBIT member Paul McNeil.

The troupe cites how they are guided by three simple rules: Say "Yes and "; make your partner look good; dare to be ordinary.

LaFrazia pointed out that seemingly mundane daily activities often the best comedy fodder.

"People laugh at what they can relate to," he said. "You need to take the audience on a journey that makes sense."

Improv performers must also be confident in their abilities and not second-guess how a scene has unfolded or the funniest punchline has been delivered.

"I used to say, ‘ I should have said this, I should have said that,' " recalled Barby Cardillo, co-artistic director. "Now I find myself saying, ‘It was the right thing at the right time.' "

Cast members also use rehearsal time to fine-tune their timing and generally support each others effort to ensure they have the audience in stitches come showtime.

"We are completely non-judgmental as everyone is doing the same thing," noted Neil Von Flatern, troupe member since 2011.

As RBIT's most recent additions, Von Flatern, McNeil and Rachel Siegel found the original cast welcoming and willing to help them succeed on stage.

"I've always been drawn to comedy and this group has been great at holding my hand," said Seigel.

The mother of two young children, ages 11 2 and four, also says improv has helped her become a better parent, a real-life role that's truly unscripted.

In essence, RBIT has become a second family, with cast members forming strong bonds that spill over into their personal lives.

"We've been in each other's weddings, hang out; we simply trust each other," said Alexia Trainor, who first met and later married Michael Trainor, thanks to the improv troupe.

The Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe ensemble:

  • Alexia Trainor -- Co-artistic director and founding member. The North Adams resident, married to Michael Trainor, works at Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter school as the 21st Century After School Program Coordinator.
  • Michael Trainor -- Founding member, employed as a business analyst and works with IT systems at Berkshire Bank in Pittsfield.
  • Barby Cardillo -- Co-artistic director and founding member. Cardillo lives in Cheshire and works as a teaching artist throughout Berkshire County. Currently, she teaches with WAM Theatre, Community Access to the Arts (CATA), and ROPE World.
  • Frank LaFrazia -- Founding member and former artistic director. He resides in Brooklyn, N.Y. and works in the film industry.
  • Lisa Molleur -- Founding member from Lanesborough; a full time nursing student.
  • Neil Von Flatern -- The Pittsfield resident joined the troupe in 2011. He is an amateur Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, training in Lenox at ZenQuest Martial Arts Center.
  • Paul McNeil -- Group member since the winter of 2012. McNeil lives in Pittsfield and is a substance abuse prevention specialist, coordinating the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership with the Berkshire United Way.
  • Rachel Siegel -- The Great Barrington resident joined in 2012. She is an actor and audio book narrator.

To reach Dick Lindsay:,
or (413) 496-6233


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