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Plant City Observer Thursday, Jun. 21, 2018 5 months ago

Improv-ing Plant City

‘Under-Medicated’ is bringing improvisational theater to Plant City. It’s unrehearsed, it’s innovative and it’s always searching for the next comedic plot-twist.
by: Breanne Williams Staff Writer

Mortification and comedy frequently go hand-in-hand. It’s often recognized as one of the hardest mediums in the entertainment industry. 

When a stand-up set goes south the unreceptive joke can often be traced back to a lack of preparation or a delivery flaw by the comedian. Though the pressure is always present, with enough practice and talent a routine can have many of its kinks worked out well before the night of the show. 

The stakes are set at an entirely elevated height when you enter the world of improvisational theater. Each show is off-the-cuff and original. It’s one of the most formidable undertakings in the industry, but a small troupe in Plant City is eagerly stepping up to the challenge. 

They call themselves “Under-Medicated,” a name befitting the eccentric personalities comprising the group. The six members, led by creator and teammate Clay Hollenkamp, are crafting a cocktail of chaotic energy, endearing affability and a genuine adoration of the art in an effort to forever ingrain the craft into Plant City’s society. 

“Improv, like a lot of arts, has a lot more technique than the audience might realize,” Clay Hollenkamp said. “When we have our rehearsals we start off with a few warmups to kind of clear the head and to get us into the frame of mind where you’re not afraid to look like an idiot in front of people because that is highly possible.”

Though shows are made up on the spot during each performance, the actors are learning how to present their best selves through the variety of warm-ups and exercises Clay Hollenkamp puts them through in rehearsal.

Clay Hollenkamp was raised in Plant City. After leaving, he took classes at the Washington Improv Theater before using his skills to teach lessons in nearly every art realm imaginable from pottery to painting. His improv clients ranged from aspiring comedians to corporations and businesses who knew the value of learning to rely on and support others. 

Much of improv is centered around the concept “yes, and,” which prevents scenes from coming to an abrupt end. Members of the troupe learn to affirm whatever their scene partner pitches, to continue and elaborate on the world being created on stage. 

If one member starts a scene by saying, “This burger tastes horrendous,” another would theoretically reply with, “Yes, it seems like a terrible business decision to open the pub right next-door to a sewage treatment plant.” 

“‘Yes, and,’ makes you even better at what you’re doing, it challenges you more,” Traci Eliot, team member, said. “Like (Jay Hollenkamp) said, it’s easy to find an argument, but it’s harder to find an agreement, which I think the world needs that right now. I know that I’m going all philosophical for a second, but the world really does need some more ‘yes, ands.’ I’m kind of tired of all the arguing.”

When Clay Hollenkamp returned to his hometown he immediately began immersing himself in the blossoming art scene. Improv is one of his passions and when he realized Plant City was lacking a group he began putting out feelers to determine if it was something he should take the time to invest in and grow. The response was immediate and after holding auditions at Plant City Entertainment he formed the inaugural group of “Under-Medicated.”

Eliot, Clay Hollenkamp, Jay Hollenkamp, Sue Donnelly, Jessie Frier and Jonathan Fontana, are Plant City’s improv pioneers and they are diving in headfirst. They only rehearsed once a week for approximately a month and a half before performing for the first time on June 14. In early fall they will be putting on a show at PCE and plan to continue to regularly offer improv nights in town. 

“From my standpoint, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster because three weeks ago we got together and we had a really good night and it was the first time that I was like, “OK, we’re starting to understand the format, we’re starting to implement the techniques and I can see now that we’re clicking,” Jay Hollenkamp said. “I went home and my brother asked how it went and I said, ‘So good.’ Then the next week we fell on our face.”

He said the group is still developing and learning about the craft and working with each other. As much as they all love weaving a comedic masterpiece from scratch each time they step on stage, they said being able to do so in their hometown makes the experience so much more fulfilling. 

Each team member brings a unique skill to the group. Frier is a master at accents and voices, Fontana excels at physical comedy and Donnelly crafts “insane” scenarios that are “a challenge and truly exciting” to explore. 

Despite having been formed mere weeks prior to the show, “Under-Medicated” was able to draw several eruptive laughs from the crowd and created characters and one-liners that even days later were still being discussed across town. 

“Under-Medicated” is part of Clay Hollenkamp’s “Join the Circus Productions.” He offers classes on many forms of art and soon hopes to bring improv sessions to businesses throughout town. If interest in the art continues to grow he said he may open the group up to offer a “b-team” to teach the skill to as many people as possible. 

“So much of this involves being able to trust and lean on each other,” Donnelly said. “You’re not just learning how to make people laugh, you’re developing a family. And it’s a lot of fun.”

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