Laughter rang through Saratoga and Blackford campuses on Feb. 3-4 when Harker was visited by Baby Wants Candy, a musical comedy improvisational troupe who led workshops and performed to a sold-out audience.
Baby Wants Candy was founded in 1997, and has permanent troupes in New York and Chicago; at any given time they may have 40-50 performers forming groups that tour, including to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where their relationship with Harker began. Last August the group came to see The Harker Conservatory’s production of “Pippin” at the Fringe, and they were so impressed they “adopted” the cast. The cast reaped the benefits of a special workshop and a shout-out from the stage at a performance of Baby Wants Candy during that week. When Al Samuels, a BWC performer, contacted performing arts chair Laura Lang-Ree and asked about coming West to Harker for more, Lang-Ree jumped at the chance.
The troupe performed at an upper school assembly on Feb. 3, and spent both lunchtimes answering questions from Conservatory students at a “Life in the Arts” workshop. Then the work began. On Friday and Saturday afternoons, Harker students who had signed up for the privilege of working more closely with the cast were put through their improv paces in five hours of workshops. Samuels and musical director/pianist Jody Shelton, who also improvises everything he plays, spent Friday breaking down the elements of improv, sharing effective warmups both for the brain and voice, and giving a fabulous primer on this difficult art form. Saturday they were joined by more of the cast, and the lessons continued, eventually preparing the students for participation in the BWC show on Saturday night.
The Blackford Theater was packed and buzzing by the time the show started at 7 p.m. The first half of the show allowed the Harker workshop students to spread their improv wings and test out all they had learned in the past days. BWC cast members led the kids through all manner of improv games, all based on suggestions from the audience, none of which were prepared or rehearsed.
Then it was time for the BWC cast to show why so many of its members have had successful runs with Saturday Night Live, Second City and numerous improv-based television shows. An audience member suggested the title “Presidents on Jeopardy,” and a fully choreographed, plotted and staged musical unfolded, replete with topical political references, hilarious rhymes, and the Jeopardy theme song woven throughout several of the musical numbers, thanks to Shelton’s ingenuity.
The generosity of the BWC players in traveling from New York and teaching so much of their craft, all with grace, humor and kindness, will be felt by Conservatory students for years to come … and Harker audiences may remember their raucous evening for a bit, too!