There’s a strong community angle to how improv comedy group YES&Co. performs the “Harold.” This long-form, three-scene improv game relies on audience suggestions, and YES&Co. sources these from the adventures of “local celebrities”: that is, from the stories, told live, of our friends and neighbors doing especially great things in and for Portland. 

“The idea to incorporate local monologists came from wanting to know more about the movers and shakers in our small city,” says YES&Co. co-founder, director, and performer Samuel Kuykendall, “and because I wanted to give improvisers more information than just locations or occupation suggestions from the audience.”

Each show gets its own local celebrity, who tells three monologues. After each of these, YES&Co. performers — Kuykendall along with Charlie Adler, Adrian Boudreau, Mike Mayo, Erin Mccall, Tara McDonough, and Jen Whitley, accompanied by Michael Beling on keyboard — improvise a scene, then a final Harold that brings everything together. All show proceeds go to a charity of the local celebrity’s choosing. 

In the inaugural show, first up was naturalist and wildlife artist Michael Boardman. “As an artist, I don’t often get put on display to talk about myself,” he says, “but as a New Years’ resolution I decided this year to push the envelope.” One of Boardman’s stories took place in remote Alaska, and YES&Co.’s skit involved a solitary artist in the wilderness “suddenly intruded upon by ‘Jaques,’” as he recalls, “a fellow painter who picked this specific spot of wilderness to work while making idle chit chat, cranking some bad '70s tunes and working the Bob Ross vibe.”

Locals like Boardman are invited to share their stories of a time when they said “yes,” a revered concept in improv dynamics, says Kuykendall. “We wanted insights into all of the people around our city that are making it a better place to live and work.”

Next up to tell their stories of “yes” are Jason Ryan, founder of the Open Bench Project, on March 9, and Erin Curren, black belt Nia instructor, Portland Playback member, and board member for Pecha Kucha, on April 13. 

What does YES&Co. offer the city with their local celebrity-infused Harolds? “We are hoping to add to the heart of Portland,” says Kuykendall. “I think that audiences that come to our shows will feel more connected to the community and have a great time.” 

And don’t forget the comedy in the community-building: “We are truly some of the funniest people on the planet, did I forget to mention that? You are going to laugh. A lot.”

YES&Co. Improv | Fresnel Theater, 17 Free Street | March 9 and April 13 | www.thefresneltheater.org

Megan writes about theater, books, and film, and is reviews editor of "The Café Review". Her poetry collection "Booker's Point" was awarded the 2017 Maine Book Award and the Vassar Miller Prize.

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