Phyllis Novy has a long career of teaching and theater. She taught English to teenagers for 15 years at South Mountain High School in Phoenix and was also education director for Phoenix Children’s Theatre, which provided theater opportunities for young people for more than 50 years in the Valley. With her master’s in theater from Arizona State University, she taught acting, theater history and creative drama at ASU as well.
So she wasn’t far outside her comfort zone when she joined Sun Lakes Community Theatre after moving to that area of the Valley about eight years ago. But “being just a member” is not the way Phyllis does things. She soon proposed to her fellow thespians that she would like to start an improvisational troupe for seniors. Improv is generally considered an aggressive form of humor; you can’t sit passively by, you have to keep things going, jumping in when needed and keeping the material moving along. It’s not for the faint of heart!
Short-form improv probably came into the general national consciousness through the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Long-form improv has a different format; as the name implies it deals more with developing scenes and stories from audience suggestions. “We perform short form because it’s fun,” says Phyllis. “It’s on-your-feet thinking, working together cooperatively, helping each other.” The audience throws out ideas, and the troupe incorporates those into the framework of various types of improv games.
Phyllis now runs The ImproVables, a troupe of 15 active adults ages 50-80 in Sun Lakes, along with her co-leader Howard Hummel. “Starting something from scratch and directing were new to me. Fortunately, Howard and his wife, Andrea, were former drama teachers with just those skill sets! Everyone is very involved. We take turns with lesson plans and leading sessions and make sure that everyone rotates in and out of the games,” Phyllis explains.
The troupe includes folks of all skills levels who come from all walks of life. There are former lawyers and teachers, some with theater backgrounds, and even a former dentist who was also a stand-up comedian. Not one except Phyllis had ever performed improv prior to joining the troupe.
Seven of the troupe members including Phyllis happen to be Jewish. When asked if she thought having “Jewish moxie” was helpful in improv, Phyllis said instead she believes that the Jewish concept of “acceptance” is key. “In improv, you always say ‘yes’ or else a scene just ends! There is a great cooperative feeling among the members.”
Phyllis is a member of Sun Lakes Jewish Congregation as well as a Life Member of Hadassah. In October 2012 she celebrated her adult bat mitzvah through the congregation along with 14 other congregants. The ImproVables felt honored to be invited to perform at the national conference of The Association for
Theatre in Higher Education, held this summer in Scottsdale. The troupe performs regularly throughout the Valley. They charge a minimal amount for performances and then donate the proceeds to the theater departments at the nearby Chandler high schools. They’re willing to perform just about anywhere: meetings, social events, bar/bat mitzvahs. To arrange a performance, just contact Phyllis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s such a great group,” Phyllis says with a smile. “We’re like a support group for each other. We’re friends who love each other – and love to perform and bring laughter to folks.” All the members are proud to be, as their tagline proclaims, The Laughing Stock of Sun Lakes!