Review: Next improv gig nears for Any Suggestions in McHenry

You have to hand it to an improv ensemble that lists what to expect of their performances as “comedy, smooth transitions, train wrecks (most likely), and a good time all around.” That’s precisely what improvisational comedy troupe Any Suggestions does.

Formed in 2020, a band of four wits – April Noel, Brian Freeman, Andrew Buel and Tracey Lanman – first hit the Woodstock Opera House Stage Left Café at the urging of Opera House manager Betsy Poffenberger Cosgray. Opportunity knocked when Cosgray contacted Noel asking if she knew of a performance improv group in the area. Noel’s reply was: “We could.”

Fortuitously, Noel and partner Freeman had been talking about starting their own group, and were only happy to put one together. Unfortunately, thanks to the pandemic, they opened and closed on Feb. 29, or as Noel describes it: “the day the world shut down.”

But in a May 2021 rebirth, Trace Gamache was added to the troupe, and in July, auditions added Chelsea Smith and Jeffrey DuBois, everyone a northern Illinois resident. An owner of McHenry’s Hidden Pearl Coffee shop, Dan Kearns, wanted to bring an improv group to his events lineup. Kearns had become a fan of the show, and provides the current venue where the group trods the boards every third Saturday of the month, which falls this weekend.

Noel states that Freeman’s deep love for improv, and her own deep love of creating opportunities, in addition to the knowledge that there aren’t many suburban improv comedy groups, led to the formation of Any Suggestions. The title of the troupe has a brilliant origin; it comes from Cosgray asking Noel about a name for the ensemble. Because Cosgray asked: “Any suggestions?,” Noel turned to Freeman and said, “Can’t think of anything better, can you?” and the name stuck.

Noel says it’s been “a funny and interesting” experience being on the administrative end of creating a group. But she does express: “It’s nothing short of joy watching the troupe grow.” And getting their own Facebook page was an exciting step into officialdom.

With improv, there’s no safety net, no script, and you must rely on your wit and fast responses to challenges. It’s unplanned and unscripted and spontaneous, and if you don’t think that’s scary enough, it incorporates lots of audience interaction.

Gamache explained that improv was a “crucial part” of her growth as an actor. And for her, the difference between stage acting (in which she, Lanman and Noel are all well known in the area) and improv can be summed up in one word: “predictability.”

There isn’t any in improv.

Improv actors definitely have their work cut out for them, as opposed to having a script, a director, and repetition via rehearsal, which “all grant comfort to a play’s actors,” Gamache said. She probably summed it up best: “Improv actors are tasked with a similar expectation of delivering an entertaining product with nothing but their skills.”

To me, they are the cleverest and most gifted of performers.

• Regina Belt-Daniels is in awe of all things improv. In theater, since a first-grade casting as a rather bossy Mother Goose launched her into the limelight, she has enjoyed trodding the boards at the Woodstock Opera House, Elgin’s Independent Players, the Raue Center, and MCC’s Black Box. She still can be found being rather bossy as a director, and loves to write theater reviews, teach, and travel with her husband.


WHAT: Any Suggestions improv troupe

WHERE: Hidden Pearl Coffee, 1250 N. Green St., McHenry

WHEN: 8 p.m. Jan. 15 and each third Saturday

COST: $12 online, $15 at door

INFORMATION: 815-814-3096, www.tickettailor.com/events/hiddenpearlcoffee/578008, hiddenpearlcoffee.com, suggestions.improv@gmail.com