iScream Sandwich Will Make You Love Improv

iScream Sandwich at the Institution Theater
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iScream Sandwich at the Institution Theater
iScream Sandwich performs regularly at the Institution Theater.

Improv comedy can be a polarizing genre of entertainment. My door to good improv was opened by a friend of mine, Carissa McAtee, who invited me to see her improv group, iScream Sandwich.

They Won Me Over

That was almost a year ago and as leery as I was about improv comedy, iScream Sandwich and their show at the Institution Theater, Triple Scoop, won me over. In fact, iScream Sandwich made such an impression on me, that I put them on my must see list for Out of Bounds Comedy Fest this year.

Heidi Caldwell performs a scene during a backyard show.
Heidi Caldwell formed iScream Sandwich in 2011 (credit: Claudio Fox).

iScream Sandwich was founded in the fall of 2011 by Heidi Caldwell.  My knowledge of improv was limited to the two forms, long and short. According to founding member, Erica Lies, “there are about a bazillion types of long form improv.” She was cool and helped me focus in on what makes iScream Sandwich tick in the improv world. “If you’re describing iScream Sandwich,” she told me, “I’d say call us a Harold group. We do Harold format.”

Deep Roots in Improv

iScream Sandwich on stage.
iScream Sandwich performs the Harold format of improv.

Harold format is a variant of long form improv that originated from the Chicago style of improv. Chicago style simply refers to what the theaters in Chicago developed. Second City legend, Del Close is credited with helping found the Harold format. This format is practiced by the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and improv group across the world.

What does this mean?  Well, if you go to any of iScream Sandwich’s shows this month, you’ll see the seven member team perform three scenes, then a game, three more scenes, another game, and three final scenes. Del Close called this the 3 x 3 structure. It was to help performers gain a sense of organization. These are loose guidelines. iScream Sandwich tends to use the last three scenes to tie the previous scenes together.

No Two Shows Are The Same

iScream Sandwich does a backyard show.
Sometimes, iScream Sandwich improvises their own stage (credit: Claudio Fox).

iScream Sandwich follows the Harold format with dedicated fervor. Erica Lies compares it to the way a sitcom is formatted, “30 Rock starts as three different plots, but as the episode ends, they’re brought together.”

If you’re wondering what you get when you go to an iScream Sandwich show, it depends. It depends on the audience and their suggestions. That’s the fun part about improv. Every show is different and it’s a testament to the groups skill and talent when they take something as mundane as Sanka decaffeinated coffee and make a show of it. iScream Sandwich does this expertly.

Erica Lies poses for the camera.
Erica Lies is a founding member of iScream Sandwich (credit: Claudio Fox).

I had a blast watching members crisscross the stage, tagging each other in and out whenever one thinks of something cool to add to the scene.  Their rapid fire wit and timing had the audience clapping and laughing throughout the set. I was exhausted after watching them, and can only imagine the amount of Red Bull it takes for them to finish the night with any semblance of consciousness.

Catch Crash Every Party Now

iScream Sandwich is running their current show, Crash Every Party at the Institution Theater every Friday through the end of the month. Tickets are $12 general admission. The shows start at 8pm.  I recommend getting there early. The Institution Theater frequently fills to capacity.


Be sure to follow me on Twitter @ElDavidThomas

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