Laughing Stock: From the Top Summits Unscrewed

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From the improv class that brought them together just a few years ago, the musical improv group From the Top has climbed to prime time at Unscrewed Theatre. This week, they begin performing as a house team in the theater’s top slot, 9:30 pm, the first Saturday of every month.

From the Top uses audience suggestions to create scenes that mimic Broadway shows; characters may burst into song at any moment. Players make up lyrics in real time to fit both the scene and a music track chosen by teammates according to the scene’s mood.

The lyrical improv ensemble earned a monthly show last year through a series of head-to-head events on Unscrewed’s Free Form Fridays. That show, the second Friday every month, features competing teams from throughout Tucson.

Of the group’s humble beginnings, organizer Cynthia “Cy” Barlow says, “When that (improv) class finished, we liked each other enough that we wanted to keep playing together. We were trying out different formats and then one day, we all were like, ‘I’ve always wanted to try musical improv.’ ‘Hey, me too!’ ‘Hey me too!’” And we kind of went ‘Oh! Well, that’s doable.’”

The consensus was perhaps inevitable given that all the group members have musical backgrounds. Barlow has three music degrees including a master’s in music theory. Still, the fledgling project was not without challenges.

“The challenges for musical improv are coming up with a way to accompany yourself,” Barlow says. Musicians weren’t eager to offer free accompaniment, but the team found a solution in Laura Hall’s Improv Karaoke, two CDs of backing tracks in a range of genres.

“For a while we used those, then I started making my own accompaniment tracks.” Barlow says. “Now the challenge is to keep that fresh. We don’t want to get too familiar with them.

“That’s been our biggest challenge,” Barlow says, but she adds, “The biggest challenge is really getting over the fear of singing in front of people!”

Unscrewed Theatre is at 3244 E Speedway Blvd. Tickets are $5 at the door or at unscrewedtheatre.org.

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