ImprovAcadia dispenses comic relief to locals, visitors

The chemistry is plain between ImprovAcadia cast members (from left) Christine Wines, Amber Linde, Jennifer Shepard and Cynthia Kmak who have all worked together before in Bar Harbor and Second City in Chicago. PHOTO COURTESY IMPROVACADIA

Returning customers to ImprovAcadia — and there are plenty — know two things are certain: There will be plenty of laughs and no two shows alike.

Founded in 2004 by Jennifer Shepard and Larrance Fingerhut, a visit to the Bar Harbor comedy mecca is high on the must-do lists of tourists and locals.

Opening early in the season, running from May 26 through October, the comedy club offers shows at 8 p.m. every day but Monday in June, September and October. During July and August, shows are seven days a week at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Shepard and Fingerhut are veterans of the Chicago improvisational comedy scene and have been involved with The Second City, which bills itself as the world’s premier comedy club. Along with live performances, The Second City offers workshops and classes in improvisational and sketch comedy. Among its alumni are a host of former “Saturday Night Live” cast members including John Belushi, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Gilda Radner and Tina Fey. Other comedic talents who have trod the boards there are Stephen Colbert, Joan Rivers, Amy Sedaris and Martin Short.

Opening ImprovAcadia was something the couple had always wanted to do.

“We created this theater as our dream job,” Shepard said.

As Fingerhut put it, “We just like entertaining people.”

ImprovAcadia has a “cabaret setting” with the audience seated at tables, Shepard noted. There is a full bar; snacks and desserts are available.

Several improvisational comedy sketches are performed during each show. The audience provides the basic scenarios.

“We take different ideas from the audience,” Shepard explained. “We use those ideas for the inspiration for the night.”

The cast rotates throughout the season. Many are returning cast members and include a number of Second City veterans. Shepard is always a presence on stage. Fingerhut, a pianist, provides musical accompaniment, improvising passages to accompany the stage action.

Originally from Bangor, actor Andy Bolduc (from left), New York actor Stuart Ranson and Bar Harbor’s own funny Jennifer Shepard hold forth on stage at ImproAcadia. The three have all performed and share ties with Chicago’s famed improvisational troupe, Second City.

There are some stock scenarios that have proven popular with audiences, Shepard said. One of them is the “first love scenario.” The actors get a couple from the audience to give details of their romantic history together and use this information to re-enact their love story.

“We try to make them the hero of their own romance novel,” Shepard said.

While the bit generates laughs, as with all ImprovAcadia skits, customers are never ridiculed.

Needless to say some audiences are more outgoing than others. When ideas for a skit are slow in coming, Shepard turns cheerleader.

“After doing this for so long I’ve learned to be patient when that happens,” she said. “I do a lot of encouraging.”

On five occasions during the season, the ImprovAcadia crew moves to the nearby Reel Pizza Cinerama for a special performance they call Improvision. Cinema owner and projectionist Chris Vincenty chooses a “bad B movie” to show without sound. The cast, which has no idea what the film is until it begins, improvises dialogue for the film. The shows are at 11 p.m. and scheduled for June 2, July 16, Aug. 13, Sept. 15 and Oct. 13.

All 8 p.m. shows are child-friendly. The 10 p.m. shows are tailored more toward adult audiences and some material might not be suitable for children, Shepard said.

ImprovAcadia has been named the 2017 recipient of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s Acadia Arts Achievement Award. The comedy club is located on the second floor at 15 Cottage St. in Bar Harbor. The theater seats 50. Reservations are suggested and can be made by phoning the theater at 288-2503 or by email at [email protected].