News Column

Halloween improv show takes a walk on the funny side

October 18, 2013


Oct. 18--When she dresses up for Halloween, Heidi Gremel insists on perfection, right down to the turquoise colored ball earrings that Cruella De Vil, one of her favorites, wears in the original Disney animated version of "101 Dalmatians."

As a cast member of "Frightfully Funny: Improv to Die For" at That's Showbiz in Stockton, Gremel won't have the benefit of accuracy, but she doesn't mind in the least.

"One of the things I love about it is it allows us to interpret the way a scene should go," Gremel said. "You're walking on stage with another actor and you have no idea what will come out of their mouth, and they have no idea what will come out of my mouth. That's the beauty of it. You just role with it. If you're a valley girl and they're a martian, you go with it."

Improv is a new form of theater for Gremel, 47, who's performed in church productions and was the Queen of Hearts in Changing Faces' production of "Alice in Wonderland" about four years go. Other forays into local theater have been blunted, mostly by her fear of auditions.

"I follow (That's Showbiz) on Facebook, and I've wanted to go in and take classes from them or audition, but I always found an excuse," said Gremel, a para educator at Manlio Silva Elementary School, where she works one-on-one with students. "I was always petrified to do it. This time when they mentioned for the audition you just have to do improv, I thought I could probably do that. If I suck at it, they can just say no. I went and just did my best. I was shocked when I got an email saying I was in the show."

The married mother of two got to avoid the traditional cold reading, which is a nightmare for her, and she was cast with Sean Bocardo, Taylor Carnes, Shawn Carrington, Elizabeth Costello, Robert Lucchesi, Kimberly Robertson Schmidt, Matt Saculla, Susanne St. Clair and Spencer Shealor.

Kevin Costello directs the show, the first Halloween-themed show but one of several improv shows done in the cabaret theater he and wife Elizabeth opened in conjunction with a shop and drama classes in summer 2012.

"A little bit is scripted comedy, but 95 percent is improvised," Costello said. "We'll take suggestions from the audience and play with it."

Costello will keep the Halloween theme by asking the audience to suggest such things as something people do at Halloween, or a Halloween activity.

"We're doing one bit where we'll take a bad old movie, a scary monster movie, turn the sound off and have the actors fill in the dialogue," Costello said.

The other new addition is two 10 p.m. Saturday shows for mature audiences. All of the others will be family-friendly, G-rated.

"Our audience is definitely growing," Costello said. "People are hungry to be entertained. They like to laugh."

Rehearsing the show -- to the extent that actors can rehearse and become comfortable on a stage with one another -- has provided plenty of laughs for Gremel.

"It has been a lot of fun," Gremel said.

She's learning a new performance skill, not only from the Costellos, for whom she has high praise, but from her fellow cast members.

"This group I'm working with, sharing the stage with, they are phenomenal," Gremel said. "I sit there when they're on stage and my jaw is to the floor. They're so good. I'm learning a new craft of improv from them as well as stepping out of my comfort zone."

The experience may prompt Gremel to take some acting lessons and even try out for an upcoming show at Stockton Civic Theatre.

"I would love to get my teeth around a nice, meaty dramatic role someday," Gremel said. "I have always been cast in the silly, goofy roles. I enjoy being the sidekick, the goofball. I'm the comedic one who makes people laugh."

Which means she's one of the gang, because all her cast mates are expected to be frightfully funny.

Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or


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