The Ponies members Mary Shaw and Brennan Holtzclaw mime moving a heavy industrial stove in an exercise intended to improve the group's awareness of space. The group practices together each week to prepare for any upcoming shows.

When Gregory Brown first tried improvisational comedy in 2017, he anxiously sat in the parking lot for 20 minutes before walking into an audition for a now-defunct comedy troupe in Columbia. Afterward, Brown realized there was nothing to fear and fell in love with performing. In February 2019, he and Adam Brietzke co-founded The Ponies, a 13-member, multi-generational improv troupe that’s part of Talking Horse Productions. The group began performing once a month (most months) in July. With improv, actors perform games and scenes for an audience without any true preparation.

Brietzke and Brown founded the troupe to grow the improvisational comedy presence at Talking Horse and to allow actors to experiment with new bits, develop their acting chops and entertain the community. The shows are modeled after the show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, so the troupe relies heavily on audience interaction to lead the actors into an improvised scene. “Doing improv allows actors to let their guard down to try new things,” Brietzke says. “Who knows what they might do? ” In Columbia’s scarce improv scene, Talking Horse corners the market with The Ponies and The Stable Boys, Talking Horse’s other improvisational group. “There’s a real hunger for this kind of entertainment in Columbia,” Brown says.

Ponies photo

The Ponies perform on most First Fridays from 6-9 p.m. at Talking Horse Theatre. 

The shows aren’t scripted, but in order to prepare for the scenarios that might occur onstage, the group holds practices (not rehearsals, Brown notes) to go over the order of the games and to test out possible scenarios. Each week, the troupe relies on its book of about 40 games, which Brietzke has dubbed “The Bible,” and thinks through possible story lines, characters and suggestions the audience might throw at them. For example, “World’s Worst” is one of the games played where an audience member yells something like “dentist” and the members of the troupe then assume the character the of world’s worst dentist. The actors use the audience’s suggestions to help inspire them.

Brown says that once all of the possibilities are laid out during practice, it’s easier for the actors to focus more on developing their characters and less on the nuts and bolts of the show. “It’s a blast,” Brietzke says. “You just get into a place where it doesn’t matter what happens next.” And that is why people keep coming back each month — to experience the unpredictability of improv comedy.

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