You can’t really throw a rock these days without hitting a podcast, an indie film or a half-hour existential dramedy about standup and improv comedy. Not that this is a problem; it’s a great time to be a comedy fan. According to Frank Fusaro, artistic director of Newport’s The Bit Players, it’s a great time to be a performer as well. With all of this attention on the comedy world, audiences have a better idea than ever about what they’re getting themselves into.
“It’s good for improv: I think there’s more of an understanding and appreciating of what we do,” says Frank, who has been with The Bit Players for eight years. Audiences, he says, aren’t “coming in blindly. They get it.”
With that awareness, Frank says, comes “a higher expectation,” which means that those on stage need to up their game. The Bit Players seem up to it – the group regularly sells out their shows at the Firehouse Theater (bonus: the shows are BYOB), which feature five comics and two or three musicians from The Bit Players’ lineup of performers. A Bit Players show features a lot of short improv games – think Whose Line Is It Anyway? – and audience interaction plays a key role in the performance. “We have a pretty small space, so it’s always been a very intimate show,” says Frank.
Earlier this year, The Bit Players performed at Contemporary Theater Company’s inaugural Ocean State Improv Festival, and later this month they’ll be taking part in the 14th annual Providence Improv Fest. “I’ve seen the improv scene in RI grow considerably,” Frank says. “The community is thriving. It’s great that people come out to see what we can do.”