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What Happens When Storytelling Collides With Improv?


State of Wonder producer Aaron Scott testing his skill — and his dignity — at the Leviathan improv storytelling event.

State of Wonder producer Aaron Scott testing his skill — and his dignity — at the Leviathan improv storytelling event.

Arthur Hitchcock

Leviathan bills itself as the monster of all improv shows, and a canny beast it is. It works like this: a guest storyteller tells a series of stories based on suggestions from the audience, and then a group of hardy improvisers riff off those stories through a serious of hilarious sketches.

When Leviathan producer Shelley McLendon invited me to risk my dignity on stage, I demurred, intimidated by the idea of having to generate not one but multiple stories off the cuff. But as we talked further about her guest curating an episode of State of Wonder (full episode), it became hard to resist the opportunity, if only because spectacular failure can make for great radio. (Then again, it can also make for truly awful radio.)

Members of the Leviathan improv crew turn producer Aaron Scott's stories into madcap sketches. Monks who rap? Dinosaur mechanics? All in an evening's work.

Members of the Leviathan improv crew turn producer Aaron Scott's stories into madcap sketches. Monks who rap? Dinosaur mechanics? All in an evening's work.

Arthur Hitchcock

So this is my attempt at improvisational storytelling. My first suggestions — based off Shelley’s prompt “things you love but are afraid to admit” — were Burning Man, Taco Bell and making out. I told the story of my first make out session (during which I got a bloody nose), a story about how my religious studies degree prepared me (or didn’t) for my first trip to Burning Man (they insisted), and a story about an abandoned summer camp full of zombie deer. None are appropriate for broadcast.

For the second act, the suggestions — off the prompt “things you love but aren’t afraid to admit” — were brunch, “my spinning instructor,” unicorns and parrots. And that is what got me to the two stories in this segment: the less than noble secret of the monks I met in Sri Lanka, the kangaroo pen at an exotic animal menagerie, and B&B I stumbled across in Kansas.

Shelley and a number of the improvisers walk us through the anatomy of several of their scenes. Or should I say the autopsy?

The next Leviathan is Saturday, March 26, with guest storytellers B. Frayn Masters of Back Fence PDX and Lorin Hoskins, the voice of Sharky from Disney’s “Jake and the Neverland Pirates.”

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