During a “superhero eulogy” improv game at a meeting of Moab’s Wannabe Players on July 25, four improv players told the story of the late superhero Cockroach Girl, invented mere moments before the skit began. 

Rebecca Johnson was a wonderful woman, said improv player Shane Bartosh, acting as Cockroach Girl’s husband—but he, ridiculously, never realized she was a cockroach, despite the fact that she would go running when he flipped the lights on, and never allowed him to bring Raid into the house.

Shane, Han, and Doni during a game of freeze-tag. [Alison Harford/Moab Sun News]

Sam Newman, acting as an exterminator, said Cockroach Girl gave his life meaning: he pursued her for many years. Robb Walker, acting as Rat Boy, revealed that despite their being quasi-nemeses, and despite his being part-rat—gasp!—he was in love with her. Bartosh, the husband, broke into racking sobs.

And then, the big reveal: the point of the game was first, and always, to practice improv; and second, to give hints at how the superhero dies for the ending line. Han, the last improv player to deliver a speech, revealed that Cockroach Girl was stomped on when she couldn’t resist nibbling on a piece of off-limits gouda in the kitchen of a fancy restaurant. 

“What do we all do without Cockroach Girl?” Han said. “May we all continue our lives watching out for gouda, and avoiding getting stepped on by the most giant shoes.” 

The Wannabe Players improv group has met at 7 p.m. every Monday at Rotary Park since June. They’re an open group: anyone is welcome to play and practice. After each game, the players give each other feedback and tips. 

The group was formed by Pippa Thomas and Doni Kiffmeyer, who have been part of Moab’s theater scene for years—Thomas first met Kiffmeyer because she took one of his theater classes. As community theater events dwindled in Moab, the two knew they wanted to bring it back. What finally tipped the scale was their post-pandemic boredom: their need for something fun and creative, they said. 

Robb Walker and Sam Newman during a game of “Actor’s Nightmare.” [Alison Harford/Moab Sun News]

“What we’re doing right now is just teaching,” Kiffmeyer said. “We’re giving people ideas: how it works, what works, and what the basic rules of improv are.” 

Each meeting starts with a warm-up such as “alien dance,” a pass-along dance move game. The night proceeds with a slew of games: actor’s nightmare, in which one person reads from a script and the other has to improv off of them; before and after, in which two players are given a scene and the audience decides if they want to see before or after the scene; and freeze-tag, where any player can jump into a scene and make it their own. 

The general rules of improv that become clear to new members, and are honed by practiced ones, are to commit to a character, build an environment, and avoid asking your fellow improv players questions during a skit: do something to continue the plot, or make the scene, instead. As players run through games, the players in the audience will shout encouragement and tips to each other: “stay in character” and “don’t steal the spotlight.” 

Han and Doni Kiffmeyer during a game of “Before and After.” [Alison Harford/Moab Sun News]

Thomas said the thing she enjoys most about improv is how much she laughs. 

“It challenges your brain for sure—the creativity, and the speed,” she said. “But it’s a challenge in a fun way, and you can’t get hung up on what you did. You just roll with it.” 

Kiffmeyer echoed the statement: he enjoys that in improv, there are no wrong lines. Once The Wannabe Players group has more consistent members and more practice time, they’ll think about putting on some performances, Kiffmeyer said. 

To end the night, the group created an emotional symphony, with Bartosh acting as the conductor. He assigned each person an emotion—sad, angry, happy—and when he pointed at them, they had to express that emotion: one after another, the jubilant laughs and loud sobs created music. 

“Anything can happen,” Thomas said. “It’s just fun to have people—it’s fun to come meet people, and it’s great to get together.” 

The Wannabe Players meet every Monday at the Rotary Park Amphitheater (680 S Mill Creek Dr.) at 7 p.m.