SKANEATELES — Improv comedy is "pretty much life," Christopher Malone said, echoing the Shakespearean quote "All the world's a stage."
"The entire world is essentially a stage — you're interacting, you're listening, you're communicating with everybody else," Malone said. "That's all that improv is, condensed to a stage and three or four chairs."
For Malone and the Syracuse Improv Collective comedy group to which he belongs, the lawn outside the Marcellus Free Library will be the stage for a show Friday.
The show will be a family-friendly comedy performance, Malone said, as the group knows how to play to its audience and when to censor itself.
"We try to be as realistic as possible," he said. "It's going to be for everybody of all ages. It's going to be very interactive. ... It'll be a really neat show."
He noted the group doesn't use microphones because that would distract from the means of creating imaginary scenes that improv involves, so the audience will likely have to circle up around the performers to hear them better.
In fact, Malone said, the only prop the group uses are chairs for the performers on stage.
"If we need a prop, somebody will be that prop or we'll just pull it out of thin air," he said, noting the performers use their words and actions to depict a restaurant, a bathroom or a garage, for example. "We try to set scenes so people have an idea of what's around."
Malone, a former staff writer for The Journal, said Syracuse Improv Collective was founded in 2011 by "a group of guys who wanted to pursue their own type of improv." He joined the group in 2013 after taking one of its introductory classes that January.
In a class of six, he said, it was a group of strangers learning to become comfortable performing scenes with one another with "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"-type scenarios.
"I figured, 'What the heck? Why not try and kind of branch out my artistic expression?'" Malone said. "I didn't have a performance background, so I figured, 'Let's try this and see where it takes me.'"
Malone said the group performs both short-form improv — similar to the comedy on the "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" television program — that takes a word or a topic and turns it into a scene and long-form improv, which is more free form and takes words without using them literally.
"Improv is pretty much making things up off the top of your head and listening to everybody you're sharing the stage with to create this fluid scene," he said.
In the group's shows, Malone said, performers ask for a word or location from the audience, or they interview audience members about their day and then create a scene based on the information.
Other parts of the shows include monologues by single performers or conversations between performers, as well as music, stand-up comedy and even artists who improvise artwork based on the scenes.
Malone said Syracuse Improv Collective started out performing at the Central New York Playhouse at Shoppingtown Mall in Syracuse and now performs primarily at The Vault, an art and entertainment gallery in Syracuse.
He said the group also performs what it calls shot clock shows in Armory Square, playing off Syracuse's distinction as the birthplace of the shot clock near the site where the Syracuse Nationals NBA team once played.
Echoing the 24-second shot clock, the group performs an hour's worth of 24-second scenes. When the clock hits zero, there comes a new scene with a new idea.
"Someone gives us an idea from the audience, and we just start," Malone said. "It's just natural, organic improv. Whatever scene plays out, we kind of take ideas from that scene and build from there. ... It's a nice cycle."
Along with its performances, Syracuse Improv Collective offers a series of six-week classes year-round — the introductory class for beginners, a scene work class and a class in the Harold structure. Those who take classes then have the option to perform with the group.
"It's really cool to see people kind of shake off that nervousness and just go to town with it," Malone said. "Improv is about rubbing your face in it. ... You try new things, and you work with others."
Improv, he emphasized, "goes back to life" — reinforcing self-confidence and public speaking as performers talk to and interact with others as they do in real life.
"Improv gets people out and about and actually interacting," Malone said.