The Dinner Theatre Rejects

By John Stran

Picture looking down on a crowd, hoping for a positive response. Nothing is on the stage except you and any comical thoughts traveling through your mind.

The nervousness of public performance is suppressed by the goal of enhancing onstage abilities. This is looking through the eyes of valley improvisational actors.

These actors perform in a group called The Dinner Theatre Rejects. The sketch and improv group has been performing in the area for about one year.

Joanna Andrei, a manager and actress, has been with the group for its entirety and said she notices something unique about it.

“The other sketch comedy projects seemed to fade, but I’m really excited by this one because it doesn’t seem to be fading,” Andrei said.

The group consists of about 12 members, but Andrei said some are strictly writers. She said not all of the members can generally make it to a performance, so there are normally six actors per show.

The group specializes in a variation of rehearsed acts and off-the-cuff scenarios set up by the audience. The jokes, Andrei said, can be considered low-brow or jokes that land on impact. The goal, as they continue, is to incorporate high-brow, drier and wittier content.

The lack of instruments or props on stage may give some immediate stage fright, but as a musician hides behind their instrument on stage, Andrei said actors have their own form of this.

“We’re masking ourselves behind a character, and if we can convince our audience that we are that character, then we’re proving our strength as actors,” Andrei said.

John Morris is another performer in the Theatre Rejects. His performing background comes from musical theater, an art that has some commonality with his current gig.

“They’re both over the top and both can involve type casting,” Morris said. “I always tend to be the funny fat guy.”

Morris has also been with the group from the start, but some performers at Cedars on this Sunday were fairly new to the quick draw style of improv.

Roz Blystone was a first timer Sunday night. She said her only experience with improv was within the comfort of a classroom.

“I have experience in drama, but I wanted to explore what I can do as an actress,” Blystone said. “It’s also a great way to get out of your own head.”

Morris contributes to the group both on stage and off by writing sketches. One of his written works was performed during a recent show at Cedars West End.

The sketch consisted of presidential quotes. With binders in hand, one performer would say the topic the following quotes would pertain to, and the other three performers would pass the mic, saying the quotes.

Morris personally doesn’t have a threshold for joke sensitivity, but realizes the audiences he performs for might.

“We have a show coming up in Sharon and it’s generally more conservative there, so the show may be performed at a PG-13 level,” Morris said.

Andrei said the group’s political views are slightly left, but their goal is not to push an agenda upon anyone. With that said, the jokes may not always lie in the middle ground politically.

“I’m afraid of offending people, but then again I’m not,” Andrei said.

The Rejects performed in front of roughly 30 people at Cedars. Sitting in the front row was Ray Beiersdorfer, a geology professor at Youngstown State University.

Beirsdorfer said he believes there is a space for improv in Youngstown and the strong community of the area can help it expand.

The crowd’s enjoyment of the show mirrored Beirsdorfer’s words, proving there is at least a niche for it in the area.

Andrei said the key to drawing a local audience is attending other local acts.

“We all have to help each other,” Andrei said. “If someone comes to our show and they’re a local performer, then we’ll attend their show and they can come back and bring more people.”

Looking beyond Youngstown, Morris said he would love to see the group take its act to larger cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Morris believes if the jokes remain topical, they will land with any audience no matter where they perform.

Wherever the Dinner Theatre Rejects are performing, their collective thoughts will be heard and performed.

“The group gives us a voice and we’re going to utilize it,” Andrei said.