School's Out

Do you like your improv deep dish or thin crust? The Ditch Kids bring their own flavor to Spokane

The Ditch Kids (from lefT) Matt Dargen, Matt Slater, Cesa Summer and Mara Baldwin. - KRISTEN BLACK PHOTOS
Kristen Black Photos
The Ditch Kids (from lefT) Matt Dargen, Matt Slater, Cesa Summer and Mara Baldwin.

Improv, as it happens, has a lot in common with pizza. There's New York style (Upright Citizens Brigade). Chicago style (Second City). L.A. style (The Groundlings). And then there are all the tiny, joint-specific variations in how it's prepared and dished up to audiences.

Matt Dargen, Mara Baldwin, Matt Slater and Cesa Summer, who collectively go by the name The Ditch Kids, are bringing their own flavor of improv to Spokane. It's a not-so-secret recipe based on close friendships, a shared love of the exciting "chaos" of improv, and what Dargen describes as an uncommon level of personal trust.

"For the four of us, we have this opportunity to do whatever we feel like doing," he says. "We have the freedom to pursue what we think is funny and build a dynamic that is our own, and build a level of trust that maybe you can't get in a different environment. If you have that trust with people onstage, you don't need to think as much. I guess the metaphor is, like, building the airplane as it's flying."

Although their troupe is relatively new to the improv scene, the performers themselves are not. Slater has a history with Second City. Summer spent time with UCB in New York. Baldwin did improv in Bellingham. Dargen works in stand-up and cut his teeth at ComedySportz in Los Angeles. The four of them met locally through the Blue Door Theatre and discovered a connection that found its natural expression as a stand-alone group.

"We were all pretty equally jazzed about improv as a passion, and not as a thing we just like to do. Improv is a part of all of our lives, and it's a part of all of our perspectives. That's just the kind of bond we have. It comes from a very raw place," says Dargen.

They've been performing as The Ditch Kids at Jones Radiator on "flexible" Tuesday evenings for the past few months, experimenting with different formats that usually (but won't always) involve an intro of stand-up comedy.

"We're still hammering out how the show as a whole flows," says Dargen. Some of that comes down to the performance space, which mixes the theater experience with a bar atmosphere.

"Usually there's a good amount of people who are there for the show, but sometimes we'll have have people who are just hanging around after the musical open mic," he says. "So maybe we aren't going to focus so much on our dialogue because you might not hear all of it. Maybe we have to put more thought into our actions or big, emotional responses."

The casual nature of the shows feeds into The Ditch Kids' philosophy on the seat-of-your-pants spontaneity at the heart of improv. Or perhaps "philosophy" is too strong a word. Their gimmick is that they have no gimmick; they tend to forgo the thematic backbones and games that define the different schools of thought on improv.

"You shouldn't be able to reasonably expect anything at one of our shows. Anything should be able to happen, theoretically, and that's what we're trying to get at," says Dargen. "The fun of watching us is that we are truly at the exact same place that you're at. We've only seen what you've seen. We only know what you know. We're all discovering it together." ♦

The Ditch Kids • Tue, June 30, at 9:30 pm • Jones Radiator • 120 E. Sprague • • 747-6005

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About The Author

E.J. Iannelli

E.J. Iannelli is a Spokane-based freelance writer, translator, and editor whose byline occasionally appears here in The Inlander. One of his many shortcomings is his inability to think up pithy, off-the-cuff self-descriptions.