Urban Yeti Improv Group Enters Second Season

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN - Anchorage)
(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

How can you tell when a town has matured into a city? You could use sheer population numbers, but that’s boring. How about entertainment offerings? Anchorage can now boast two comedy Improv groups. Scared Scriptless has been around for several years, and newcomer Urban Yeti Improv is starting its second season.

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(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN - Anchorage)
(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

Anchorage can now boast two comedy improv groups. Scared Scriptless has been around for several years, and newcomer Urban Yeti Improv is starting its second season.

When you go to a rehearsal of improv group Urban Yeti, you find out really quickly that their name isn’t the only weird thing about them.

But just who is this group? And why are they called Urban Yeti? Those answers will have to wait until later.

First things first – I ask co-founder John Hanus, the most important question – can I meet the Yeti?

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN - Anchorage)
(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

“You could meet the yeti if you were in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie, John Hanus and the urban yeti are usually not in the same place at the same time.”

Ok, so it’s disappointing that I can’t get a yeti appointment and a little odd that Hanus talks about himself in the third person, but it’s clear, Hanus, who is a BP engineer by day, is really into his improv group. I ask him why.

“John Hanus’s answer is, I love the aspect of tinkering around with a small business in my spare time and I love the aspect of directing and trying to get the best out of people and shared on a common goal and going in the same direction,” he said. “So I love leaving work and saying, you know, let’s think about marketing and advertising for urban yeti today, let’s think about contracts and to be honest I know I’m a total nerd, let’s think about taxes! That’s cool! I’m getting to know about small business tax structure.”

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN - Anchorage)
(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

Hanus and his wife Mallory got into improv in college in Washington State, moved back to Anchorage, worked with Scared Scriptless and then decided to start their own improv group. Mallory says of all the performance art to choose from, improv is the most freeing and forgiving.

“Because I can make a fool of myself and just dust it off and move on to the next thing,” she said. “I’ve always been involved in theater type things and got involved in improv in college and it’s been the only thing that’s stuck because it’s so addicting.”

John Parsi is another member of the group. Parsi came to Alaska to work as a law clerk for the Supreme Court. He says he loves the playfulness of improv and the physical comedy.

“You’ll do something as easy as someone pantomime struggling to open a jar and the audience will connect with that and think it’s hilarious because everybody experiences that,” Parsi said. “To see a group of people be able to be playful with those things, I think is fun for an audience, and is an interplay between all of the players on stage, all of the actors on stage and the people in the audience.”

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN - Anchorage)
(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

“You have an opportunity to do that in improv because every single night, it’s a creation, organically produced by four or five people on a stage and 90 people in an audience and that’s an incredible feeling.”

But rehearsal is important as director John Hanus reminds his crew.

Hanus asks me for a word to get things started for Parsi. Clearly I’m not cut out for the spontaneity of improv. All I can come up with is…radio…

Erik Dahl, MaryJo Mrochinski and Aneliese Palmer round out the group. Palmer says trust and cohesion is paramount.

“And if you can create something together, that is what makes a wonderful show,” Palmer said. “If you’re on different pages, its just kind of, individuals walking around, saying crap….and if you are together, then it becomes a scene it becomes theater it becomes funny, it becomes fun.”

Urban Yeti picks themes for their performances. Last season it was Frigid Affair, this year? Debauchery! Urban Yeti performances are the first Saturday of the month at the Alaska Experience Theater.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori