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Spark Spotlight: Defiant Monkey Improv, DEC Program of the Year

The Spark Awards celebrate and recognize outstanding individuals and organizations from across the Western New York arts community for their dedication, talent, and impact on the arts and cultural sector. This year’s presentation will be streamed for free on our YouTube page on Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 7:00 pm.

Click here to learn more about the Spark Awards.

Defiant Monkey Improv is a two-person improvisational group that creates on-the-spot theatre based on audience suggestions and participation. Performers Karen L. Eichler and Andrew M. Spragge are experienced improvisers, actors, professional development specialists, and teaching artists who love to have as much fun as possible. They are the authors of the books The 5 Elements of Improv: How to Take Your Improv to the Next Level and The One Minute Improviser.

Karen began performing improvisation in 1997, graduated from The Second City Toronto and has performed on stages across the country. She has also performed with a script in shows such as Annie the Musical, and as Madame Thenardier in Les Miserables and has been a children’s show performer and storyteller since 2000. Karen has a Master’s Degree in Education and has been a university professor since 1997, most recently teaching Public Speaking and College Writing.

Andrew began improvising in 2005 and has been acting and directing since 1982. He has been seen in various productions over the years including as Daddy Warbucks in Annie, and Monsieur Thenardier in Les Miserables. An accomplished actor, director, children’s show performer and corporate trainer, Andrew is also a graphic designer and worked as a middle school science and math teacher as well as a Mission Commander at the Challenger Learning Center in Lockport, NY.

Their 2020 DEC-funded program Royalty Free Radio Hour presents, In the Dark. Tonight’s episode: “The Brain of Dr. Delgado” began as a live action radio play for seniors. However, due to COVID safety restrictions, they instead partnered with the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service, which provides blind and low-sight people of Western New York access to print news through dedicated volunteers who read and broadcast daily papers. While access to the broadcast has traditionally been limited to those who qualify for a special radio, the reading service is now available online to anyone. Their production was also made available through podcast players (Spotify, iTunes, and Stitcher), smartphone players (Seros and Zeno apps), and through Amazon and Google smart speakers.

Learn more about Defiant Monkey Improv!

Who and/or what inspired you to become performers?

Karen: I have always loved comedy, like The Marx Brothers, Danny Kaye, Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks, the original Saturday Night Live Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players, and the UK Whose Line is It, Anyway? I never had an opportunity to perform until just after grad school (my major was unrelated.) I saw a tiny ad for an improv group holding auditions in 1997, and I dragged my friend to them. I’ve been improvising ever since!

Andy: My theatre debut was in the third grade as Geppetto, I performed in college at the Canisius College Little Theatre while getting an unrelated degree, then fell into local community theatre. My comedy influences are Groucho Marx, W. C. Fields, and John Cleese. Overall, I more stumbled into acting and directing rather than pursued them on purpose. Now I do it on purpose!

What motivates you to keep working and creating?

We cannot stop because we have too many ideas. People ask us, “Are you like this all the time?” Yes: All. The. Time.

If you didn’t work in this industry, what would you be doing? What other career do you think you would have and why?

All of our passions are in creative careers. We would always be working in the arts, but just in a different art: writing, directing, music, puppeteering, makeup special effects, design, drawing, painting, dancing, and, yeah, even juggling, clowning, and magic!

What hobbies or likes do you have outside of the arts?

Karen: What’s “outside the arts”? We try to fix up our house. I pick up garbage to clean the neighborhood. Everything else is arts!

Andy: I collect vintage board games, magic equipment, and books. I have more than 500 vintage board games dating back to the late 1800s.

What is one thing people don’t know about you and/or your work?

Despite performing in thousands of shows, we are both diehard introverts.

Is there anyone you would like to thank or share appreciation for?

A huge thank you to Arts Services for helping us through our first grant application and making it so easy! We would like to thank our friend who recommended we talk to The Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service as well as the Radio Reading Service’s Executive Director Michael Benzin for giving us a chance! It was a wonderful experience and we were so happy to make our small contribution to their programming.

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