Home » There’s a Comedy Game Show in Ocean Grove You Need to See

There’s a Comedy Game Show in Ocean Grove You Need to See

by Sarah Griesbach
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Weekend entertainment does not get sweeter than the Saturday Comedy Sportz shows that Shore Thing Theater produces. This nonprofit’s productions bring local talents to the stage for a very friendly and very funny improv competition no one could resist loving. Read on to learn what audiences are in for and how to take classes with Shore Thing at the Jersey Shore Arts Center, located at 66 South Main Street in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

shore thing theater

That’s Entertainment

Think comedy and the next thought isn’t usually “family friendly.” Shore Thing Theater’s weekly Comedy Sportz performances are totally fun and suitable for kids, grandparents, and coworkers. It’s also a hilariously good time. Nighttime activities that will appeal to everyone aren’t all that easy to find and scoring affordable fun is like finding Goldilock’s “just right” porridge. Shore Thing’s Saturday sets of silly games and witty banter — ticketed at “pay-what-you-can” with a suggested $15 for adults — make the shows popular and lively.

shore thing theater

The format for each Saturday night performance is to face two improv teams against one another — team names like the Ocean Grooves and the Asbury Snarks set the tone. An improv “referee” announces the rules and gives out groaner fouls that place players in the “punalty” box as they perform six acts structured as the kinds of fast-paced games that likely inspires party parlor play for audience members. It’s a two-hour show, from 7:30PM until 9:30PM with an intermission in the middle. Audience members are pulled in from time to time in pain-free ways because the comedy troupe does all the work.

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Why This? Why Here?

Comedy Sportz is not unique to Ocean Grove. There are 30 venues using the game show improv structure around the world. Shore Thing Theater founder and director Ria Torricelli has a long history of working and performing with improv theaters that use the format, first in Portland, Oregon, and later in NYC. She’s currently the elected president of the council for Comedy Sportz worldwide.

shore thing theater

Ria’s decision to bring the popular improv shows to the Shore came along with the realization that New Jersey sorely lacked theater schools dedicated solely to the art of improv. There are places to catch standup comedy. And there are theater programs that include a side of improv. But until Ria had her revelation that this endeavor would be a Shore Thing, there wasn’t a place in NJ where kids and adults could take multiple levels of classes to build the skills that make improv so much fun to watch. The classrooms and theater space her nonprofit company rents within the Jersey Shore Arts Center at 66 South Main Street have room for all of it.

The hunch that made Ria go full tackle on her improv theater dream was clearly correct. The classes and workshops provided at Shore Thing are regularly full with the listing of class options quickly expanding back to what was in place pre-COVID. The desire to play “yes and” on a stage seems to be pretty far-reaching and the reasons for this are obvious to Ria.

Shore Thing Classroom Shenanigans

Just like at the Saturday Sportz shows, no one will ever be turned away because they cannot afford to pay a Shore Thing class tuition. That policy is a result of Ria’s heartfelt belief that improv skills are not just fun and shouldn’t be an unattainable luxury. She’s convinced — and she’s not alone — that the arts are a mental health essential. Improv, specifically, provides gifts way beyond the belly laughs. The art form teaches skills great for learning new ways to communicate and understand others. The kind of empathetic intuition required to create an improv scene with a partner is possible for anyone to learn. Practicing that skill of building a scene through fast-paced,  back-and-forth reactions helps improv students get out of their heads for a while and interact with people who become playmates as they make something entirely new (and often very goofy) together. Ria is quick to note that what makes it so fun is that the other players have your back when you’re nervous. Even in the Sportz competitions, everyone is a winner and no one is left out or made to feel less than perfect. 

shore thing theater

In her dream reality, Rai says elementary schools would include improv classes alongside PE and art. She sees the connections between the listening and active collaboration skills that come with improv performance and success in school, at work, and in relationships. She’s pretty sure that class gift certificates are just as perfect for a single mechanical engineer as for a full-time parent or a stressed-out CEO. Currently, Shore Thing provides adult (18+) introduction and intermediate improv classes; youth (ages 7-12) improv classes; teen (ages 13-17) improv classes, and business and community improv workshops.

Kids and adults are often nervous when they attend their first improv class. But Ria finds that it doesn’t take long for people of every age and demographic to remember that they do, in fact, know how to play pretend. “It’s no different from when you used to make stock soup at the playground. You just make it up as you go along and there’s really no such thing as failing. We are born with these skills, but we forget that it is OK to let our imaginations run,” Ria said.
With that as her guiding principle, Ria has set — as the next goal for Shore Thing — her attention on developing more of an expansive reach throughout Monmouth and Ocean Counties. She sees more community outreach programs with workshops in schools and community centers as a natural next step for her ever-growing class program.

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Yes-And-ing Out of the Classroom + Onto the Stage

There are currently 35 members of the Comedy Sports Teams troupe. Typically, each player plays two times a month. The troupe has a repertoire of 75 games and there are never repeats within a given month. The differing levels of energy and experience players come with bring nuance to all of the game performances. It is Ria’s belief that in such a collaborative art form, the biggest talents will carry the new players, helping everyone find joy in the process. Auditions are open to anyone and even relative newbies to the art are quickly stage-ready. Ria sells her programs well. She touts the audience’s collective high, the player’s rush of endorphins, and everyone’s natural serotonin boost all acquired just by being part of the fun. That total belief in her art form has motivated her to bring improv access to more people and convinced this Jersey Shore Girl to attend a drop-in workshop soon.

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