FREMONT -- Actors at the Made Up Theatre say their improvised sketches have less in common with comedians than they do with construction workers.
That's because the actors don't tell jokes; rather, they build a story, piece-by-piece, by bouncing ideas off each other in front of an audience, said Ben Stephens, a founding member of the Fremont troupe.
"Improv is all about listening to your scene partner, accepting their idea and then adding on to it," said Stephens, 30. "You never know what's going to happen next."
That unpredictability is part of improv's allure, said Bobby August, one of the theater's players.
"It's a high-wire act," August said. "It's one of the most challenging things. It's a humbling and risky art form."
The four Fremont actors who founded the small theater -- August, Stephens, Sean Taylor and Dustin Seidler -- have devoted their professional lives to improv. (They've since added a fifth member: Karin Plow.) Each was bitten by the performing bug at different moments in their lives, and they forged a bond while performing with a group called ComedySportz San Jose.
Most of them were living together in Fremont three years ago when they made a decision more risky than anything they've tried onstage -- they started Made Up Theatre, a 45-seat performance space in the city's industrial Grimmer neighborhood.
"Fremont isn't a huge city like Chicago or New York City, but we just had an idea that people would be supportive and enjoy it," said August, 33. "We're bringing a big-city-type theater to a smaller city."
The actors have traveled to Chicago to study with Second City, the legendary sketch comedy and improvisation group that has produced stars such as John Belushi, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert.
When the Made Up Theatre performers are not honing their comedic chops, the troupe is back in Fremont, where they teach improv classes to aspiring actors and hold team-building exercises for companies. But the weekly shows are their bread and butter. On the first and third Saturdays of each month, they perform short-form improv, in which the actors take suggestions from the audience and then act them out. "It's kind of like the show, 'Who's Line is It Anyway,'" Stephens said. "It tends to be more playful."
On the second and fourth Saturday of each month, the actors offer long-form improv, where they perform a 30-minute story made up completely on the spot.
The troupe's annual special New Year's Eve show, at 8 p.m. Monday, will be a hybrid of those two styles, Stephens said.
The performers said they are "super proud" of the theater's longevity. Their first show was held January 2010. Their 100th performance is scheduled Jan. 5. "The love of the art form is what keeps us going," August said. "We'd do it for free if we had to. We all just love to perform."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
WHAT: New Year's Eve Improv Comedy Show
WHERE: Made Up Theatre, 3392 Seldon Court, Fremont
WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday
INFO: 510-573-3633 or www.madeuptheatre.com