The Fighting Gnomes

Thurs. @ 8:30, Stars at the American Theater

The closest most of us came to acting in high school was when we faked our IDs and tried to buy beer from the local convenience store. But these days there are plenty of after-school activities for young actors, including a top-notch improv class at Charleston County School of the Arts.

For several years now, the school has selected its wittiest kids to perform as The Fighting Gnomes. The name is a reference not so much to their height – though there is that – as it is to an old garden gnome that was found on campus when the group was founded. Their shows, performed in schools, at conferences, and pro-level gigs like Theatre 99’s Laugh for a Lincoln, are part Whose Line is it Anyway?, part scene-based comedy. “It’s semi-long form,” says Theatre Department head and Gnomes teacher George Younts. “They’ve done three or four pieces over 30 minutes, and there’s short form in there, too.”

While Younts takes great pains to point out that the Gnomes are the only high school group participating in the Comedy Fest, their productions are hardly kid’s stuff. Try-outs are tough, with 35 hopefuls auditioning for 10 to 15 places. There can be up to three rehearsals a week and the students are challenged to use their individual strengths – some are adept at singing while others rely on their physicality. At least newcomers are encouraged and aided by older, returning students, lending a cohesive energy to the group despite ages ranging from 14-18.

“Showing a wide variety of age ranges makes the art form more credible for the audience,” says Younts. “It’s not just a career jump-off.” The director reckons that about 30 Gnomes have graduated from SOTA so far. This could be a good chance to catch an improv artist in the making before they move on to create big belly laughs elsewhere. –Nick Smith