Armadillo Rodeo Returns With More Laughs for its 11th Season


The Armadillo Rodeo cast jumps for joy at their new season, which begins with their first show on October 27. They will be performing at the Public Theatre downtown on 616 Center St. (Photo courtesy of Ollie Burrow)

Annie Knight, Executive Editor

The rodeo is back in town! Armadillo Rodeo, Arkansas’s only professional teen improv troupe, returns for its 11th season on October 27. The troupe has a total of 11 members from schools all around Little Rock including Parkview, EStem, and Central.

“You can expect lots of energy, lots of fun, and lots of jokes. Expect a good time,” senior Ollie Burrow, an actor in the troupe, said. “It’s a great date. Go on a date, it’ll be cute.”

Though the group has been around for a decade, every year is like having a brand new cast because, as high schoolers, people do graduate. Last year’s cast was was mostly seniors, but this year things will be different.

“We have a lot of newbies, a lot of young kiddos, so it’s kind of a different vibe this year,” senior and director of lights and sound Olivia Boardman said. “Before we had a lot of experienced rodeo members. It was an older cast generally, but now we have some young people.”

However, just because the cast is young doesn’t mean that the shows will be any less exciting and enjoyable.

“It’ll be interesting to see them develop their improv over the years,” senior Samantha Huckabay, the group’s pianist, said. “There are a lot more girls on it this year too. They’ve had more guys on it for the past couple years, but we’ve managed to equal it out. I think it’ll be different in a good way.”

Every improv show is different. Any scene can take a different direction based on where the actors decide to take it in a split second. This season, Rodeo has decided to open with a spooky theme that might turn out to be more scary than funny.

“Our first show is going to be a murder mystery. Three people are going to die mysteriously, and you have to figure out how they die-who’s the murderer. It’s going to be really cool,” Samantha said. “And we’re going to have a couple shows in November and December that are holiday-themed.”

Before they actually take the stage, the group has to put in three hours of practice every Sunday.

“We do some warmups at the beginning, so there’s some games like Zip Zap Zop. Basically, you point at a person and say zip, and then they point at another person and say zap, and you’re going really fast,” Samantha said. “You have to be able to respond really quickly to things and actually get your mind going.”

Besides fun improv games to help prepare the troupe to think on their feet, they also practice different structures of improv for their shows.

“Since improv is on the spot, the rehearsing is not memorizing lines, it’s practicing the format,” Ollie said. “So basically we learn the rules of improv and what you should and should not do to make a scene successful.”

Besides the actors in the troupe, there are also two behind the scenes girls who both attend Central. Samantha and Olivia both work in the sound department. Samantha can also be found on the stage playing the piano in most scenes, and on the occasion acting improv herself. This is her first year in the cast.

“I underscore the team, so basically I’ll play whenever I feel like it. I can control the scene based on what I play,” Samantha said. “I can make it really happy music, and they have to go with it or be sad.”

Olivia, a two year veteran of Rodeo, on the other hand controls the sound board and lights from back of the theater.

“I kind of see it as I tie everything together and put a little bow on it,” Olivia said. “They’re doing the gestures and the voices and the characters, but we’re the ones who have to set the mood and the tone and put themes in things and stuff like that.”

After all their shows at the end of the year, the group rewards themselves with a trip to Chicago. This trip holds some of Ollie’s favorite memories of being part of the cast last year.

“The money that we make from the shows goes back into the troop, so all the money we take we use to go to Chicago at the end of the year, and we go and learn more about improv, because Chicago is the improv capital of the world,” Ollie said. “We take the information we learn, and we come back and use it for future shows.”

Among the senior cast members from Central, sophomore Rhett Booher is the youngest and most recent to join the troop.

“My favorite part is the relationship I have with the other members,” Rhett said. “We’re all friends; and we’re all very close, which helps with the improv to have that relationship.”

You can see Armadillo Rodeo at the Public Theatre on 616 Center St in their first show on October 27 and 28 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8. They have shows monthly until May on a Friday and Saturday night each month. You can follow their instagram @armadillorodeo for updates.

“Improv is super challenging. It may seem easy just going up there and spitting out what comes in your head, but it’s a lot more than that,” Ollie said. “It’s a lot of listening and reacting, and it’s really hard and it’s a good challenge.”