This much is known about WIMP, the adult improvisational theatre troupe: they are funny, they like funny and they like being funny. Equally important and much less known is this: they are generous, they like generosity and it was through their own generosity that their troupe formed nearly 15 years ago.
“In 1994, a bunch of actors wanted to do a play called American Italian Reconciliation, but they had no money for the royalties, so they said, let’s do improv shows to raise money for the royalties,” said Donna Swift, a one-time performer with the troupe who now runs Troubled Shores, a long-running improvisational program for young people.
The group began performing weekly at the Wintertide Coffeehouse, which has since closed, and named themselves WIMP (Wintertide Improv). The troupe split the money they made from admission with the coffeeshop. “In the beginning days it was like, What do we do with the money? So, we put it in a bin. Then, when we had enough money, again it was, what do we do with the money? So we started giving away the money. We’d give it to Islanders in need or Island causes. When we’d get a certain amount of money, we’d give it away,” Ms. Swift said.
When the Wintertide closed, the troupe moved their stage to the West Tisbury Grange Hall and performed with less regularity. Five years ago, they disbanded: babies, new jobs, new interests all won out over improv. But on Tuesday evening, in keeping with their tradition of combining funny with generosity, WIMP will reunite to perform a benefit show for one of their own, founding member Elza Minor.
Mr. Minor, 36, suffered a stroke earlier this summer and, after a stay in Massachusetts General Hospital, is now living in a rehabilitation center in Boston. “This really is the reunion of all reunions,” said Alexandra London-Thompson, an old friend of Mr. Minor’s and longtime WIMP fan. An Island summer resident, Ms. London-Thompson returned to the Vineyard in June and once on Island, she and her husband began making the necessary round of phone calls to their friends here. Mr. Minor did not return her calls. So she made a second round. Nothing. “It wasn’t surprising,” Ms. London-Thompson said. “But after a week, it was like, okay, this is annoying.” So her husband went online and found a blog post written by a friend which shared the news of Mr. Minor’s stroke.
Mr. Minor grew up in Berkeley, Calif., but his roots have always been on Martha’s Vineyard. “The first summer I spent on Martha’s Vineyard was in 1971 and I was carrying Elza. He was born that December,” his mother, Delores, said from Boston this week. After the stroke, she relocated from her New Jersey home and has been renting hotel rooms to be near her son during his recovery.
If Mr. Minor’s one passion is Martha’s Vineyard, his second is the stage. He first stepped onto one when he joined the San Francisco’s Boys Chorus in the first grade. In high school, he took up acting and, as a college student at the University of Iowa, he studied drama. Mr. Minor moved to the Island year-round after attending the New Actors Workshop in New York city for two years and he immediately found a home in the acting community here. He worked as a counselor at the Children’s Theatre summer camp, performed on the Vineyard Playhouse stage and in WIMP, among other things. “It’s a small group of performing people,” Ms. London-Thompson said.
“Anybody that knows him on this Island just absolutely, absolutely adores him. He is such a vital member of this community,” she continued. “He’s so kind, so funny. He’s just one of those people you love spending time with. He’s just a lovely, lovely man.”
“I think Elza’s brilliant on stage,” said Ms. Swift, who performed with Mr. Minor in WIMP. “He’s just so right there on stage and his musical improv is brilliant.”
It was Ms. London-Thompson who had the idea to bring together all the old WIMP faces in a benefit for Mr. Minor. In addition to losing income (his was the familiar face behind the wheel of Adam Cab taxis), Mr. Minor is facing steep medical bills. He was uninsured at the time of his stroke, but now has health insurance. Since the troupe stopped performing together five years ago, the WIMPers have dispersed. Members now live from Toronto to Tisbury, but when they heard of their friend’s plight, they all made reservations to come home. With many of them now doing professional theatre, Tuesday’s show promises to be a good one.
“It will be all our old favorites and we will be joined by the three new [college-aged] WIMP members,” Ms. Swift said. “It’s for a great cause and it’s going to be a lot of fun. We did this, some of us, for 15 years and the chemistry between the original members, you never lose that. Part of what makes it so great is that we just work and fit together.”
Not only did the WIMPers step up to the plate, but so have Island businesses. Adam Cab donated the money to book the Union Chapel stage. “It’s two blocks from where he lived, so I’m hoping friends and neighbors will see the posters and maybe just come over,” Ms. London-Thompson said. When word began getting out, other calls started coming in, so in addition to an improv show, the evening will include a raffle with gift certificates from, among others, the Art Cliff Diner, Lola’s, Laughing Bear, Devil’s Dictionary, Aboveground Records and Jellyfish.
Ms. Minor will come from Boston to watch the show. “It’s amazing to me that I get a telephone call that this is what they’re going to do. It shows how much they admire and like him,” she said. She hopes her son will be able to join her and has asked his doctors if he can make an overnight trip. “He’s improving, improving, improving. We’re all very, very pleased. It’s slow, but compared to what it was when I first saw him, it’s a tremendous improvement,” she said. Mr. Minor, who was in a wheelchair following the stroke, is now able to walk on his own, but his short-term memory is still not what it was and when he does eventually return home to the Island, Mr. Minor will not be able to live alone at first.
When asked whether her son will ever be able to take the stage again, Ms. Minor said: “I don’t know and I’m praying to God that he will. But if I had to say, I’m hoping yes. Certainly I hope that he will.” From the rehabilitation center in Boston, Mr. Minor said this to his mother: “The Vineyard is home. It’s home because it’s the one place where I have people that know me well enough to care about me. I mean, where else could I receive having two strokes and having people have a benefit for me? Not in L.A.”
The WIMP Reunion Show and Fundraiser for Elza Minor is at the Oak Bluffs Union Chapel Tuesday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25, $75 preferred seating, and are available in advance at Alley’s General Store, Island Entertainment, Aboveground Records and Laughing Bear or at the door.