Huddled over a clipboard on top of a rack of bowling balls, members of the improv comedy group Running With Scissors worked out the sequence of games they were about to play onstage, while audience members took their seats in the lounge on the other side of the glass doors.

This is all the planning that goes into their shows, and Lindsey Hersey was going to have to be OK with it.

“If I’m gonna bomb, I’m gonna bomb big,” said the 35-year-old massage therapist from Falmouth, whose only experience with improv before last summer was watching “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” on TV.

The four comics in Running With Scissors have ThatMomentbeen performing together for 10 years, riffing off each other in on-the-spot sketches prompted by audience suggestions. They’ve had guest stars and substitutes before, but, as Tuck Tucker put it, “never a newbie.”

Hersey would join them for two of the sketches, they decided, as pins crashed and Bob Seger blared in the background at Spare Time on Riverside Street, a bowling alley with an attached bar where they’d perform.

To ease her nerves, Hersey said, “I just keep thinking, I’m at a bowling alley in Portland, Maine.” A glass of the house red didn’t hurt either.


It would hardly be the scariest thing Hersey had done in her life.

After getting kicked out of her parents’ house in Everett, Massachusetts, at 16, she followed music festivals across the country, mining crystals for money and jumping off cliffs for fun. She moved to California after meeting a boy at a String Cheese Incident show. When their Volkswagen bus broke down two months later, they hitchhiked to a Greyhound station and took a bus to Flagstaff, Arizona, where she lived for two years before running out of money and going back home.

It wasn’t long before she got bored of bartending in Boston and decided to take over an apartment in Portland from her cousin, who was moving away. She didn’t know anyone in the city, but that didn’t stop her from hitting the bars in the Old Port. One night she introduced herself to a guy at Gritty McDuff’s who would become the father of her son. Now 7, he is the reason her free-spirited lifestyle came to a halt.

“I’m just waiting for him to go to college, so I can go do it again,” she said with her near-constant smile.

• • • • •

Even though Hersey rents a house in the suburbs and has three steady jobs, her Bohemian past shines through in the highlights of her cascading curls and matching copper skin. Two silver hoops hug her right nostril and a rainbow of ink peeks out from under short sleeves.


Her thirst for a thrill hasn’t gone away, either, and as she approached her 35th birthday in June, she decided it was time to find ways – appropriate for a working mom – to satisfy it.

Hersey’s first step toward a new start was to take action against an inherited gene mutation, famously carried by Angelina Jolie, that made the probability of her getting breast cancer more likely than not. She had a double mastectomy in April and, since then, has been determined to make more out of life.

“I want to do things that are challenging, that I’m scared of, that if I don’t do now I will regret in the future,” she said.

So, when Running With Scissors member Rachel Flehinger asked if she wanted to take her improv class, Hersey couldn’t say no.

Hersey first met Flehinger at the Treefort Cycleshop, a biker hangout in East Bayside. (Flehinger rides motorcycles, and Hersey tends to have friends who do, she explained.) She heard Flehinger talking about improv and told her she had always wanted to try it. When the eight-week course started in August, Hersey was signed up.

Classes are held on Thursdays in a building on Congress Street at the crest of Munjoy Hill, where the neighborhood association meets. The lessons are part theater and part therapy, with belly-laughter throughout.


Flehinger’s teaching mantra isn’t printable, but is along the lines of “to heck with it.” The idea is to ignore the voice in your head, which Flehinger mimics by flapping her hand, that says something is too hard or embarrassing or wrong.

“The second-to-last class I stopped caring,” Hersey said. “I felt like I just got it.” So, she signed up again.

After class a few weeks ago, Flehinger asked Hersey if she wanted to test what she’d learned in front of an audience.

“I’m all about encouraging people to take risks. That’s what I teach,” Flehinger said.

And Hersey is all about never saying no.

“She really embraces the spirit of improv, which is to go out without a net,” Flehinger said.


• • • • •

Hersey has some other characteristics that are conducive to the comedy form – tendencies to talk with her hands, contort her face and blurt out whatever she’s thinking. All of them were on display Saturday as she mingled with her fellow performers while they gave her tips before the show. Be present, listen, slow down, they said.

Hanging out with them in the bowling alley had distracted her from getting nervous, but once the opening act took the stage, her internal countdown began. Watching the stand-up routine, Hersey started doubting that she was ready.

“I just want to get it over with,” she said, the grin gone from her face – the price for the payoff.

The opener introduced Running With Scissors, and the four full-time members got onstage.

“Clap if you’re seeing improv for the first time tonight or you’ve seen it before,” Dennis Hunt shouted, getting the audience laughing.


With her hair braided in pigtails – a fall-back prop – Hersey sat perched at a table in front. Hunt and Flehinger acted out a scene in a nail salon, switching into accents suggested by the audience – Boston, Georgia, Hans and Franz.

For a skit set in a convenience store, two of the men came in looking to purchase a llama. That was Hersey’s cue that she’d be in the next sketch. They exited stage right and up she went.

The game was called “party quirks.” Flehinger would be the host and have to guess the traits taken on by the other performers. While she waited outside where she couldn’t hear, suggestions flew from the audience: Tourette’s, pervert, drunk, co-dependent.

“I’ll be the pervert,” Hersey shouted, throwing up her arm.

The professionals each took on two quirks. There was the drunk guy who thought he was a cat, the man with low self-esteem who only talks in song lyrics, and an ant-snorting Ozzy Osborne. As a first-timer, Hersey only had to worry about her one.

When Flehinger answered the imaginary door, Hersey slinked onto the stage.


“I see you,” she said, eyeing Flehinger provocatively. The host asked if she wanted any tea.

“Can you pour it for me?” Hersey said in a sultry voice.

She’s needy, Flehinger guessed. Hersey sucked on her finger. Was she Miley Cyrus? The audience snapped their fingers indicating Flehinger was close.

As the characters milled about the stage, Hersey rubbed against them and flashed glances Flehinger’s way.

“Hey, perverted lady,” she finally said.

Hersey lunged toward Flehinger and held her hand up for a high-five, smiling again.

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