Atlanta-based improv team Sweater Puppies mix charity, community and humor in a unique set.
Karen Cassady, Megan Leahy, Whittney Millsap and Amber Nash all came up through the ranks at Dad’s Garage and quickly became friends.
“Sweater Puppies was born out of the fact that we are all good friends, we like improvising together, and there was an interest in traveling and touring, so this group was created with that interest in mind,” explains Millsap.
The format of the show allows for varying schedules, so not everyone in the group has to make it to a festival. But so far, it’s been a life on tour for this group, who only formed last January and has since traveled to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Norfolk, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Charlotte, North Carolina, with Savannah being their fifth festival in a year.
While the group loves traveling, they’re also on a mission while on the move.
“We didn’t want to just go to places—we wanted to offer the availability for people to be able to connect to their own community the way Dad’s Garage has,” explains Millsap.
Enter the community outreach portion of Sweater Puppies: clothing donations. Sweater Puppies asks its audience to bring old items of clothing that they’ll use as inspiration for their improv set. At the end of the show, all the clothing is donated to a local charity; the beneficiary for the Savannah show is the Humane Society Thrift Shop.
Sweater Puppies’ community outreach is a nod to Dad’s Garage, which celebrates 25 years this year—and which Millsap says is no small feat.
“There are so many different options for entertainment now, and it’s hard to keep theaters going,” says Millsap, “and the reason why that’s been an availability is because we connect with our community so much. That’s really the only way that Dad’s survives—that’s its lifeblood, connected to our community.”
Plus, using clothes in an improv set is exciting for the people seeing their clothes come to life. Millsap shares a sweet story of a woman whose floral shirt was used as a bouquet in a touching bridal scene.
“Afterwards, we were at the bar and somebody came up to me and was like, ‘So, my mother died a year ago, and I hadn’t been able to go through er clothes yet, and when this opportunity came up I thought it would be a good way to give back and for me to let go,’” remembers Millsap. “‘And of all the clothes you used tonight, that was her floral shirt, so it was nice to see a young woman’s journey through my mother’s clothes.’ There are really touching moments like that. Our possessions hold a lot of value to us. You’re not the final destination; there are other people who have stories for it to live and breathe in.”
The clothing items also help bring something tangible to a scene, and props are always helpful in improv sets because they can jump-start more ideas and inspiration.
Aside from the feel-good element, a Sweater Puppies set is also just really funny because the performers admire each other’s work.
“The thing a lot of people comment about our style is that we just give each other a lot of room and space, and I think that’s drawn out of the fact that we really respect each other’s style of work and we enjoy being audience members of each other,” says Millsap. “It’s so nice to see other audiences around the country that are like, ‘Oh my God, this is so great,’ and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we know, that’s why we love them!’ It’s cool to be able to share that.”