Veteran actor Dennis Kozeluh on improvisation and musical entertainment.

“I didn’t think I’d spend my life on stage, but I have!”, Dennis Kozeluh laughs, an easy smile on his face. Part of the noted local improv group The English Lovers for 20 years, his voice is warm and vibrant, the dark wooden table he keeps knocking on to punctuate his sentences resonating as he speaks. Animated and lively, Kozeluh uses his entire body to communicate, especially when talking about improvisational theater. “Everybody has specific roles, some of those are more driving, some support that, others resent being told where the story is going – it’s the dynamic of our group. I’d say I am the diplomatic glue… I, too, have strong ideas about where I think the story needs to go but if it doesn’t jive with the other person’s, I try to make theirs better.”

He’s certainly had ample practice: The English Lovers have put on late night improv shows at the Theater Drachengasse since 1999, with occasional bigger shows in larger venues like Vienna’s English Theatre. In addition, he had the fortune to learn from some of the best, including Keith Johnstone, the legendary creator of the influential Theatresports: “It was a watershed moment because… [Johnstone] reduced it to a physical level, people might laugh for the wrong reasons, but nothing can happen to you. That’s an important ability, learning to love to fail. Get up and do it again, and every time you do, you’d be freer the next time.”

Yet Kozeluh is a singer first and foremost, coming to Vienna from Montana in 1983 to pursue a degree in music, studying under Otto Edelmann and enrolling at the Hochschule fĂĽr Musik. Roles in musical and conventional theater soon followed, including The Phantom Of The Opera, Elisabeth and, most recently, Bodyguard.

Also delving into television and film, his eclectic career is coming full circle with his upcoming concert, Songs In The Key Of HA! on “the only date in the year that gives a command,” March fourth. He values lyricism, citing singer-songwriters like James Taylor and Hoagy Carmichael. His repertoire includes humorous ditties from Kozeluh’s childhood as well as tongue-incheek ballads both bittersweet and droll.

Interestingly, improvisational theater has benefitted him elsewhere in his career, including his music: “Musical performers are accustomed to having every move set out in rehearsals, but if you break the spirit of improvisation into a normal rehearsal, [you] offer authenticity, spontaneity and believability. They see you in a whole new light, as more of a collaborator and less of a minion accepting your role and waiting. Theater is not about waiting, theater is about moving forward.” And marching fourth.

Songs in the Key of HA! Mar 4, 20:00, Theater Drachengasse, 1., Fleischmarkt 22. drachengasse.at

The English Lovers’ Late Night Theatre Jam Mar 9 & 23, 22:30, Theater Drachengasse.

The English Lovers at Vienna’s English Theatre Mar 22-24, 19:30, Vienna’s English Theatre. 8., Josefsgasse 12. englishtheatre.at