Neighborhood Theatre Group's original comedy "Can I Help You?" romps through customer service


Neighborhood Theatre Group's cast for Can I Help You?

Anyone who has worked in the customer service industry can agree that it’s a tough business. Everyone has a story about that one customer who is too outrageous to be believed, which may not be so funny in the moment but is hilarious when recounted later. 

When a situation is difficult, you need comedy to help get you through, and Ypsilanti’s Neighborhood Theatre Group (NTG) is closing its third season with Can I Help You?, a play that will help you laugh your way out of troubles.

“I've worked in customer service for over 15 years," said NTG cofounder and director Kristin Danko, "and I've been wanting to do a show about the service industry for a while. A sketch comedy show seemed like the perfect outlet.” 

The fast-paced comedy is a musical, too.

“We have five original songs in this show," Danko said. "As we were writing, we'd think, ‘Hey, this could be a song,’ so [NTG cofounder] Aaron [Dean] put certain sketches to music and wrote the opening and finale. It's a perfect addition to the absurdity of the service industry.”

Veteran NTG performer and company member Angela VanKempen added, “To quote another show: ‘Musical comedy, the most glorious words in the English language!’ ... I can't wait for all the amazing, original songs to get stuck in other people's heads!”

Danko said the writing process begins with "brainstorming, discussing, and laughing a lot. We write all our thoughts out on paper on the wall. Then we start turning those ideas into sketches. Writing and rewriting scenes, putting them on their feet and then putting them all together to make a whole show.”

VanKempen, who also has many years of customer service under her belt, said, “One of my favorite things is when someone will bring just a raw idea to the writing session. We then brainstorm from there and come up with such great material. People think, ‘Oh, I'm not a writer,’ but all we need is one idea, and we flush it out from there.”

Danko and VanKempen agreed, whether or not you have worked in customer service, there is a lot to relate to in this show, and they guaranteed a great time.

“We're hitting everything from retail, to restaurants, to call centers," Danko said in terms of which customer services will be skewered. "I'm really excited to see the reaction of the audience." 

Crysta Coburn is a desk clerk with the Ann Arbor District Library, freelance writer, editor, and author.

Neighborhood Theatre Group's "Can I Help You?" runs May 10-12 and 17-19 at 8 pm at Dreamland Theater, 26 N. Washington, in downtown Ypsilanti. Buy tickets at the door or in advance at