Gone are the days of major cities owning all of improv. Those days are gone just like rotary telephones and one dollar gas. The improv community in the United States reaches far and wide now. Last year alone, I was able to visit improv communities in Phoenix, AZ (The Torch Theatre/NCT Phoenix), San Francisco (SF Improv Festival), Roseville, CA (Blacktop Comedy Theatre), Detroit, MI (Detroit Improv Festival/Go Theatre, Denver, CO (Voodoo Comedy Lounge, Group Mind Foundation, Bovine Metropolis Theatre), Cedar City, UT (Off The Cuff Improvisation) Los Angeles, CA (iO/LA Improv Festival) and last but not least Camp Improv Utopia in California. These are just some of the ones that are out there now there are a ton more.
It was mind blowing to see the great work being done in other cities that aren’t Chicago, LA or NYC. I was almost envious at some of the stuff that these groups were doing. Taking it to the next level, experimenting and taking huge risks. Sure sometimes it fell flat on its face but other times it was brilliant. Such is improv. We are wrong to think that the best improv can only be done in the bigger improv cities. That’s just naïve. There is great work being done outside the walls of those great cities and I’ve seen it and am continually impressed by it.
I think there is a lot we can learn from these thirsty improv communities too. Passion, commitment to the art form and taking risks. It seems that improv in Chicago, LA and NYC are more focused on industry vetting then experimenting and growing. And it’s not their fault. Improv has become and industry standard in the casting and TV world. They come and take players and writers from these institutions all the time so it’s going to attract that kind of student, writer and performer. And they should because there is some amazing talent there. But it also makes it extra hard to have time to rehearse, experiment and do something new because the focus is elsewhere.
I leave you with this, Del Close said to treat your audience like poets and scholars. Shouldn’t we still honor that no matter what? Improv means it’s all about taking risks and making bold choices, so shouldn’t we live that way too? If people didn’t grow their art we would have only been introduced to Picasso’s Blue Period, The Beatles cover songs and the Harold. We would have never had the chance to see Picasso’s Cubism Period, The Beatles own material or forms like the JTS Brown and the Deconstruction.
Be bold, follow your fear and see improv everywhere!
Written by: Nick Armstrong
Nick is an Actor, Writer, Improviser and Director living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office, Parks and Recreation and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made regular appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Onstage you can catch Nick performing and teaching regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA with LA’s Best Harold Team King Ten and The touring Genre-Improvised Show Kind Strangers. Nick has also trained at the famed Groundlings Theater. He is the Founder and Camp Director of Improv Utopia an annual camp for improvisers. For more information visit www.nickarmstrong.com orwww.improvutopia.com