This week we caught up with one of the Bay Area's most committed improvisers, Zach Mouriz. If you've been to Spitfire then you've probably seen him on stage - currently he performs with 5 teams, guest hosts, is a technical improviser, and hosts his own workshop on Wednesday nights. A veritable renaissance-person of improvisation, Zach goes through his approach to improv, what brought him to it initially and where he thinks the St. Pete scene is headed.
How did you get started doing improv? What's your story?
I discovered improv in college, five years ago now. I was a freshman in college and I had just moved about two hours away from my home town; for the first time in my life I was operating with absolutely no supervision and had complete freedom to make my own decisions. I first took advantage of this new found autonomy during a week-long celebration leading up to the first day of classes. I was (and still am) a huge fan of comedy and I saw that there was a comedy show on the schedule for a random Wednesday night. I brought a new friend I had made earlier that week and the two of us watched six people do some short form improv. After about the first five minutes I felt like an entirely new world had just presented itself to me, I found myself longing for the chance to learn how to do what they were doing. I put my name on a mailing list immediately after the show, came to the first practice, and the rest is history. I guess I fell in love with this art form the second I saw it and have never looked back.
What have you been involved with at Spitfire? What's your favorite memory so far?
Gosh. I’ve had my hands in a little of everything. After spending years with Nick and Hannah performing on campus, outside on the patios of coffee shops, in lounges of movie theaters, and even in a backroom of a TGI Fridays - I have seen it all. At Spitfire I’ve worked tech, stepped in at box office, and hosted the Whose Line St. Pete, Cagematch, Showcase, and Duo shows. I performed in the mainstage show Westworld Unscripted, currently serve as Assistant Coach for Spitfire Players (as well as perform with them), have been in the Duo Show with teams Faces, Oh Brother, and Kelvin & Kilo, I have performed in the Improv Showcase and Comedy Cagematch with Cult Classic. I am also in the cast of Flash Fiction on Thursdays, and right now I’m preparing for the next mainstage, an improvised murder-mystery called Misfortune. I also co-host The Cypher on Wednesday nights, which is a free hip hop improv workshop.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, I would say that my favorite memory is just walking into the theater for the very first time. Having a theater to call home has been a dream for five years. I was definitely fighting off tears when I walked in because those five years of hopes, dreams, and hard freaking work had finally been realized in this beautiful little theater. Nothing could beat that.
What's your personal approach to improv?
Giving 110% of my focus and respect every second. In a single improv scene there could be hundreds of gifts from your scene partners. Everything from a slight facial expression, shift in tone of voice, or movement of the body can be utilized and played with. Many people I’ve met claim that they could never do improv because it is too hard to come up with funny ideas on the spot - but in my opinion there is no creation in improv. Every single thing I do in an improv scene is based off of what has already been done by my scene partner, what I think should or could happen next and all of my life experience with the topic at hand. The key to improvising, for me, is to passionately focus on my scene partner and our surroundings; I am constantly watching and creating a database so that I can respect my partner’s decisions with what I believe is the most appropriate response. My personal approach is to think less and watch more. Focus less on creation and more on responding.
If you had to choose one memory about doing improv that sticks out in your mind, what would it be?
Nick and I were in Atlanta, GA this past May for the Atlanta Improv Festival. We went as our duo team Faces. On the second night we had an early slot and there were about 5 people in an audience that could easily sit over 50 people. Regardless of the size of the audience, we went out and did one of my favorite sets ever. I won’t get into the details but what really caused this to stick out in my memory was what happened after we got off stage. The family of three sitting up in the front row came up to us and thanked us profusely for the show - they loved it and even took pictures with us! We didn’t care about the size of the audience, we just wanted to do some good improv and give those folks the show they paid for. For me, that’s what improv is all about…if you focus in with your partner and do improv for improv’s sake then the size of the audience won’t matter. If you love the art and give it your all every time then you won’t be disappointed.
What sort of advice would you have for a new person who wants to be part of the Spitfire community?
Find your niche. Do you like improv but are you nervous about being on stage? Volunteer at the box office or learn how to tech! Maybe you want to learn how to become more comfortable on stage but are lacking the courage? Learn how to host, take classes, or start coming to shows and see how it’s done! Maybe you are one of those writer/director types? Write a piece for one of our Flash Fiction shows or submit an idea you have for a mainstage show in the future! Gosh, maybe you are a comedian who only does stand up or sketch? Check our website for stand up and sketch shows going on monthly! Perhaps you just like comedy and are looking for a community of people to hang out with? Literally talk to ANYONE at Spitfire - we will happily go out for drinks and talk for hours. All you have to do is know what you’re best at because I guarantee that Spitfire will have an opportunity for you to do it in some way, shape, or form.
What do you hope for the future of the theater and the St. Pete improv scene?
Having been to several improv hubs across the US including The Hideout in Austin, The Magnet and UCB in New York, The Village Theater in Atlanta, and even Just The Funny in Miami, my hope for Spitfire is that it continues to grow towards what these other theaters have accomplished. I would love to see the theater eventually host comedy/improv shows every night of the week with two or three Spitfire theaters throughout the community. Of course this is very far down the road, but the intense passion of the St. Pete improv community will get it there… no doubt. Overall I just want to see it continue to expand and reach the lives of as many individuals as possible.
A huge shoutout to Nicholas Riggs and Hannah Prince for the seemingly infinite number of hours they have put into ensuring that this theater and community is operating at its fullest potential.
Keep an eye out for Misfortune: An Improvised Murder-Mystery mainstage show that will be premiering for only four Thursdays in a row through the end of July and beginning of August.
Also, if you haven’t gotten the chance I highly recommend checking out The Cypher. It is totally free and we have meetings on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. Hip Hop improv ain’t as hard as it seems folks - plus we have tons of fun!
You can see Zach Thursday in Flash Fiction: Literary Improv Mashup, Fridays in the Improv Showcase or Comedy Cagematch with Cult Classic, and Saturdays with Spitfire Players in Whose Line St. Pete and with duos Faces, Oh Brother! & Kelvin & Kilo in The Duo Show. He'll also be performing at 321 Improv Festival in August with his duo Risky Biscuits & hosts The Cypher: A Free Hip Hop Improv workshop 1st & 3rd Wednesdays at 8p.