You've heard of improv - you've seen it on TV, your work friend goes to his niece's shows every month, or maybe you saw that improv movie at the Tampa Theater last month. Maybe you've done a team-building session at work, using simple improv exercises that got you making animal noises with the guys from accounting. Or maybe you're smack in the middle of working the levels of classes at one of the theaters in the area.
No matter how you came to know about improv, Unscripted Theatre can offer you something you've never seen before in Tampa Bay: a space dedicated to improv theater, an opportunity for both teams and individuals to get on stage weekly regardless of where they trained or where they're from, and a place for audiences to go on a journey with performers who do much more than just comedy.
The improv world is HUGE - way bigger than most people think. Our goal at Unscripted Theatre is to embrace that HUGENESS and bring St. Pete up to speed with what improv theaters in other similar-sized cities are doing. Places like SAK Comedy Lab in Orlando, Dad's Garage in Atlanta, The Torch Theater in Phoenix, Philly Improv Theater in Philadelphia and Improv Boston in Boston have been pushing the boundaries of the art form for a long time--and now it's our turn. These theaters embrace long form and short form improv, teams and directed shows, beginners and veterans, as well as Del Close and Keith Johnstone philosophies, and so will we.
"I only know what half of that means," you say. And that's just fine. Check it out:
So far in Tampa Bay, most of the classes and shows have followed the Del Close philosophy developed in Chicago in the late 80's and early 90's. Close's students later traveled to New York City in the early 2000's to open the Upright Citizens Brigade theaters, carrying the Chicago-style of improv into a new tradition of game-driven scene work, encouraging performers to ask themselves, "If this is true, then what else is true?" UCB has had an enormous amount of success since releasing the UCB Comedy Improvisation Manual in 2013. In Tampa Bay, American Stage Improv has embraced their style of improv, structuring class levels around the UCB manual to produce scores of performers and 2 house teams that perform game-driven comedy-focused improv monthly.
Across the Bay, in Tampa, company members at The Box Theater in Ybor City base their stylings on foundational writings of Viola Spolin, the veritable mother of modern improvisation whose work in the early half of the 20th century with children and underprivileged, inner-city Chicagoans gave improv it's first public exposure and planted deep roots in working-class culture. Spolin's idea that anyone could be an actor by learning how to improvise paved the way for the explosion of improv theaters that we see all over the world today.
But in the words of the great American poet Bob Dylan, "The times, they are a changin'."
Those theaters I mentioned above? The ones in similar-sized cities that have been blazing new trails for improv? They’ve realized that there's more than one way to cook an egg, and we have too. Each of them are deeply inspired by Keith Johnstone's approach to improv, which was developed in the UK and Canada at around the same time Del Close was teaching in Chicago.
Bringing the Johnstone approach to Tampa Bay will make local improvisers smarter, sharper, and funnier--more in touch with the audience and in-sync with their fellow improvisers. Johnstone's approach, outlined in IMPRO and Impro for Storytellers--two of the most important improv books ever written--emphasized aspects of performance that were often overlooked in Chicago, like status, audience expectations, and story. Although Johnstone started with short-form improv games (much like Del Close did), his approach eventually helped performers understand how to improvise long form narratives. Performers learned how to rely on their knowledge of literary and cinematic genres to do shows that resembled full-length plays, television shows, or films. Unlike the "forms" that emerged from the work teams at The Second City, Improv Olympic (iO) and The Annoyance, as well as Los Angeles's Groundlings, teams guided by Johnstone's philosophies found ways to create a layered effect in their shows by finding games within relationship-driven stories that did more than make the audience laugh. Theaters like The Hideout Theatre in Austin have not only embraced this approach, but have mastered their ability to move audiences through an improv experience loaded with emotion, taking paying crowds on a human journey, not just a roller-coaster ride of laughter.
Our goal is to bridge the gap between Del Close and Keith Johnstone, making room for both philosophies on our stage. Instead of having house teams like the other theaters in town, we're opening our doors to any team in the region who can commit to a season of team-based shows on Friday and Saturday nights, regardless of their form. Instead of doing exclusively long-form shows, we're leading our Friday night's off with a short-form competition (similar to Whose Line Is It Anyway?) where individual players of different skill levels can get in on the action and play together for a live audience. Instead of following one school of thought and a single approach, we're teaching Forms and Narrative in our higher level classes. We'll also mix the best of sound/movement exercises, game-based exercises, and narrative-directed exercises in our lower level classes, which we've inherited from the teachers we've worked with who perform all over the world.
As improv pioneer David Shepard, founder of the original Compass Players in 1950’s Chicago said to Jeffery Sweet in his short history of improv, Something Wonderful Right Away, "The excitement comes out of interaction between people who are different from each other...they celebrate common things that are viewed in totally different ways. And that's beautiful." We think that's all the more reason to offer Tampa Bay improvisers and audiences a new way to do improv.
Something as beautiful as it is funny...that's the kind of improv we do at Unscripted Theatre. And we want you to be part of that, right from the start.
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