Sunday, March 30, 2008

What are the best and worst things happening in KC improv?

So today is an experiment. By midnight, at least some of the KC improvisers with links to your right will be answering the question: “What are the best and worst things happening in KC improv?” We didn’t define it any more specifically than that—everyone will answer their own way.

There’s lots good. There’s some ick, too. Picking two things I feel strongly about, though, is cinchy.

THE GOOD: Improv Thunderdome

When Jared & Ed kicked things off, I figured a few things would happen:
  • Teams would throw some experimental stuff together, so the shows might be self-indulgent. 
  • It’d mostly just be exciting for the hardest of the hard-core folks in the improv community.
  • But players would talk friends into voting for them, so the houses would be decent. 
Don’t I feel dumb.

Loaded Dice raised the bar at the first Thunderdome—their show was well-rehearsed, their concept was simple but solid and their game-play rocked. If you were a future competitor in the audience that night, you got a wake-up call:
Bring your A game.

Scriptease took round 2 in a decisive but nonetheless controversial vote. Babelfish’s smart, reference-laden show may have been an improviser favorite, but Scriptease won the crowd with a familiar construct (Epic Disaster Flick) and heavy audience participation. Wake-up call #2:
Entertain the straights.

And Makeshift Militia upped the ante in round 3 by rounding up reservations from their friends and snagging 80+ seats—winning the game before the lights went up. Wake-up call #3:
That part on the poster about “there are no rules”? It’s not a joke.

The Thunderdome Championship sold out the day after round 3 was over—a full month before the show. Unless it’s a festival or other big event, that
just doesn’t happen in Kansas City.

So: A new idea. Newsworthiness (media coverage—everywhere). A bunch of reasons not to miss a single show. A sense of community. Cross-pollination. Benefit to any and every group who does a kick-ass show (seriously—it was better for Spite to do a good show in front of 80 people who’d never seen us than 80 people who already know who we are). Controversy. Buzz-factor.

Thunderdome has it all.

THE BAD: Too few teachers, too few students.

That there’s no training center in a city where improv has been around for 20+ years is a shame.

But not particularly surprising. Besides the sense of satisfaction you get from seeing students experience improv for the first time, learn new tricks or improve exponentially from week to week, there’s not much return on investment for teaching a class.

Selling yourself is hard, un-fun work. Finding a space is an expensive pain in the ass. Designing a compelling curriculum is challenging and time-consuming. And doing all that work for a class of 4-6 is…just not profitable. About the only way to up your chances of success is to have your own theater, as Roving Imp and ComedyCity do.

It’s no wonder the majority of folks in town who would make good teachers aren’t interested.

On the other hand, the majority of folks in town who should be students aren’t interested, either. At its worst, we’ve created a community of complacencey  and entitlement—you join a troupe, you get on stage. Almost no dues—literal or figurative—are paid before you get stage time.

(My soapbox. Let me show you it.)

I’ve been doing this since 1990. I’ve rehearsed for and performed hundreds, maybe thousands, of shows. I’ve taken hundreds of hours of classes from Del Close, Charna Halpern, Mick Napier, Joe Bill, Mark Sutton, Michael Gellman, Dave Razowsky, Jill Bernard, Dan Izzo, Peter Gwinn and a whole
bunch of others. If you check my bookshelves, you’ll find just about every book on improv ever written.

And I can
still find something that makes me better in a decent beginner-level class. Even if it’s just a new exercise—or something I'd forgotten I knew.

So it blows my mind (and, clearly, pisses me off a little) that there are KC players who don’t think they can learn anything from people with more experience than they have. They don’t sign up for classes unless big names are in from out of town. They don’t bother with outside coaches or directors for their shows. They don’t see shows besides their own. They might even complain about having to rehearse to often. 

You can learn from almost anyone with a different perspective—or even an objective point of view. A bad show can teach you as much as a good one. Every minute of a rehearsal or a workshop is a chance to build muscle memory that will make your next show better.

In an interview, Susan Messing said, “I love that this is the kind of art where the day I stop growing is the day I start dying.”

We have a lot more room to grow.


  1. Trish, you are the most experienced, most knowledgeable, and most loved improviser in town. If anyone needs to be teaching classes on a regular basis, it's you.

  2. I'd dispute one or two of those points...

  3. I agree with should be a coach for every team in town. Also, Amen sister, Amen.

  4. Siiiiiiiiiiiiigh.

    Dammit, YOU are two of the ones who should be teaching and coaching.

  5. by the way, if you want me to elaborate, you have to elaborate as well.

  6. Good heavens, much more do you want me to talk? All I meant by "elaborate" is tell us the whys and whats of how you feel...not the whos.

  7. I waited to read anyone else's posts until I was done with my own and I felt I only glossed over things. It's interesting to note some of our similarities, Trish.


New rule: I'm not approving anonymous comments. If you want to sit at the grownup table, you have to sign your name.

Now c'mon. Pick a fight.