Whether or not you realize it, you probably owe a lot of your sense of humor to the increasingly-popular art of improvisation. Whether it’s the bizarreness and subtleties of Christopher Guest in movies like Best in Show; the off-the-wall games of Whose Line is it Anyway; or the dry, awkward conversations of Steve Carell in The Office; improv comedy has found its way into pop culture and people’s hearts without them even knowing.
Modern improv theatre is often believed to have started in 1960s Chicago, where a group called The Second City laid much of the ground rules that improvisers adhere to today.
Rebecca Hopkins, the founder of Sarasota Improv Festival has followed the changes in improv structure.
“You know, when I started, there was basically one rule: be funny,” says Hopkins, who is also the founder of the improv program at Florida Studio Theatre. “But what has happened through the years is that it’s developed as an art form. We’ve noticed these things that contribute to an excellent scene, and certain groups have embraced that, and trained and sharpened those skills, and now there are standouts. There are really brilliant people and companies in the country who are doing this.”
One of those groups is the Available Cupholders, a troupe out of Austin that performs throughout the country.
“I think there’s different cities, you know, Chicago and New York, where it’s less on narrative and less on plot,” explains Michael Joplin, a member of Available Cupholders. “And where we’re from in Austin, narrative is definitely a big part of it.”
“When we started out, we had to basically explain the nature of improv to everyone,” laughs Available Cupholders member Ace Manning. “But now it seems to be totally par for the course. We don’t have to do anything. We can just go right to the shows and get to the fun part. It’s really nice.”
But while improv might be viewed as “just for fun” by some people, it actually has a lot to offer in the way of skills, even to those who don’t have any interest in theatre.
“Definitely team-building is a big thing that improv can teach you, so in the workplace it can be totally valuable,” explains Joplin. “I’ve taught these workshops before and it’s super fun, and it’s also just good to get people to not take themselves so seriously. Cause if you’re a business or a group of people working with the spirit of play, you’ll find that they can think less about themselves and more about the team and kind of free themselves up to do their best work, just like an improv troupe.”
So whether you’re sharpening up your teamwork skills or are just interested in entertainment, improv theater is an exciting trend that’s really teaching us how to loosen up, laugh, and think quick on our feet.