What Is Improv? Where Can You See and Learn It?

Become an Improviser in Phoenix

© Jester’Z Improv Comedy Troupe

In metro Phoenix, you will find that improv performances are gaining in popularity. It not only provides entertainment, but it affords a creative outlet for those who might not be professional performers but want to hone their skills.

To improvise is to completely make something up on the spot, whether it be a song, a character, or in some cases, an entire movie. Improvisers create entire scenarios and shows from audience suggestion. Nothing is predetermined, and the performers must support each other’s reality through a course of scene work. Most notable improvised works include Christopher Guest’s movies Waiting for Guffman and This is Spinal Tap, as well as television shows “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “World Cup Comedy.”

Typically, Who Are Improv Performers?

There is no one type of improviser. We come in all shapes and sizes and all ages. Legitimate actors often make good improvisers, as they have already had experience creating characters and performing in front of a crowd. However, one does not need to be an actor in order to be an improviser. There are also no age requirements when it comes to improvising. There are several youth troupes in the Valley as well as adult troupes. Children often make excellent improvisers, as they don’t tend to censor themselves on stage.

What people don’t often realize is that improv is not always funny. There are various types of improv, including Harsh, a New York-based troupe that does only improvised tragedy. And in many cases, coaches will tell you, “Don’t try to be funny.” There is a very popular book on improvisation titled Truth in Comedy, which bases its methods on the fact that the truth is funny. Play honestly, and the funny will come.

How Does One Become an Improviser?

The best way to test your improv chops would be to attend a workshop or class. The Torch Theatre offers classes in long-form improvisation and scene-work, and short-form games and scenes are taught at Jester’Z. For those looking to give it a shot before committing to a class, check the calendar at the Trunk Space each month. The Phoenix Improv Festival also offers workshops for those new to the improv world.

Improv troupes in Phoenix perform a variety of forms. There are short-form shows, which follow a series of games, much like “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and there are long-form shows that follow one theme or set of characters for the course of the entire show.

Where in the Valley Can I Usually Find Improv?

There are several venues in the Valley of the Sun that “specialize” in improv, including the aforementioned Torch Theatre, and the National Comedy Theatre in Mesa.

New venues are popping up all the time as this art form collects more interest and momentum. Individual troupes advertise on their websites, on Goldstar.com, and on azcentral.com.

What Happens at the Phoenix Improv Festival?

The Phoenix Improv Festival is held each spring in downtown Phoenix. At this event, the cream of the country’s improv talent travels to Phoenix to perform, teach and network. Established local troupes also perform, and the event is quickly gaining recognition as one of the improv community’s top festivals. For spectators, the festival is a terrific opportunity to check out improv in its various forms, and even to catch some celebrities! Past festivals have drawn comedy mavens from across the country, including the likes of Joe Bill from Chicago’s Annoyance Theater & The Second City, and Jack McBrayer from NBC’s 30 Rock.

Past performers have also included talent from Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report.

All dates and offerings are subject to change without notice.