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Improv: One Word, One Instant and Original Act of Theater

by Borderstan.com — April 7, 2011 at 10:00 am 3 Comments

Borderstan, 14th Street, Improv, Source Theater, Topher Bellavia

The Washington Improv Theater is a resident at the Source Theater. At top left is Topher Bellavia, managing director of WIT; at center left is Justus Hammond; and at bottom center is Maggie Dempsey. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Keri Douglas. She is a writer, photographer and communications consultant who lives in Logan Circle.

Improv is an original act of art created in an instant and then gone forever.

Topher Bellavia, managing director of the Washington Improv Theater (WIT) explains, “It is completely ephemeral, in the moment.” With no art form as free as improv, it ignites passions, dreams, fantasies and ultimately truth in human nature, which therein lies the comedy.

Catch the last two weekends of the Fighting Improv Smackdown Tournament (FIST) of the Washington Improv Theater going on at the Source Theater until April 16.  Tickets are $10. Or, see improv groups for Harold’s Night every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. at The Saloon, 1207 U Street, NW.

With the suggestion of one word, five to six actors spontaneously and skillfully craft the next 25 minutes with dialogue, movements, jazz scat like syllables and even silence. The key is listening for the cue for the next twist in the act. This evolving give-and-take creates a sense of lightness, the unknown and absolute trust. Ultimately, improv actors build a strong connection with one another and the audience.

“Anyone can do improv.” Bellavia says.  He says that all an actor needs is a “basic sense of empathy” and an understanding of “why people do the things they do. The only rule is that actors cannot deny someone else’s idea.”

“There are no mistakes, too” says Bellavia. “Well, there is one — not making a choice.” Sitting alongside Bellavia, Justus Hammond, a Commissioner for the Fighting Improv Smackdown Tournament (FIST) takes the cue from Bellavia to explain the frustration if an actor doesn’t pick up a cue.  Hammond says, the actor either didn’t hear; didn’t understand or the worst — heard and chose not to pick up the cue.

Each improv actor takes away more confidence, public speaking skills, creative juices and an ability to build trust with others.  Improv “provides a release!” explains Maggie Dempsey, also a Commissioner for FIST.  “You can do silly things, do whatever you want without any consequences. I am so much happier!” she says with great energy.

Tell us about your favorite Washington Improv Theater story and players.

Any famous WIT actors? “Yes!” Bellavia, Dempsey and Hammond exclaim, “Rory Scovel on Comedy Central and standup on Jimmy Fallon; Natasha Rothwell, NBC Diversity Competition Winner; Mark Raterman on Second City in Chicago; and former player Chris Himes, who works on the production side of Saturday Night Live.”

With more than 2,000 students who have attended the WIT over the last 10 years, Bellavia is pushing for more people to attend the shows and classes. Bellavia’s wish is “to make as many people have as much fun as possible.” WIT is a resident company at the Source, 1835 14th Street NW.

Improve theater is delightful, unpredictable and true.

Comments (3)

  1. An all too rare, well-written and accurate article about improv. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Capshaw!

    Seeing Topher, Maggie and Justus doing cafe format improv with the word “apperitif” during the interview was magic in motion.

    Everyone should have the opportunity to see improv.

    Why do you like improv?

  3. Great article Keri! Thanks for profiling WIT.

    I agree; everyone should have the opportunity to see improv.

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