When most people think improv they think of the show Who’s Line is it Anyway. Short little vignettes and gimmick based games. There are several breaks between each different part and it is divided into blocks so the audience can take a breather.
This is not your “Who’s line” improv. This is long form. This is 25-45 minutes of searching and finding what works…on stage.
Jose Gonzalez runs The Torch Theatre in Phoenix. The Torch Theatre plays host to several long form improv shows that perform on weekends and sometimes during the week.
As a student at Arizona State University in 1998, Gonzalez took an acting class for non actors and met his mentor bree valle. After studying under valle and being inspired by ASU’s critically acclaimed Barren Mind Improv, Gonzalez took classes with a Phoenix improv group called The Barrow Gang.
Gonzalez took classes taught by Bill Binder, then was asked to join The Barrow Gang in 2001. Soon after The Barrow Gang started the Phoenix Improv Festival, and the group moved from Scottsdale to downtown Phoenix.
In 2003 members from The Barrow Gang joined with members from another group to form Galapagos, which exists to this day.
The Torch began in the summer of 2007 and was formed by several groups in the Phoenix area. The groups all were dedicated to growing the Phoenix improv scene and began performing together and teaching classes.
Apollo 12, Galapagos, Light Rail Pirates, Mail Order Bride, Phoenix Nuetrino Project and The Remainders all perform at The Torch.
Apollo 12 was formerly ComedySportz Phoenix began in 2000 and most of the others began from 2003-2005. Each show offers different performers and styles (The Remainders is musical improv) and each show is different every time.
Currently the only consistently performing show each week is Cagematch a show in which two groups perform a 25 minute set and the audience votes on which one they liked more. Cagematch runs every Saturday night at 10:30
Before You Go
Keep in mind that long form at certain points can seem weird, awkward, and nonsensical but the important thing is to have an open mind.
“We really try to trust in the audience’s intelligence to get what we do,” Gonzalez said.
Because each group acts independently there are no set auditions for the theatre or for each group. People will get involved with the groups by networking themselves in. Most of the groups formed on there own by there members, whether they were classmates or friends they all did their own thing.
The Torch Theatre also teaches classes which are taught by the performers at the theatre. There are different levels and different types of classes offered.
Location, Shows, Website
Is it possible to be funny every week? Yes. After six months of hanging around the National Comedy Theater Phoenix I find myself laughing harder and harder every single week.
Obviously the need for the drug called laughter is never ending for the director of NCT Phoenix, Dorian Lenz.
Lenz has been an improviser for almost 20 years. He has performed in Germany, the Netherlands, England, and France as well as places all over the country.
The Original NCT
In 1999, Gary Kramer founded the National Comedy Theater in San Diego. Four years later Kramer decided to open a NCT branch in New York City. Kramer asked Lenz if he would direct the theater in San Diego after he left.
In 2008 Lenz and his wife, Krissy, wanted to return to their home and start a National Comedy Theater in Phoenix.
“We felt like Phoenix needed good solid improv roots,” Lenz said.
Krissy and Dorian both operate the theater on a daily basis while raising two kids and maintaining other jobs, even though the amount of work they put into the theater is enough to be a full time job alone.
NCT Phoenix performs every Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and 9:45 p.m at their theater in Mesa. The show consists of “Competitive Improv” and consists of a referee, players, Mr. Voice, a half time and of course YOU! (The audience)
The “origin” of competitive improv dates back to 1977 when a director in Alberta, Canada by the name of Keith Johnston came up with some warm-ups for his squad.
NCT Phoenix has about 50 games in their repertoire and audience members are usually amazed by the sheer volume of options.
Once a month NCT Phoenix puts on a show called “Movie Mashterpiece” at the MADCAP Theater on Mill Ave. in Tempe.
The performers put on a poorly made movie then dub over the top of it completely improvised.
Andrea Beesley-Brown co-founded the idea with Lenz for the Mash-Ups. Beesley-Brown runs a program called the Midnight Movie Mamacita that shows old B-list movies.
“We were brainstorming one night and came up with the idea of doing voices over the top,” Lenz said. “Mystery Science Theater 3000 already existed and she wanted us to come up with something different and that’s what we came up with.”
These Mash-Ups take place on the last Thursday of every monthat 7 p.m. and cost nine dollars admission. The movie for September 2010: Turkish Star Wars.
When you go see a show at NCT Phoenix you will discover that it is a family friendly show. There is even a “Brown Bag Foul” which punishes any rude, crude or inappropriate behavior or comments from players and audience members.
Once a month the “Brown Bag Foul” is thrown out the window at midnight for a different (uncensored) type of improv.
The style is called long form and not many people are used to seeing it. In fact if somebody is not familiar with long form or does not understand the style then they will most likely be extremely confused for most of the show.
“Our midnight shows are more story based than game based and we do our best to create a 30 to 45 minute one-act,” Lenz said with a very big grin.
High School League
NCT Phoenix is not only dedicated to entertaining their own audiences. The theater runs a High School League throughout the school year at schools across the state.
“We teach our style to help them create their own improv teams, set up intramural shows and raise money,” Lenz said.
This year NCT Phoenix will be teaching 10 high schools throughout the state the art of improvisation. At the end of every year the schools all have a giant tournament at the theater in Mesa.
NCT doesn’t only teach the young guns they can teach anybody. The theater runs workshops throughout the year for different skills essential for improvisation.
The people who take the workshops have many varying motives. Some people take them for fun while others take them to improve their performance at job interviews.
The theater runs all sorts of workshops that are tailored to different skill and experience levels.
NCT Phoenix performs a “fully mobile” show. The theater will transport their show to perform for companies,conferences, etc. There are different prices for different shows but all of them are reasonable.
NCT Phoenix holds auditions roughly once every six months. The next auditions are October 2, 2010 at 1 p.m.
NCT Phoenix is a great family show and no two shows are every the same. You will never be disappointed by visiting NCT.
The theater is located at 1111 S. Longmore in Mesa.