I am having serious withdrawals. Right now. At this present moment. Even at 3:20 in the morning.
I put the finishing touches on my latest assignment and it hit me that it was Sunday night. It was Sunday night and I was home. I was at home. I’m never home on Sunday nights. I’d usually be walking out of a theatre, taking the mile walk down the street through uneven sidewalks and low tree branches to my car for the hour drive home.
For the past year, I have spent my Sundays waiting in line for an hour for an improv show.
No, I don’t take improv classes. No, I never will. I cannot make this fact clearer. Yes, I will be terrible at them. I don’t care what you say, the class I would be placed in will have all future Saturday Night Live cast members and me, the girl whose only dream job on Saturday Night Live is to be typing scripts or being Dana Edelson. Still, one of the most influential things in my life is this theatre.
The marquee for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre blatantly reads “ALL SHOWS ALL AGES CHEAP OR FREE”. How perfect and to the point is that?
My friend called me today while I was celebrating my grandpa’s birthday and asked if I was coming to the show tonight. While I was explaining why I couldn’t make it this week, it became such a weird idea that I was talking to this friend I had met in line at a show seven months ago. After standing in the torrential downpour umbrella-less, rainboot-less, and dignity slipping away, my friend and I struck up a conversation about the weather. Go figure.
Cut to now, we wouldn’t miss these shows for the world. An hour or so improvised show experienced in a small, 150-seater theatre. Those are the only people experiencing that show. There’s something so great about being able to have that kind of community, even for someone just spectating. It’s a commitment and such a surreal experience. We never know what to expect.
Having the opportunity to watch the amazing performers at these shows has greatly influenced how I pursue happiness in my life. They have shown me that success in a satisfying lifestyle is not only hard work, but that it needs passion, grace, humor, faith, and persistence. Being able to watch them come up with scenes and characters on the spot is mind-blowing. The talent and creativity is completely out of control.
For me, the desire [of performing, doing improv] is very powerfully and very single-mindedly pursuing being in the moment. The only place that I am truly in the present tense in my life is improvising on stage because there is no way you can wait for something—you have to be listening and reacting immediately, constantly. It is the only time that I feel present in the world, it’s when I’m improvising. Otherwise, I am consumed with the fears and anxieties and stresses of my past and my future, both of which will completely overwhelm the present. When I’m performing, I’m pursuing shutting off the part of my brain that is just worry, just consistent worry. // Jason Mantzoukas
Where else can you have the opportunity to see Don Cheadle and J.J. Abrams do improv? Dan Harmon and Adam Scott walk down Franklin Ave. like it’s no big deal while I’m waiting in line marvelling at the talent casually walking by. Where else can I see legends like Horatio Sanz, Jason Mantzoukas, Zach Woods, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, or Sean Conroy do improv for free? Does this make me obnoxious? Maybe. It also proves how excited I get about these things.
But the best part is catching performers that have been in the game doing what they do best: perform. Ben Schwartz, Ben Rodgers, DC Pierson, Eugene Cordero, Joe Wengert, Amanda Sitko, Katie Dippold, Thomas Middleditch, Lauren Lapkus, Jessica Williams, Curtis Gwinn, Lennon Parham, Jessica St. Clair, Dominic Dierkes, Sean Clements, Charlie Sanders, Eric Appel, Colton Dunn, Gil Ozeri, Anthony King, Kate Spencer, Mike Still—I honestly could go on for hours and keep listing performers and go on about how talented these people are. (And now I’m wondering how many of these people get Google Alerts in the vein of Mantzoukas. Oh god.)
(Just for the record, ASSSSCAT, Hot Sauce, Brand New Ball, Reuben Starship, Diamond Lion, Shut Up! I Hate You! — favorites.)
God, I fucking love this place.
Stage photos by Kevin Porter