published Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Could Dallas become a great comedy city like, say, Chicago? The thing that makes Chicago a great place for improvisational comedy isn’t only The Second City. It’s independent comedy theaters like pH Productions, iO (ImprovOlympic), Annoyance Theatre, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, The Atheneum, and The Playground. Stand up clubs and theaters are open to improv and there is an absolute plethora of independent improv and sketch groups. The Chicago Improv Festival showcases all this talent and is hosted by many of these locations.
For Dallas to move toward that level of comedy per capita we need multiple improv storefronts. So it’s a very good sign indeed that Alternative Comedy Theater seeks to open a storefront space sometime toward the end of summer. Their fundraising campaign, with a goal of $10,000, ends on April 23.
“Everyone needs to laugh. Everyone needs to play. Improv comedy helps people do both. By contributing to our campaign you’d help a lot of people get the opportunity to get up and make people laugh.” So says John Rawley, co-founder and artistic director of ACT along with Liz Robinson and Travis Medina.
“The money that we raise,” explains Rawley, “will help buy tables and chairs, materials to build a stage, get a license to sell beer and wine, improve our lighting and sound system, and buy all the things you forget about when you move. Toilet paper costs money!”
ACT has been together since March 2008, so a permanent theater “is something we’ve been planning for a while,” says Rawley. The closure last December of a main performance space, the Dyer Street Bar, kicked the project in motion. Plans are to stay north of Mockingbird, but “we’re not ruling anything out,” says Rawley.
Rawley envisions a black box theater, rather than a nightclub, to host ACT acts The Victims, The Band Wreckers and Rigamarole, who now perform in various places about the metro area. But Rawley asserts that “we will have performers not affiliated with the ACT come to our space and perform,” citing the benefits that accrue when comedians with different approaches and training mix and bounce off each other.
“In this transition year, the Big Sexy Weekend of Improv is scaled back so we can focus our attention on moving,” says Rawley. The festival returns to its original home, Pocket Sandwich Theatre, cramming a half-dozen acts into the 11:15 pm slots on Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, with workshops that Saturday. The Monologue Jam hosted by Brad McIntyre will be one of the offerings.
An improv theater with an open door would be a good first step toward softening the sense of encampment that pervades the comedy scene. It can accelerate the growth of area improv ensembles, exposing groups like Fourth Wall and FTP Comedy to new audiences and influences. Expanding the Big Sexy to include the full range of area improv acts would be another huge boon. If it takes the cooperation over completion ethos of the local theaters to heart, there’s no reason North Texas can’t support an improve scene to rival Chicago’s.