Unlike the short-form improvisations you see on TV or in comedy clubs, long-form improv is not about being funny, although it usually is funny. The shows run between 25 and 60 minutes in length and are a collection of characters and scenes created spontaneously from a single suggestion. Along the way, ideas are synthesized and themes are expanded, and hopefully characters and plots are reincorporated.

To do it well you have to stay in the moment and go where the show takes you. You have to make strong choices that get straight to the heart of the matter, and you must support your teammates and trust that they will support you. When you are doing it well, it's empowering and fun. When you are doing it badly, it's still instructive, like a cryptic dream that lingers with you all day and makes you say, "Huh, what was that about?"

I'm in level five, and it's kicking my ass. It brought me to tears a couple of weeks back when I made the realization that my tendency to play bossy and controlling characters is a microcosm for my real life in which my codependency makes me struggle to let other people make their own mistakes. As an exercise to help me break my bad improv habit, my instructor, Gonzalez, made me do 16 back-to-back scenes in which I had to play only supportive or submissive characters. It was exhausting and freeing. During a break in class, I asked my classmate Corina Smith, one of the driest people I have ever met, what brought her to improv. She says that after a year of debilitating illness and the sudden loss of her mother, she made the conscious decision to stop letting fear dictate her choices. "I never thought I would be able to overcome my fear of being on stage enough to do improv. The experience overall has been life-changing."

A handmade sign at The Torch Theatre.
Courtesy of kim porter
A handmade sign at The Torch Theatre.
Corina Smith volunteers to run the box office.
Courtesy of kim porter
Corina Smith volunteers to run the box office.

Location Info

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The Torch Theatre

4721 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85012

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: Central Phoenix

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Overcoming fear is a common theme for a lot of improvisers I talked to.

Chris Hooper, whose carefully shaped black facial hair and arched brows make him look like a handsome devil from a 1950s-era B-movie, tells me.

"Improv takes away fear like you wouldn't believe. I was ready for some new challenges — I moved cross-country to Phoenix [and] I cleared away all the excuses standing between me and a new life — but there I was, just sitting in my apartment doing nothing, thinking, 'Now what, fucker?'" Hooper says, laughing. "I got into my car and I drove down Central. Then I saw the sign for the Torch and I went straight home and signed up for classes. By the end of the first class, I knew that I would finish this."

And you need more fun.

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