Why don't more people like improv?

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Why don't more people like improv?

Postby DanC » July 19th, 2018, 9:53 am

As an audience member, my preferences are

Improv > sketch > standup

But the general public is more

Standup > sketch > improv


The truth about improv that many proponents don’t want to admit is that is essentially a niche entertainment, like ballet. Those of us who love it, love it. But most people don’t care for it. As with ballet, the public understands improv is a skill and practitioners work at it for years. They know there is some art there, but that doesn’t mean they want to go to a show.

It’s a shame. I wonder about the relative decline of improv in Austin in recent years. (At least, that’s my perception; I have no hard numbers.) In 2009 there were five training centers. Now in 2018 - nine years later - there are still five training centers. Yet the local population has grown considerably.

The training centers put on shows, too, but it’s not like we are drowning in improv performances. Here’s what I see

MerlinWorks - show one night a month
Institution Theater - shows two nights a week plus an open jam on Sunday
Hideout - shows four nights a week plus an open jam on Wednesday
Fallout - shows six nights a week plus an open jam on Sunday
ColdTowne - shows seven nights a week

While I appreciate the hard working folks who produce and perform, it seems that the scene is stagnant or in slight decline, despite big increases in population. Maybe this population increase is bad for this industry - higher real estate prices and cost of living are bad for the comedy scene.

Further, these shows are not all, or even primarily improv. They are often stand-up or sketchprov type things like game shows. If audiences buy tickets, fine with me - I will not criticize the theaters for putting on these events. I just wish more people liked improv.
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Re: Why don't more people like improv?

Postby happywaffle » July 20th, 2018, 12:53 pm

I think improv has a partially-deserved reputation in the larger community for being a casual form of theater, not "real" theater that involves diligent preparation and an end product that merits an expensive evening out. (I do mean "partially," since as we know, most improv in our community is delightful for the audience who does come.)

Improv in Austin might very well be stagnant; rent prices are partially to blame—when Salvage Vanguard closed down a few years ago, no performance venue emerged to replace it. Now the Institution has lost its primary performance space. Just this week, the Hideout was forced to close the Hideout Studios—due to a cranky neighbor rather than expensive rent, but you could probably classify all three examples as part of Austin's recent hostility to arts spaces.

How to turn it around? That's a tough one. Merlin Works would very much like to have a performance space, but the financial numbers just don't add up. Various troupes have formed guerrilla shows, but none that have really stuck. Sorry to linger on the money thing, since there are certainly other factors; we might have been on a bubble of "peak improv" in 2009. But anyone who opens the legendary Sixth Theater will need to overcome this very tall hurdle.
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Re: Why don't more people like improv?

Postby lizardcatking » July 20th, 2018, 1:03 pm

Nice conversation starter....

My only comment is 5 training centers, but how many classes per week are those centers doing and how full are the classes? I think that number has been rising, but also, no hard data. Related - the Hideout and Coldtowne both added additional training/rehearsal locations.

How has Austin compared to other cities? I have no info on that except for the occasional improv refugee who ends up on the shores of Barton Springs.

Ok, I have another comment as the Hideout added a theater when they closed on the Coffeehouse, but maybe that was more than 5 years ago.

And there's the corporate side of most of the training centers. That was kind of dead 5 years ago, but seems to be gaining steam.

I think Improv maybe is pausing, but it's pausing to catch its breath. If I were to start a new theater in town, it would not be in Austin since I think most of the growth is around Austin. So I'd look north to Round Rock or somewhere north of 183.

Cheers,
Todd
Todd Hart
--Simplicity, patience, & compassion.
-- Have I talked to you about floatation therapy?
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