By Alex Stumpf, Point Park News Service:
The Steel City Improv Theater makes one commitment: “Once you get good at improv, you will get better at life.”
The founders, Kasey Daley and Justin Zell, brought their life-teaching skills to Pittsburgh from New York four years ago and have been spreading their philosophy ever since.
“Good improv is a difficult thing to do,” Daley said. “It’s a skill that’s an art form.”
The theater opened in 2010 on the North Side before moving to Shadyside two years later. In the Improv’s four years of operation, Daley and Zell have trained more than 350 students at a variety of levels, from introduction to an advanced long form.
When they first opened in Pittsburgh, improvisational performance was not as popular in the city as it is today, they said.
“There [were] like 10 or 15 people in 2010 that were doing things,” Daley said. “Now, that number is probably 80 that are really active.”
In addition to classes, the theater also hosts a variety of events, from a “social improv jam” that is open to the public to performances by the theater’s house teams. Daley and Zell audition potential members for the three current teams, “Nude Beach,” “Smack and Cheese” and “Hotel Nowhere.”
The founders test the performers on their editing skills, or the ability to end a bit with two-person scenes. Members of the three teams come almost exclusively from former students.
Actor and teacher Chris Wright, who performs in the improvised rap group “Yo Gloria,” said he found his way to the theater after he was signed up for the level-one class as a Christmas present. Wright’s rap influences came from Busta Rhymes in high school. Before joining the group, he needed to shake off some rust, he said.
“It was definitely hard to get back into it because it’s a lot harder to express your character’s point of view while rapping and rhyming in rhythm,” Wright said. “If you’re rapping, you just can’t stop.”
For Nude Beach member Mary Stewart, the chance to improvise with a group of new friends proved to be a main reason why she joined.
“I never played sports growing up, but I do think of improv as a team effort because it’s never just you,” Stewart said.