My somewhat brief thoughts on improv in NYC

– UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) is polished and popular due to their status (it is to SNL what Second City was to them in the 80’s and the Groundlings were to them in the 90’s, a pipeline for talent), but is definitely treading on their rep. I had a great time seeing them, but I hear they’re very hit and miss, even on their weekend shows. They have a wealth of regular content and their shows usually sell out, but it’s hard to tell their shows and all their performers apart if you don’t know them.

– The PIT (Peoples Improv Theater) has got an inviting front of house setup for the young crowd, a similar variety of shows and their improv is alright. They’re also the only NYC venue I ran into that does the typical advance online ticket sales rather than the ‘make reservation and then pay at the venue’ setup the others do. Their show selection at least seems more interesting and varied than UCB.

Magnet Theater‘s got a smaller venue than the others but clearly has an unusual and addictive enthusiasm and passion for their improv, and I probably had the most fun watching them. (Also, apparently Amie Roe from The Amie and Kristen Show lives in NYC and performs regularly at the theater’s weekly Megawatt show, which I sadly missed due to finding out about it too late).

– I’m sure there is far too much more going on in NYC’s improv scene but that’s what I got to see this week.

– The shows are cheaper than in Seattle! Tickets for midweek shows are $5-10, and most weekend shows are $10, maybe $15. In Seattle, nowadays they’re charging $15-20 for everything. U.P. might still be charging $5 for bare bones Sunday shows and duos. But Seattle may not realize how much damage they’re doing by charging too much for admission. The cost to do business in NYC is greater yet they charge less, plus most companies get their money from fundraising and class tuition anyway so it’s not like charging $15 is necessary. If Seattle should consider one factor to change it’s how much they ask their audience to pay for shows. It’s one thing with Theatresports or JCI where they’re selling out anyway, or special events like SFIT. It’s another with most shows that are struggling to fill seats. Eat a loss per head, and you might get enough extra heads to not only make up the difference but grow your audience.

РI do like that many NYC improv companies rotate a bunch of monthly shows in repertory, rather than doing one full run of a show at a time. I wish the big companies here did that, especially Wing-It (which has a lot of good mothballed in-house shows like Bunker 13 and Funbucket that could stay relevant and fresh if done once a month).

– I also realize that the audience here in Seattle, while big for a US city, is such that drawing a good crowd outside of a Friday or Saturday night is real difficult and thus doing a bunch of shows in repertory might be limited by the number of viable days worth running (probably Wednesday to Sunday nights, and definitely no late nights outside of Fri/Sat). But I think that’s a bigger problem across the board with the Seattle arts scene, which is often too introverted and cliquish to grow the outside audience it could… as well as a matter of Seattle being more traditionally 8 to 5 Monday to Friday whereas a big city like NYC has such a massive and diverse market that a sizable portion of their audience has no problem seeing a Tuesday night 10pm show.

– Chicago is still the nation’s improv mecca but I think NYC’s probably a close 2nd. I’m sure there’s a big LA scene, but so much of LA’s non-TV/film scene is treated by performers as a springboard into TV and film that it’s probably more fragmented and formulaic. Seattle remains a top improv destination, but not on that level.

– The performers in these NYC shows. They’re fearless and bold with their choices. All of them. I wish I could say the same for Seattle. The best Seattle improv performers ARE fearless. But so much of our scene still locks up on stage under cerebral fear, and its sometimes infuriating to see bad scenes die under all that anxiety and overthinking. I respect and got a lot from my Seattle teachers but sometimes I wish I could clone Mick Napier 20 times and just set him loose in every improv class, every rehearsal.

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