Most theater you see has been carefully written, rehearsed and staged by the time you actually see it. While there can be great excitement and energy in such a performance, it can also lack a certain spontaneity.

Most theater you see has been carefully written, rehearsed and staged by the time you actually see it. While there can be great excitement and energy in such a performance, it can also lack a certain spontaneity. Over the last few decades, another form of theater has become popular: improvisation. Improv is most familiar to us from TV shows like Saturday Night Live or Whose Line Is It Anyway, but it also informs the writing of a lot of sitcoms, and can be found on the stage right here in Portland.

Improv history

At the heart of the improv scene in Portland are Portland State professors (and husband and wife) Scott Parker and Victoria Parker-Pohl. They have been involved in improv locally and beyond since at least the 70s, including film and theater work across the country. In addition to starting improv troupes locally, they brought Kieth Johnstone’s legendary Theatersports improv games to Portland. (Almost all improv you see on TV or stage is based on Johnstone’s pioneering method.)

Take a class

Parker teaches an improvisational acting class each quarter and occasionally does an advanced improv class. The final performance at the end of each class is held in Lincoln Hall’s Studio Theater and is free and open to the public. This quarter it should be at around 2:15 p.m. on Thursday, March 13. PSU students from last quarter’s improv class may be putting together a Theatersports team with The Brody Theater and would compete with Brody’s team in a free performance sometime in March. Check the Vanguard for updates.

From PSU to SNL?

My Own Private Improv is a locally famous improv troupe composed of PSU students Ian Karmel, Coco Van Liew, Dirk Marshall, Nick Jaynes and Michel Entler. [Editor’s note: Both Ian Karmel and Nick Jaynes previously worked for the Vanguard.] After Ian went to Los Angeles to be a part of The Groundlings (the group Saturday Night Live usually pulls its new performers from), the group stopped performing. With Ian’s temporary return to Portland, My Own Private Improv staged a reunion show Dec. 27 that was the best improv I have ever seen on stage or TV. The group may or may not ever perform again, but you will probably be able to catch Ian on SNL pretty soon. (Plus, there are some videos by the troupe on YouTube.)

The Brody Theater

The other local breeding ground for improv is The Brody Theater. Several troupes have come out of Brody, and they regularly have Theatersports performances, including a run over the holidays that ended just recently. (Don’t worry, it’ll be back.) They also do longer-form improv such as their recent spoof Antiques Improv Show. Their next event is their 25-hour Improvathon, in which various members of the troupe see how long they can last in this all-nighter that runs from 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan 27. The event takes place at the Brody Studio at 3314 S.W. First Ave. Tickets are $7 for students and $10 for all others, and 25-hour drop-in passes can be had for $10 for students and $15 for everyone else. Stay up all night doing something other than playing videogames. (Brody is also on local access TV.) Their website is www.brodytheater.com.

ComedySportz Portland

Based on a slightly more comedy-centered approach than Theatersports, this local group has performed every weekend since May of 1993. They perform every Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the ComedySportz Arena, located at 1963 N.W. Kearney St. All shows are family-friendly (unlike My Own Private Improv) although not necessarily catered to children. The group has kid-themed shows select Sundays and amateur shows select Sunday evenings. The Jan. 11 and 18 shows will have a magic show and improvised song and dance, respectively, in addition to the regular performance. Regular tickets are $12, and advance ticket purchase is suggested, as they sometimes sell out. Their website is www.portlandcomedy.com.

Brainwaves Improv Comedy

Fridays and Saturdays in March, this local improv group will return with performances at 8 p.m. every night. Admission is $12, and advance tickets can be obtained by e-mailing [email protected]. All shows are at the Shoebox Theater, located at 2110 S.E. 10th Ave. They, as well as all of the other companies listed here, offer workshops for anyone interested in getting off their butt and doing something fun.

[Editor’s note: Aaron Kelly was enrolled in the improv class during Fall term, he may also be part of Theatersports team with The Brody Theater in the future]