Improv comedy may seem like a trendy way for people to get out of their comfort zones on the weekend, or a way to keep a crowd entertained with a two-drink minimum. But it's also a form of philosophical strength training that applies to many facets of life off stage.
Improv comedy feels more like a public trust than any other form of comedic art and a new non-profit comedy theater called Stomping Ground Comedy Theater is expanding its role as a community service.
"Improv, generally speaking, helps people trust their first instincts," says actor and comedian Chad Cline, the training center director of Stomping Ground Comedy Theater. "It creates more confidence and an overall kind of self-awareness. It helps people get out of their heads and into the moment and over the years of teaching all types, sometimes you find folks who go on and become great performers who never thought they had that bone in their body."
The new nonprofit comedy theater venture raised over $4,000 at its first fundraiser on Oct. 7 at Arts Mission Oak Cliff with — what else? — a live comedy show. But comedy classes and shows aren't the only way Stomping Ground hopes to enrich the Dallas community.
Lindsay Goldapp, an actress and improv comedian who serves as Stomping Ground's managing director, says the theater wants to make the experience more affordable and profitable to both the people in the audience and the improvisers on stage who typically don't make much, if any, money from improvisational comedy.
"When we open our doors and when we have our own space, it's really important to us that we keep our ticket prices affordable and keep our classes affordable and we feel strongly about paying our featured performers," Goldapp says. "We think that the artist should be paid. I know it's a crazy concept but when you're doing professional work on the weekend and putting on a great show for an audience, you should be getting paid. That's something we feel very strongly about."
The theater will also offer a range of classes on improv, sketch and standup comedy taught by local standup and Funniest Comic in Texas winner Aaron Aryanpur. Cline says the classes won't be limited to a single range of styles or techniques. The classes will offer instruction on improvisation for both short-form and long-form formats with instructors who studied under different theaters and styles such as the Groundlings in Los Angeles and iO and the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. Stomping Ground also plans to offer more off-beat and unique styles of comedy instruction such as comedy songwriting and musical improv.
"The goal is take all of those stypes and put them all together in one curriculum that will help put Dallas on the map and help improvisers who want to go to New York, L.A., Chicago, Las Vegas, whatever," Cline says. "And we'll have classes for your average Joe and Jane who just want to give better presentations at work and meet new people or just learn how to grow their confidence."
Goldapp says she and the theater's board of directors also want to provide services that go beyond just putting on a good show.
"The reason we wanted to go non-profit and there were so many reasons but one of them is all the outreach we wanted to do and we're kind of going off the model of some theaters we admire like ImprovBoston, which is sort of the crown jewel of what we wanted to do," Goldapp says. "They do all the typical things like shows, classes and touring companies but they also have a charitable wing where they do classes for people with special needs and a lot outreach and fellowship. That's where we would like to be in 20 years."
Part of Stomping Ground's outreach includes a unique wing of the theater called Improv For Life that will teach improvisational techniques and concepts to caretakers of people suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia, people with autism and people dealing with anxiety.
"It's simple things like saying yes and accepting the reality and committing to your actions 100 percent," says Andrea Kyprianou Baum, an improviser who works as a psychotherapist and serves as the director for Stomping Ground's Improv For Life program. "It's about trusting groups and your own ideas, problem-solving and letting go of your need to control situations or outcomes."
The Improv For Life classes are for students who want to learn about the benefits of improvising outside of a comedic context. For instance, Improv For Life's "Improv for Alzheimer's Caregivers" workshop that starts on Saturday, Nov. 4 helps people who are caring for a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer's understand their situation by teaching them how to accept the reality and perceptions they present to them on a daily basis.
"They're usually dealing with someone who's slowly starting to forget and is confused," Baum says. "A lot of times what happens when they are in the early development stages of Alzheimer's and they start to decline, the person caring for them naturally tries to reality check them. In our caregiver workshop, we teach really basic techniques of improv and apply them to caregiving for someone with Alzheimer's. If we can teach a caregiver how to step into their world and 'yes and...' and add information, it makes those interactions a lot easier and more enjoyable for the caregiver and there's a lot less confusion and frustration for the person with Alzheimer's as well."
Right now, Stomping Ground is still trying to find a permanent space that they can make their own but Arts Mission Oak Cliff allows them to use their stage and other local clubs like The Comedy Arena in McKinney to raise awareness for their new theater movement.
Goldapp says their unique comedy club model also doesn't create a need to compete with other local comedy clubs or communities. It's more about leveraging what Dallas's comedy scene has to make it better and more fruitful all around or as she calls it, "cooper-tition".
"The better city is at comedy, the better we are as a comedy city," she says. "Instead of like trying to compete with each other, we're trying to lift each other up. High tides lift all boats, as they say. We want people to train at all the places in the city. In Chicago, we people train at Second City and iO, each one does something a little different and we want people to learn as much as they can. We don't see ourselves as competition because we're doing this and the Alternative Comedy Theater is doing this and the Dallas Comedy House is doing this thing. Improv students are all around and they should learn everything."
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