Monday, September 15, 2008
Every couple of weeks, my writers group, The Las Vegas Quill Keepers, meets to chat and work on the world that is publishing. (http://www.lasvegasquillkeepers.com) And, because we have such a large group of folks, we meet in big coffee shops, often in bookstores, and often without any idea of what will come of each meeting. Generally, there is comic relief through the magic of diversity, and all that the age groups and racial backgrounds bring to the table. Then there comes the writing that happens on the fly- the improvisation- the writing prompts that take simple concepts and turn them into walks into the minds of the madness. And that is what improvisation does to people- lures the madness from the mundane.
This week, after the usual gathering of gams and dames, I had the fortune to chat with a woman who does more than talks about improvisation- she lives it. As a co-Second City Almumna, it was terrific talking with Amy Pittle, President of Improv Las Vegas.Amy started in Las Vegas, as many do, with the Second City Training Center, which formerly reigned supreme at the Flamingo, on the strip. Several months ago, the center closed its doors, leaving very talented comedians with no place to call home, nor a leader to count on to guide them through their careers. Pittle, a seasoned Vegas resident found a space at the Onyx Theater, and soon formed the Student Experimental Theater. Using Spolin, Second City, Groundlings, and other creative on-your-feet models, the theater company continues where its parent left off.
Each week a packed house doesn't just watch a bunch of people repeat their routines and gimmicks. The crowd is just as much a part of the show as the performers. Asked to only mention things familiar to their lives, the people in the crowd are transfixed and doubled over in laughter discovering the magic that is improvisational comedy. The key is- not TRYING to be funny is what makes people laugh. Amy possesses not only the qualities of a guide, who helps shape her company, but the patience of a teacher, offering classes to those who are excited about the idea that a show is part of life, and therefore an attainable goal.
As the only improv training center in the Vegas Valley, the school does more than shows people what the skills are- it teaches that fun can be a team sport. With dozens of people signed into the courses, from all levels of experience, Amy is adding Stand-up as part of the class schedule this year. She is aware of the many legendary performers who call this town home- and is luring them to the school with her magnetic smile, and smart business sense. Her experience with casino VIP services, marketing, and as a member of Second City helped her develop this theater and education center into one of the finest in the country.
People wonder if Improv Theater is something worth checking out. In fact, with the growth of shows like "Whose Line Is It Anyway?", NBC's 30 Rock, and even the continued success of Saturday Night Live, improvisational ensemble theater is still one of the best ways to see the biggest stars in comedy. Wayne Brady headlines a show here, and helped bring audiences an awareness of improvisation that simply didn't exist in the last twenty years. It's music. It's stage play. It's stand-up. It's a way to be on the inside of the inside jokes - and develop new ones. And, audiences can play as much as the performers, or simply just enjoy the moments.
Amy knows how to bring the silliness from the most somber of topics. She knows how to coax the inhibition out of the shyest of people. And, with her warm smile and down-to-earth manner, she makes everyone feel as if each is the most important person in the room. As a teacher, she allows the individual to shine, and still makes the performer work in harmonic resonance with the team. Just like jazz music, the players only work well when all are listening, and feeling the same grooves.
You can check out the production for less than what it would cost for a large coffee in a Seattle shop. Only $7 will give you a sampling of the S. E. T. on Monday nights, at 9:30pm, right after the football game. Check out the Lotus of Siam restaurant just a few doors over beforehand and you have yourself one of the least expensive nights with the most bang for your buck here in Vegas. Be sure to say howdy to Amy when you go. Maybe even sign up for the classes and give your sense of humor a new sandbox to play inside. Bring friends- or make some there. It's your turn to be part of the action.