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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Improv can improve your life: Blue Door and the School of Improv take craft beyond the performance space

By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

There is nothing that makes Colin Mochrie, who some have dubbed the Godfather of Improv, happier than the art form that has catapulted the “Whose Line Is It Anyway” entertainer to stardom.

“I don’t know what I would do without improv,” Mochrie said recently while calling from Toronto. “But the funny thing is that when I started out in improv, people didn’t know what it was. I literally had to explain to people what I was trying to get them to experience as I pulled them from a McDonalds into a small theater. People had no idea back then (during the ’80s) what improv was and now improv shows, like mine, are selling out theaters. People of all ages are taking improv classes, and that’s great because improv can help improve your life.”

Jim Mohr is simpatico with Mochrie. The Spokane School of Improv Board President has been presenting performances at the Blue Door Theatre since 1996. The intimate venue has offered improv shows every Friday and Saturday featuring amusing local players who step up in front of a crowd and never negate.

“There is nothing like improv,” Mohr said. “The shows are amazing since you watch a team up there support each other and take a concept to a fascinating place. Every show is different. It’s funny, unpredictable and entertaining. Improv doesn’t get the credit it deserves, but it’s getting there.”

The improv shows are fun, but so are the classes offered by the Spokane School of Improv. Beginner and advanced improv classes, along with teen classes, have been available at the Blue Door. Since January, however, the school has offered classed geared toward professionals, such as Improv and the Law, Improv and Poetry and Improv and Self Care.

“Learning and having fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Mohr said. “There is so much a professional can learn from in the improv classes. People would be surprised how this can enhance their lives.”

Mohr believes the time is right for the Blue Door to expand beyond improv instruction that are designed for performance.

“Other cities have classes like this and with how Spokane is growing economically and with diversity, why not do this now,” Mohr said. “People can take a step up professionally and personally with improv classes.”

Improv can improve public speaking, creativity and team building. “It can help you in so many ways, and the funny thing is that people don’t realize that they’re doing improv every day,” Spokane School of Improv artistic director Frank Tano said.

What’s behind improv is the take that is known as “Yes and …” With improv, no is not part of the lexicon. Improv is about building on what your teammate delivers.

“Improv is very much about listening,” Mohr said. “You see how the story unfolds and you contribute to it. It’s about making your partner look good. Improv is great for anyone who would like to improve their communication for their work or just personally.”

The classes by Spokane’s only established improv group can also buoy a fledgling entertainer into the world of improv. Tano has been an improv player for 20 years. “I dove into the improv pool in Anchorage and never looked back,” Tano said. “I fell in love with improv when I was with a group called Scared Scriptless. But I wasn’t frightened. I enjoyed the spontaneity of it and I was always calm performing in a group.

“I started as a stand-up comedian but I found that to be so nerve-wracking. I took improv to build up my stand up and I realized that I didn’t enjoy stand-up very much but I loved improv so I stayed with it.”

Even though it didn’t work out well for Tano as a stand-up, fledgling Spokane comics might benefit from improv classes. Comic Jimmy Pardo noted that improv is integral to his comedy. “80 percent of my shows are improv,” Pardo said while calling from Los Angeles. “I discovered that my improv was way funnier than my prepared material. I just decided to work off of the people in the audience. There’s nothing like going back and forth with someone and taking a concept somewhere.”

Tano believes the timing, an essential element in comedy and improv, is right for launching improv classes in Spokane.

“The world has been asleep for a few years, so here we go as we are starting to wake up,” Tano said. “I look around here and I see this wonderful arts scene that’s burgeoning. We have so much diversity in theater in our town and we’re just adding to it with improv. Not every city has improv. We’ve had it for 30 years and now we have classes and teen workshops every Saturday. We have improv for lawyers, for those in corporate and future entertainers. Who knows who will come out of the Spokane School of Improv?”

Perhaps the next Mochrie will emerge from Spokane.

“I don’t know if I would wish for that,” Mochrie said. “I would hope someone can do better. But I’m just glad that improv has caught on and is getting bigger. It’s so great that there are these improv classes popping up in cities all across North America. What people should realize whether they want to become entertainers or better communicators, is that improv will make a difference in your life and those around you. It’s also such a great deal of fun. If you love to laugh and like to challenge yourself, take a shot at improv.”