Kim Porter on Torch Theatre's Anniversary in Downtown Phoenix
Courtesy of Kim Porter Corina Smith working the box office at Torch Theatre
I'm standing out front of the Torch Theatre -- an improv space in downtown Phoenix -- on a recent Saturday night, asking the performers how improv has impacted their lives. I feel like I'm getting two shows for the price of one. The first was the one I just watched inside the theatre in which a single audience suggestion -- "George Michael" -- resulted in an entire show about a man too fearful of change to throw away his MC Hammer pants.
The second show is this one. All around me improv teams are gathered, some riding a high from the show they just finished, and others playing a game in the alley in which they chant "Bunny Bunny."
Big Brain 2012 Finalist: Torch Theater
The funny thing is, while long-form improv requires performers to fearlessly go on stage before a live audience and spontaneously create multiple characters in a variety of scenarios, these people look and act nothing like "actors."
For one thing, this is not a bunch of good-looking show-offs. Most of them are regular people, with real world jobs, who step onto the stage each week and pretend to be petulant teenagers and Supreme Court justices and 'gator wrestlers. Very few of them could be described as seriously attractive -- this is a motley crew of balding heads, eye-glasses, and bulging bellies -- and yet after a full night of watching them drag compelling characters up from their subconscious, I'll have a "performer crush" on more than one of them.
Like Jackie Rich, a former environmental policy consultant, whose toned upper arms and springy energy makes me realize that I'll never be as cool a 60-year-old as she is. She's been practicing improv since 2009, and tonight she's playing with a team of four seasoned improvisors whose collective improv experience exceeds 60 years. When I ask her how improv has impacted her life she says, "In improv, we spend time being other people--people who have different patterns of behavior from our own. Performing improv made me realize that my ingrained reactions are choices and there are other choices that can be made. I don't have to do what I always do, I can try something new."