Changes afoot at Tucson Improv Movement

click to enlarge Changes afoot at Tucson Improv Movement
(Jeremy Shockley/Contributor)
Justin Lukasewicz, center, performs in The Soap Box.

Tucson Improv Movement has just embarked on its most ambitious season since it first took to the stage 10 years ago. With a cast now close to 70, the company offers seven different shows every week, Thursday through Saturday, including a recently expanded series of standup shows.

The company’s improv and standup training programs now include two levels each of standup and sketch, and five levels of improv, as well as periodic workshops.

TIM owner and executive producer Justin Lukasewicz is an evangelist for the benefits as well as the joys of improv and the school as an asset for Tucson. Lukasewicz is also CEO of Greater Tucson Leadership, an organization whose mission is “to inspire, develop, and promote leadership that impacts the Greater Tucson Region.

“The biggest new thing is that Jess Hill’s coming on as the comedy school director. I’m really excited about that because she got her PhD in teaching improv.” Then he laughs.

Technically, there was a lot more to it, but Hill’s PhD dissertation did involve using improv in team building. She also has been, from its beginning, a member of TIM’s longest-running ensemble, The Soapbox. That show celebrates its 400th performance in June.

On the performance side, several new initiatives have been developed by cast members themselves, with encouragement from Lukasewicz, some support and guidance from the company’s artistic director Daniel Kirby, and the experience of the ensemble members themselves, finding ways to improve the show through rehearsals and trial runs.

Lukasewicz cited as an example, a new concept show, “Your Favorite Movie, Improvised.” Led by Kate Herreras-Zinman, the show incubated on Zoom during COVID-19 lockdown. After a few trial runs, TIM added it to the lineup for a season.

He said, “I think that group has really solidified. They’re going on three years now. It has a good audience on a pretty regular basis.” He adds that over the past year, “Your Favorite Movie, Improvised,” has become one of TIM company’s more popular shows.

Newer shows last season included “The Meeting” another Zoom-to-stage ensemble, and “Finding the Words,” “Teachers Lounge” and “LOL and Order,” a riff on the boom in true crime podcasts.

The spring season introduces new “pilots” and shows, including “Tastebuds;” “Spectacles;” “Toot-Pole,” which creates scenes and improvises songs based on audience suggestions; and “Punball Wizards,” which is exactly what you probably imagine.

Just this month TIM also has returned kiddie comedy to its stage with a new lineup and format. “Pretendy Time” now plays at 11 a.m. the first Saturday of every month.

TIM holds auditions for new members every January, then drafts a year-long plan featuring two seasons. New shows may be brought in at mid-year and casts may be modified slightly at that time. “We do try to look at a year-long schedule so we can produce shows and get people more longevity with their team. The better people know each other, the better they are able to perform together.”

Besides “Soapbox,” TIM’s longest-running teams include “The Game Show Show,” “Cage Match” (under different names), “Shatfan,” “Improv Throwdown” and the Spanish-Language show, “Carcajadas.”

For all the new improv concepts, the shift in TIM’s approach to standup comedy may be the most noteworthy new development this season.

Lukasewicz said the company’s standup offerings are its best sellers. But he takes a broader view of TIM’s potential role in helping local people who are serious about working on a comedy career to achieve their own goals.

“I think that people who are getting into (comedy) and being more serious about it are working harder to get better, quicker,” he said. He thinks TIM can bridge a gap in those people’s trajectory by offering shows with opportunities to do longer and longer sets.

Most Tucson open mics offer three to five minutes. Showcases typically offer 5- to 10-minute sets. Showcase headliners may get as much as 15. The show order and lineups are similarly arranged everywhere, as a list of people coming up to the stage.

TIM has offered a weekly open mic for some time, and in the last year or so they added a showcase. This season, though, the company is looking at its standup offerings as a collection, curated to give comics next steps to strive for.

The TIM open mic is every Thursday at 8:30. The first Friday of every month will be a curated, by-invitation standup showcase with six comics each getting 10 minutes. The second Friday of the month will feature a new concept, “Improv vs Standup.” To cultivate crossover skills, the first half of the show will feature standup comedians performing improv, and improvisers performing standup comedy. In the second half, the performers switch back to their comfort zone.

“I’m really excited about it because I think it’ll be a fun switch,” Lukasewicz said, as he verbalized a vision of the mild-mannered TIM comedy school standup teacher Rory Monserrat in a sink-or-swim virgin improv set.

Beginning March 17, the third Friday will feature another new entry in TIM’s monthly lineup. “Femme Drop” will be a curated show featuring female-identifying comedians. It will be hosted by longtime improviser and stand-up comic, and current TIM cast member, Amelia Amie Gabusi.

Lukasewicz said, “She’s looking at different formats and ways to (engage) a whole lot of people with shorter sets, almost more like a variety show. It’s ‘let’s get anybody who’s female-identified and get as many of them as possible on this show and make this a fun space for them.’”

The highlight of the monthly standup calendar will be its fourth-Friday showcase, with a headliner invited to do a 25-minute set. Two openers will get 10 minutes each. This will then be the only show in town where a comic who feels ready to launch a career can make the 25-minute reel that might open the door to clubs and booking agents outside Tucson.

“Our hope is to mirror places where you get those longer sets,” Lukasewicz said. “There aren’t a lot of places in town where people are doing longer sets in a curated environment.” There are, in fact, exactly zero.

Other Shows This Week

Black Rock Brewery, 1664 S. Research Loop, Suite 200,, 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 11, $5, Mo Urban hosts and the lineup includes Stephanie Lyonga, headliner, and Mia Krupetsky, Maggie O’Shea, Steven Black, Cory Lytle and LuxShree.

Corbett Brewery, 309 E. Seventh Street,, 7 p.m. Friday, March 10, free, Deep Enough Comedy hosted by Good Enough Comedy, Off the Deep End Comedy, free, Joel Martin and Cory Lytle host, lineup includes Anthony Jenkins, Sylvia Remington, Darry Graves, Holly Hilton, donations encouraged including canned food and non-perishable food for local food banks and shelters.

Laff’s Comedy Caffe, 2900 E. Broadway Boulevard. 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday, March 10, and 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11,, $15, $20 preferred seating. Caleb Cynan, small-town preacher’s kid’s done USO and “Conan.”

Marana Laughs, Coyote Trail Stage, 8000 N. Silverbell,, 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 10, $10, Gilbert comic Isaac “Doc” Farm

Tucson Improv Movement/TIM Comedy Theatre, 414 E. Ninth Street,, $7 each show, $10 for both shows, same night, free jam and open mic. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 9, “Harold Eta” and “TIM Teacher’s Lounge;” 8:30 p.m. Open Mic.; 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 10, Improv Jam; 7:30 p.m. “The Soapbox;” 9 p.m. Improv vs. Stand Up; Saturday, March 11, 11 a.m. “Pretendy Time” (bring the kids!), 7:30 p.m. “Your Favorite Movie Improvised” and “The Meeting”; 9 p.m. “Improv Madness”

Unscrewed Theater, 4500 E. Speedway Boulevard,, $8, live or remote, $5 kids. 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 10, family-friendly improv; 9 p.m. Unscrewed Fridays After Dark (pay what you will); 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 11, family-friendly improv; 9 p.m. Uncensored Improv Comedy with house teams NBOJU (Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed) and The Big Daddies.

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