Remember that one night at sleepover camp? Or that boon docker when nobody went home until the sun came up? Or any other occasion when you and your friends were hanging out, riffing with each other until the sun came up?
That euphoria, that jazz you feel, messing around in the middle of the night, laughing, that’s what improv is. You can take classes, you can learn improv games, but at its best, improv is people who like and trust each other a lot, relaxed, hanging out, maybe sharing snacks.
Tucson Improv Movement will be hosting 28 hours of that kind of fun starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 2. Perhaps the best, and surely the silliest and weirdest hours will be from 2 to 7 a.m. Saturday morning. Nine of TIM company’s top improvisers will be playing scenes to giggle by.
To be sure, the TIM Improvathon will offer lots of other laughs throughout. The Soapbox show, TIM’s longest running weekly team, celebrates its 400th show at 7:30 p.m. Friday night with special guests from the LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce. The company’s kids’ show, “Pretendy Time,” opens a five-hour run of family-friendly improv at 10 a.m. Saturday, then five of Tucson’s best comics will feature in a Saturday afternoon standup showcase.
All of TIM’s house teams perform a show from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday and the event wraps up from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. with a “24-Hour Comedy Party” followed by TIM’s runaway hit show, “A Big Wet Throbbing Queer Comedy Show,” a tribute to the kickoff of Pride Month. Find the complete schedule of shows at tucsonimprov.com.
TIM executive producer Justin Lukasewicz said that the 24-hour Improvathon sprang from the experience of an early TIM team, Party Barf, in the Del Close Improvathon. The massive event was hosted annually by The Upright Citizens Brigade across several venues in New York City. Party Barf participated for four years before the event shut down.
Having seen what fun an Improvathon could be, creating its own happy world for a day, Lukasewicz tried out the idea in 2017. He’s brought it back this year because he’s confident that the company is in better shape to sustain quality across a range of formats. And how better to earn money to pay down the company’s COVID-19 loan?
“I’m just really excited,” he said. “I feel like we’ve created an event where lots of different people in Tucson could come out for different portions. It’s like, ‘Whatever you’re into, we’ve got it.’”
Paradoxically, a lot of the new excitement around this year’s event is a byproduct of COVID-19 lockdown. “The first year was like, ‘Just get through it and get back. And then year two and a half was ‘How do we build in support and empower people to kind of take ownership over the place?’
“I think this happened everywhere during COVID. The people who stuck with improv were the people who were like, ‘Wow! If improv’s not in my life, I’m missing something.’”
Lukasewicz found that the people who stuck with it were motivated to be engaged, to level up their commitment to the company and to the game. New teams formed around new ideas. Lukasewicz and other experienced players encouraged new ideas and helped shape new show concepts for the stage. Lukasewicz was also able to cultivate more depth in the volunteer technical crew, the coaching staff and volunteer show hosts.
“I do think we’ve created a pipeline of community development that maybe we didn’t have before,” Lukasewicz said.
One constant in the theater’s history has been the success of the TIM’s weekly flagship show, “The Soapbox,” which will perform its 400th show during the Improvathon. Each week’s show features a different guest from business, government, the nonprofit sector or the arts. Guests share anecdotes about memorable events in their lives, and the Soapbox team spins them into comedy gold.
The Soapbox cast is a model of the kinds of relationships and interactions that make for the best, and funniest, improv performances. Long-time cast member and current Improv 101 teacher, Clare Shelley, reflected on the ensemble’s success. “I remember our first show back in the theater when it re-opened (after the pandemic). It was unbelievable. The excitement and the interaction, the stimulation after being isolated for so long.
“One of my students was there, and afterward he said, ‘It was just crazy watching you. You trust each other so much. I just imagined that every week you’re doing trust falls and catching each other.’
“I can’t say that I know everybody’s personal lives but our improv we know very intimately. On that stage I trust them to just step into the unknown and just catch whatever it is that was thrown out.”
Ultimately, it seems, in an improv show, that what matters most is trust. But what about the snacks? Lukasewicz is on that, too.
“We’re going to have things we don’t normally have,” he said, rattling off Red Bulls, late-night pizza, breakfast treats, etc., alongside the usual selection of beer, wine, White Claw, soft drinks and tasty flavors of local popcorn.
A $20 pass will cover admission to all the shows. That’s a bargain if you want to see even five of them. Regular prices are $7.50 per show or two for $10. However many shows you see you can think of it as a donation. According to Lukasewicz, all proceeds from the weekend will help pay down the COVID-19 loan.
OTHER SHOWS THIS WEEK
Corbett Brewery, 309 E. Seventh Street, 7 p.m. Friday, May 26, free, “Off the Deep End Comedy,” Rob Maebe headlines, Roxy Merari features, Adam Bauer and Yovan open, Cory Lytle hosts.
Hotel Congress, 311 E Congress Street, 7 p.m. Saturday, May 27, hotelcongress.com, $15. The more-fabulous-than-life “Retro Game Show Night,” now in its 12th year, presents “The Mismatch Game”
Hotel McCoy, 720 W. Silverlake Road, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 27, hotelmccoy.com, free “Chris Haughton and Friends,” Monte Benjamin headlines, Rich Gary features and Allana Erickson-Lopez opens.
Laff’s Comedy Caffe, 2900 E. Broadway Boulevard, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday, May 26, and 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 27, laffstucson.com, $15, $20 preferred seating. Don Barnhart, winner of a “Bob Hope” award for 20 years’ entertaining troops around the world
Tucson Improv Movement/TIM Comedy Theatre, 414 E. Ninth Street. tucsonimprov.com, $7 each show, $10 for both shows, same night, free jam and open mic. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 25, Improv 101 and 501 Showcase; 8:30 p.m. Open Mic with host Holly Hilton; 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 26, Improv Jam with host Sara Alcazar Silva; 7:30 p.m. “The Soapbox” with Rocque Perez; 9 p.m. Stand Up Showcase; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 27, “The Meeting” and “Finding the Words;” 9 p.m. “Fourth Avenue Confessions”
Unscrewed Theater, 4500 E. Speedway Boulevard, unscrewedtheatre.org, $8, live or remote, $5 kids. 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 26, Family-Friendly Improv; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 27, Family-Friendly Improv; 9 p.m. Uncensored Improv Comedy with house teams NBOJU (Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed) and The Big Daddies.