Improv Playhouse is Coming for a Visit

This weekend’s guest troupe and workshop instructors Improv Playhouse are the closest thing to family that the Hideout Theatre has. Regina Saisi is a founding member of BATS Improv in San Francisco and has been teaching, improvising and directing shows with them since 1986, a full decade before Hideout founder and original artistic director Sean Hill brought the BATS brand of improv comedy to Austin.

It was in the mold of BATS that the Hideout was created, embracing Johnstone-style improvisation with classic “shortform” shows (Maestro, Theatresports and Gorilla Theatre) and encouraging the evolution of this naturally story-based strain of improvisation into “narrative longform” in which stories are improvised over a longer period of time, often in a specific genre or format.

The earliest improvised plays at the Hideout were in a show called Six Degrees that was lifted directly from BATS, and our first forays into genre improvisation were with another borrowed format, Start Trekkin’. Since then we’ve explored dozens of new formats and genres, some stolen from far-flung places and some invented for the Hideout mainstage or by local troupes with a yen for some particular challenge of narrative, but throughout the years BATS has been a continued source of inspiration.

After early experiences with Improv Theatre and Pulp Playhouse, Regina Saisi founded the genre powerhouse True Fiction Magazine, currently performing improvised stories on the BATS stage and the internationally syndicated radio program West Coast Live. She’s teaching a workshop this Saturday afternoon on Keeping it Simple, connecting with your partner and letting that connection fuel your storytelling improvisation.

Tim Orr has been with BATS since 1988 and has regularly been the Director of the BATS Long-Form Intensive program that many many Austin improvisers have made the pilgrimage to the Bay Area to attend. I personally spent three weeks in the summer of 2004 having my mind blown by the workshops and performances, including Tim’s troupe Three For All, which might have been the most impressive narrative improv show I had ever seen up to that point and is arguably one of the most influential troupes on Austin improv through their inspiration of generations of troupes including Get Up! and Parallelogramophongraph. Tim is teaching a workshop on Saturday entitled Jump In!, demanding that improvisers create a more dynamic scene or story from the very beginning.

Lisa Rowland has been a guest in Austin in the past and never fails to delight. She came up through the prestigious Stanford Improvisers, joined BATS in 2007 and has been churning out the stories ever since, including Murder Mystery, Shakespeare, James Bond and her two-person side project Awkward Dinner Party. Lisa’s Saturday workshop is Starting the Story, how to craft a multi-dimensional environment that will make for a more truthful and engaging story throughout.

And the three members of Improv Playhouse will be performing two shows in the festival. Friday night at 10pm is the Naked Stage, a fully-improvised, multi-act play. Saturday at 10pm is the Naked Screen, an improvised film with all the special effects and trappings of cinema. Tickets available here.

-Andy Crouch