Make it up

Reno Improv

Reno Improv students participate in a “staged rant” excercise.

Reno Improv students participate in a “staged rant” excercise.

Photo/Matt Bieker

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In most lines of work, making it up as you go can get you fired. To the members of Reno Improv, however, it’s kind of the whole point.

“We forget that, in life, we’re improvising the whole damn thing all the time,” said Taylor Riedeman, a long-time member and instructor at Reno Improv. “When you get on stage, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’m improvising!’ Well, you’ve kind of been improvising since you got up this morning.”

Reno Improv was started three years ago by former members of the now-defunct Empire Comedy. After two years of sharing their rehearsal space with other artists at the Potentialist Theater, the group moved into a new building on Wells Avenue in February.

The move allowed the 23 dues-paying members to exercise greater control over their performance schedules and accommodate more students. They currently offer three levels of formal, eight-week classes.

“Introduction to short form is the first one that we do, and you can liken that to the show Whose Line is it Anyway?” said Riedeman. “It’s very game-y. … They give you some sort of task, and then everyone’s got to come up with their funniest line, or three people link hands, and you have to pretend your an expert with three heads.”

Level one is geared toward getting new students out of their comfort zones and into the collaborative environment, while levels two and three draw on the fundamentals to build longer scenes.

“Long form is when you’re creating, essentially, the scenes that happen in sitcoms,” said Riedeman. “You’re creating a scene from beginning to end with people, and so you learn the techniques and the methods to make that happen.”

While making the audience laugh is always a goal, Riedeman said that many students join Reno Improv for reasons beyond comedy—or even acting. Much like how yoga can offer skills beyond just flexibility, like mindfulness and breath control, improv can help students overcome a fear of public speaking or mental barriers to creativity.

“It’s amazing how many people that haven’t even been on stage before—the transformation that we see them have in their lives,” Riedeman said. “There’s such a beautiful camaraderie in that building that I’ve really not felt many other places.”

To Ben Craig, an improviser for the last 14 years and the owner of Reno Improv, being funny doesn’t even count as a prerequisite.

“You don’t have to be funny, because the funny in improv comes from the honesty that happens in the scene,” Craig said. “Anybody can get laughs in improv. If they agree to situations and they support one another, anybody can do it.”

Being funny also means being smart, Craig said, and Reno Improv places a huge importance on making participants of every walk of life feel safe.

“We’ve geared ourselves toward being smarter, not relying on the stereotypes, and protecting all groups who come,” Craig said. “People here want growth, and they want forward thinking, and so to use things that would be basically be offensive or alienate any particular group is going to turn people off.”

Reno Improv’s website lists the dates of both class schedules and troupe performances, which happen every Saturday evening at 8 p.m. And while there’s already talk of participating in improv festivals and finding a larger space in the future, the folks at Reno Improv are happy to take it one step at a time.