Improvisational theater is synonymous with Chicago and New York, where iconic venues like The Second City and The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater have acted as breeding grounds for the comedic avant-garde of the past few decades.
Although San Antonio has neither the iconic allure of Chicago nor the coolness of New York, there is a quickly growing improv culture in town which has a philosophy and history purely unique to the city.
There is an underground comedy club below the Magic Time Machine, and it’s a petri dish for homegrown comedy, hosting acts that range from stand-up to sketch and improv. The Alamo City Improv has built its nest at the Blind Tiger Comedy Club, and has restlessly hosted a show every weekend for a year and a half.
The company is dedicated to growing the local improv culture. “In the art community in San Antonio, there is a vibe that says you gotta go to Austin or L.A. or New York,” said ACI’s Cary Farrow IV. “The city is ripe with opportunities, and the people who are choosing to invest in it are getting a lot out from it.”
The Alamo City Improv is not the only improv group in town. Studio 185 is the home of ComedySportz, a family-friendly comedy franchise akin to 90’s hit show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” The Denials feature a rotating cast that performs and hosts open practices at the Overtime Theater.
In the eighties, when the artform was still new to Chicago (and the world), famous rivalries were bred between theaters. With theaters competing for audiences and students, it is a dangerous pitfall for any improv community. But not in San Antonio.
Recently, Alamo City Improv hosted a community improv show at Studio 185, which saw performers from ACI, ComedySportz and The Denials coming together for one celebratory mega-show. “I prefer to operate from an abundance mentality,” Farrow said. “I think the more one of us succeeds the more people are interested in improv in general.”
The community show also featured Missed Opportunity, an all-female improv troupe started by Trinity alumni. “It was a great experience to meet the other players, support their shows and hang out with them afterward,” said member Maddie Smith. “Missed Opportunity didn’t go into the community show hoping to plug into a community, but we felt naturally compelled to be friends with the people we met.”
The arrival of an all-female improv troupe this early is a good indicator that San Antonio’s improv culture already differs from early experiments in Chicago and New York. In his oral history of Second City, “Something Wonderful Right Away,” improv historian Jeffrey Sweet described the makeup of early Chicago improv groups as “white men in ties,” a configuration that slowly became multi-racial and gender-diverse.
Missed Opportunity is already taking steps towards ensuring proper representation by hosting all-female workshops. “The idea was to have a fun, safe space for women to relax and play together because, quite often, women will feel like a minority at improv jams and workshops,” Smith said. “Attendance was great and we all had such a great time because of the unparalleled amount of support.”
San Antonio might soon be able to boast of a much larger comedy scene — but only time will tell. As Smith puts it, “It should happen organically because people enjoy hanging out together and sharing a passion for improv.” Both around town and on Trinity’s campus, troupes are cropping up left and right. So look around — you need only ask to get involved.