Sunday, August 25

The improv space looks to create community

With change in owners, the theater sets its goal to reach out to the UCLA community

Matt Chester, David Kantrowitz, Matt Schwartz and Danny Tieger perform on Thursday night at the Improv Space.

Matt Chester, David Kantrowitz, Matt Schwartz and Danny Tieger perform on Thursday night at the Improv Space. Christopher Shane

Christopher Shane
The Improv Space recently changed names and ownership. The new owners said they hope to create a sense of community among improv comedians in Los Angeles.

Prom night circa senior year of high school ­”“ instead of being out and about gallivanting with a group of people you most likely won’t, nor want, to see again after graduation, you are home cursing the world because you were rejected by that special someone.

The art of comedy, specifically improv, turns dreadful scenarios such as these from tragic memories into hilarious moments.

The Improv Space, located at 954 Gayley Ave., specializes in this art, garnering a talented group of comedians that spend every week improvising their way through the night to tell stories that range from old memories to anything else the audience can imagine.

Though since its conception in 1999 it was known as Ultimate Improv, the theater has changed ownership and with that change came new goals.

“With new ownership comes a slightly different artistic direction as a theater,” said Danny Lampson, co-owner of The Improv Space.

The three new co-owners, Lampson and Doug Lief, both UCLA alumni, and Ashley Opstad, are all performers themselves. They said they want to use the space as a place where artists of all backgrounds can showcase their talent, not just comedians.

“I know that Los Angeles can be scary to come and create in, and I want to have a theater where they come and they feel like it’s a community of performers and actors, and that people have each other’s backs,” Opstad said.

But within the realm of comedy, they said they hope to open the doors for newcomers as well and expand the theater’s lineup through the classes they offer.

“Our classes are for people that want to learn improv and get on to a main-stage team,” Opstad said. “However, if they already have an improv team or they have something they want to put up in our theater, we also have performance time available for noncompany members.”

This push to make improv more inclusive was in part influenced by a trip they took to Austin, Texas, to perform in the annual Out of Bounds Comedy Festival.

“We realized once we got to Austin that the improv community out there was really tight-knit. There’s a real camaraderie that we don’t feel is really there in L.A.,” Lief said. “The improv community out here is kind of clique-ish, we wanted to sort of try to undo that.”

They consider this their large-scale goal, but as far their small-scale goal, they said they want to focus their energy on reaching out to the UCLA community.

“Our big push is teaching classes. … We want to find really funny, talented, dedicated people who are going to benefit from our training and hopefully be prolific and go on to do great things,” Lief said. “The measure of an improv theater is measured by the success of its alumni, so we want to start creating that now.”

And it was the memories that they created in this theater throughout the years that made them step up to the plate of ownership when the former artistic director, J.D. Walsh, was unable to maintain the theater because of time constraints.

“We couldn’t stand to let it cease to exist so when he offered it to us, we jumped at the opportunity to be able to support this theater that’s brought us so many happy memories,” Lampson said.

This passion is palpable in all that they are doing to promote the theater and its talent.

“It’s 10 to 15 bucks to go to a movie, and with an improv show, it’s $5,” Opstad said. “You get an experience that could never happen in a movie theater. You get to see something that’s never been done on stage before, and you get to be a part of it, because we use the audience suggestions to create that story.”

Its accessibility and range of performances are what they hope will keep the audiences coming.

“Our goal is to fill up every night with something going on in the theater. It used to be that there were only (shows) Thursday through Saturday, but now we’ll have stuff in the theater from Wednesday through Sunday,” Opstad said.

Overall, they want to be known and enjoyed by their primary audience.

“We want to be part of the Westwood community, and we want to be a place where UCLA students think of as a really fun place to go on virtually any night of the week,” Lief said.

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