Washington Improv Theater offers virtual laughs until in-person events return

WTOP's Jason Fraley covers Washington Improv Theater (Part 1)

D.C. entertainment venues can return to full capacity on June 11, but if you need something to tide you over until then, check out the newest virtual events by the Washington Improv Theater.

“We’ve been around for about 23 years in D.C.,” Artistic and Executive Director Mark Chalfant told WTOP. “It’s such a perfect fit in D.C. because the dominant culture is so work-oriented, serious and buttoned down that a lot of really creative people live here and they’re desperate for a fun, creative outlet and a more social connection to one another.”

The organization is headquartered at Source Theatre at 14th and T streets in Northwest, but also performs all across the city from H Street in Northeast to Anacostia in Southeast.

“COVID was brutal for any improv theater,” Chalfant said. “It immediately shut down everything that we do. … The kind of communication that improv thrives on is just so much stronger in person when you can read people’s facial expressions and body language. … Zoom has been a paltry substitute. … We’ve had some success in it, but God, we miss being in person.”

They’re offering a series of virtual events in May.

“Not only performances, but also workshops where people can come in and spend an hour or 90 minutes playing with strangers,” Chalfant said. “Improv is a really great tool for unearthing your own creativity and remembering what it is like to collaborate with people you don’t already know.”

Last Saturday brought a “Virtual Game Night.”

“We had about 25 people playing, including a couple who called in from labor in the hospital. They called in because they had some time and wanted a distraction,” Chalfant said. “You’re gonna see a Zoom grid, you might get bumped into some breakout rooms with two or three people to play a scenic game or do a storytelling exercise with one another, listening and collaborating.”

You can also enjoy the Global Improv Jam.

“The one silver lining of COVID for the improv community has been that it’s erased geographical boundaries,” Chalfant said. “We have people taking our classes from as far away as India and Australia. … To honor that, we’ve created this Global Jam, which will involve improv performers from all over the world. … We’ll have people playing from Scotland, Australia, wherever we can.”

Finally, don’t miss the improv dating show “For Love or Funny.”

“This is a show that was created during the pandemic because not only were people isolated, people were downright lonely,” Chalfant said. “It was really hard to date or meet potential new love interests, so we created a game show using the DNA of shows like ‘Next’ or ‘The Dating Game.’ … People who are rejected in the first round get to decide who should get matched at the end.”

Washington Improv Theater typically features over 200 artists, 30 instructors, 1,000 students and 20,000 audience members engaging annually in performances and classes.

“The majority of people who actually love improv and do it regularly started from a position where they had some fears about it,” Chalfant said. “You never know until you try something. If you go through life always saying no never taking risks, all you have at the end is regrets. Whereas if you try this, you never know who you might meet, you never know what it might unlock in you.”

What’s the most popular misperception about improv?

“People think you need to be the funny one and have jokes, but actually what you need to do more than anything is listen,” Chalfant said. “Your main job is to take whatever idea your partner has an improve on that. Treat that idea as if it’s genius. You don’t have to be the genius; just assume that your partner is and honor their ideas. That’s what makes the collaboration of improv so beautiful.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley covers Washington Improv Theater (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2020 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up