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Theater Undreground aims to expand improv shows in area

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Theater Undreground is getting serious about being funny.

The Richmond-based theater group that started about five years ago to simply entertain, perhaps provoke some thought and give back to the community is looking to expand and develop a future generation of comedians.

A couple of upcoming “Valentug’s Day Improv Shows” will offer a night out in celebration of Valentine’s Day, as well as the chance for Theater Undreground to introduce its “Theater Uppreground” program geared toward children.

An all-ages show will take place at 6 p.m. Feb. 15 at Off Broadway Coffee, 10321 N. Main St., Richmond, followed by an adults-only show at 8 p.m. at Olive Black Martini & Wine Lounge, 5607 Broadway, also in Richmond.

The group, which regularly hosts theater productions at Memorial Hall Civic Theater in Richmond, has dabbled in improv since its beginning, said David Baker, president of the theater company.

“It turned out people really liked it, so we started doing a little more of it,” he said. “A bunch of us said maybe we should actually learn what we’re doing.”

Members of the theater group took courses at Second City and will continue to do so as they prepare to teach improv to children.

Expected to begin in June, a six-week improv course will be geared toward those ages 11 through 18.

Unique to the area, the course will teach students basic improv skills, which can be used throughout their lives, those involved say. At the end of the course, students will put on a couple of shows.

“Improv is something everyone can use in their daily lives, no matter what they do,” said Tim Vance, vice president of the theater company. “I’m an insurance agent by day, and I use improv every day.

“Improv is based completely off of response, so you don’t have time to think. It’s all natural emotion and logic, and I think that’s something that binds every human being together.”

Improv also provides needed social skills essential for many of today’s children immersed in technology, Baker said.

It can help children overcome stage fright, improve their public speaking abilities, and face bullies, he said.

“One of the ways you can really help yourself get out of precarious situations as a child is by being a little smarter and quicker,” he said. “Improv gives you a lot of that. You can safely remove yourself from that.”

He’d like to see at least 20 students involved in the first year of the children’s program.

The Feb. 15 adult improv show will serve as a kick-off to Theater Undreground’s improv season, with regular shows planned at Olive Black.

The roughly 50-member company offers adult classes as well, with those interested invited to attend open forum rehearsals every other Sunday at Memorial Hall Civic Theater, 10308 W. Main St., Richmond.

“We’re definitely looking to step up and become more of a major player in the community,” Vance said.

Like many involved in theater, he loved it from an early age.

“It’s just something I’ve never gotten out of my veins,” he said.

Having a local outlet for those passionate about the art and regular shows for people to enjoy are what make Theater Undreground so important, those involved say. The group also works to give back by donating a portion of their ticket sales to local charities.

Along with its improv shows, the company has two upcoming plays scheduled. “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” by Stephen Adly Gurgis is planned to begin July 18, while the company will take on “Clockwork Orange” on Oct. 31.

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