COURTESY 4 & 9 PRODUCTIONS
COURTESY 4 & 9 PRODUCTIONS

The best joke is an inside joke. Nothing will get a group of people laughing harder than something so specific to their place, time and company that no one else understands the joke. And when improvisational comedians take to the stage, their ultimate goal is to make that unique connection with the audience. A successful connection is the magic ofimprov, and FILMPROV DC does exactly that.

FILMPROV DC began in 2008 and was the first show of its kind in several respects. The brainchild of Pamela Nash,FILMPROV sprang from Nash’s sense that there were flaws in the improv landscape of  Washington, D.C. At the time, there were only two D.C. schools that taught improv: DC Improv and the Washington Improv Theater. The performance options available through these two schools were monthly shows with DC Improv (competitively casting limited positions from hundreds of students) or the equivalent of recitals after completing a class at WIT. With only exclusive shows and recitals, the community feeling was that there was no real way for aspiring improvisers to perform consistently and gain the kind of experience that would help them improve as performance artists.

Nash, the founder, current director and driving force of FILMPROV, took the problem into her own hands. She set out to find a group of actors that really clicked, drawing from relationships built while taking classes at both schools. The troop she founded got its start performing at several different comedy open mic events and small competitions and festivals. In bringing this team to such events, Nash and her cohorts crafted a new performance technique: an amalgamation of the more structuredimprov games taught at DC Improv and the more dramatically focused style taught at WIT. But even with this new style, going from one small event to another did not satisfy the group.

The impetus for creating FILMPROV came after Nash completed a 48-hour film competition with her company, 4 & 9 Productions. The competition gives teams two days and several guidelines and props with which to create a short film. At the end of this project, Nash wanted to use these carefully crafted films beyond the initial screening rather than let them gather dust. As a result, she came up with the idea of having an improv show based on films, and thus FILMPROV was born.

In spite of the “film” in its name, FILMPROV is truly about improvising, as the actors who perform in the show do not even see the film until the night of the performance.

“The fact that the audience and actors are watching the movie for the first time together puts the audience on the same level as the actors and allows the audience to follow the thought process of the performers,” actor Alexis Turrentine said.

The shows are all under 90 minutes and usually showcase three short films, which are often related by theme. After each film, the improvisers will come out and perform a variety of scenes that can be anything from casting interviews, to behind the scenes banter, to deleted scenes.

To train for these shows, actors spend hours doing exercises under Nash’s keen and demanding eye. She tries to create exercises that simulate a “nightmare situation,” so that actors are prepared to get out of the hardest fixes they could face while on stage.

When watching FILMPROV, you’re not likely to see the same sort of purely comedic improv you see on a show like “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”.  Instead, Nash tries to craft a more natural, dramatic type of improv.

“Improvising comedy is just trying to nail jokes,” Nash said. “If you don’t get a joke in comedy, it’s awkward.”

Because success in this business is determined by Hollywood’s whims, and because of the current economic situation, most participants in the short films work day jobs, according to writer, co-producer and co-director Francis Abbey.

“This means that the people who are involved really have a passion for it,” she said.

Participants sometimes have jobs in related fields — like one actor who works on government videos — or sometimes in completely different industries. Most participants do FILMPROV out of passion, not for money.

One of the most exciting aspects of FILMPROV is the effect it has had on the improv community in Washington. The program highlighted the need for an open improv system, where anyone could participate. As a result, both DC Improv and WIT now have launched programs that have succeeded in opening improv competitions to the public, which has made the improvisational scene in DC more inclusive, more community-oriented and more focused on true improv.

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