In low-lit theaters across the state, groups of Oklahomans eagerly prepare for the unknown. They appear in troupes with clever names: The MiDolls, Twinprov, Spontaniacs, Everybody & Their Dog and Bard Trek, to name a few. They rehearse for weeks, but when they perform, their shows are unscripted. Their motto is “yes, and.” Their mission is to make people laugh. They are improvisers, and they are asking for audience suggestions.
“People say we’re the best-kept secret in Oklahoma,” says Clint Vrazel, artistic and education director for OKC Improv. “The fun we have is contagious.”[pullquote]“We received a request from a Chicago troupe asking if they can perform the Villain format there,” says Vrazel. “If Chicago’s eye is on Oklahoma City for ideas, it seems we have something special down here.”[/pullquote]
Indeed, people are catching on; the comedy scene in Oklahoma is growing exponentially.
“Casting directors, teachers, bosses and spouses are recommending us to their students, actors and employees,” says Vrazel. “Our classes are selling out a month in advance.”
As the community of improvisers expands, more seats in the audience are filled through word-of-mouth alone. These audiences are finding out improv comes in many varieties.
“Originally, they really only understood short-form improv, which is what they saw on [the television show] Whose Line is it Anyway? But when you go out to improv theater, you’ll see a lot more long form,” says Sue Ellen Reiman, who performs with a few Oklahoma City groups, including the MiDolls, and teaches improv.
One example of this long-form improv is a show Vrazel is involved with called Villain: The Musical, which creates epic musicals on the spot and has garnered national attention for it.
“We received a request from a Chicago troupe asking if they can perform the Villain format there,” says Vrazel. “If Chicago’s eye is on Oklahoma City for ideas, it seems we have something special down here.”
While the improv community and fanbase is increasing, it is not yet a livelihood for most players in Oklahoma.
“In many cases, it’s more of a hobby at this point than it is an occupation,” says Reiman. “But for many of us, it’s a passion. People have met great groups of friends, and the community is really thriving.”
According to Vrazel, this struggle to make comedy a viable pursuit in Oklahoma has forced comedians to experiment more with their craft.
“It’s harder to make a living, but I think you’re more likely to see something original and brave in Oklahoma,” he says. “We don’t have as much pressure to conform, and that’s a great thing.”
This lack of conformity lends itself to a diverse array of improv in Oklahoma, allowing everyone to find a form they enjoy.
We’re the best bargain in Oklahoma City,” says Reiman. “The shows are inexpensive. You can see one in an hour. So have dinner, see a show, go get a drink. It’s a full date right there on the corner.”