At a Lancaster Improv Players performance, you’ll see a completely unique show — one that will never be replicated again.
“Because it’s improv comedy,” says Bill Dewan, board president, “no two shows are going to be exactly alike.”
The Lancaster Improv Players recently acquired their own theater space at 10 S. Prince St. #109. The grand opening will be held Saturday, with shows at 8 and 9 p.m. There also will be a soft opening on Friday with shows at the same times.
Tickets are $5 and proceeds go toward providing kids in Lancaster with free meals through The Mix at Arbor Place.
“We see that (need) now with the school system struggling to figure out how they’re paying for their meals in the regular school year,” says Austin Rittle, artistic director. “What are those kids doing during the summer?”
The first show at 8 p.m. will be by the group’s main troupe, “Go Bulldogs,” named after a joke made during a performance that stuck. The cast is rotated weekly, as is the kind of material the group will perform.
Improv comedy comes in two different styles: long form and short form, and Lancaster Improv does a little bit of both. The long form shows often have little to no structure, allowing a complete scene or an entire story to unravel itself on the stage. Short form is usually more game-oriented, akin to segments on the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
“We really feel like short form and long form together really adds character to our shows,” Dewan says.
The 9 p.m. show every Saturday will be performed by one of Lancaster Improv’s six other troupes, rotating every week.
Lancaster Improv has grown substantially very recently. In the couple of years after its 2015 inception, the group usually had 10 to 15 performers. Now, it has about 50, making it easy to fill seven troupes.
“Essentially in the last year, we quadrupled the improv community out here,” Rittle says.
Lancaster Improv also will have a regular First Fridays schedule. The 8 p.m. First Fridays show will be performed by troupes “Minimum Rage” and “First Base,” each coached by Dewan. Minimum Rage is a show that plays off of the work experiences of audience members, while First Base utilizes the audience’s bad date stories.
While its hasn’t had a theater before now, Lancaster Improv already has made a name for itself. Locally, the group has had successful series at Tellus360, 551 West and Zoetropolis. It also has performed in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Lebanon County and State College, as well as at improv festivals in Baltimore and New York City.
The theater is a big milestone for the relatively new group.
“It just became apparent that we needed a space to kind of grow into on our own,” Dewan says. “And it happened really quickly.”
The theater seats 49 and was the result of a five-week Kickstarter campaign. Lancaster Improv received contributions from 125 different donors, from both the Lancaster community and the larger improv community. Other contributions include the backdrop, which was donated by Atomic Design in Lititz.
“It’s been amazing working on the space and getting it ready. It’s a perfect black box theater, which is exactly what we were looking for,” Dewan says.
The space used to be the site of restaurants, such as the “Hoar House” and most recently was a hair salon.
“We’re just super excited to bring this to Lancaster. It’s a different form of entertainment,” Dewan says. “We’re excited to be part of downtown.”
“I think we literally solidified the theater district,” Rittle adds, referring to the Fulton, Marionette Theater, The Ware Center and Trust Performing Arts Center all nearby.
The space also will provide a permanent spot for Lancaster Improv to host its classes and workshops. The classes run at three different levels. The introductory class, Improv 101, will begin on Aug. 17. The group also is planning to add classes for kids and teenagers this fall.
Dewan and Rittle hope that the community will come to the theater’s opening night to share some laughs and get into the performance.
“That’s really the end goal, to have people come out and share a laugh together. … Let’s get out of our basements. There’s a lot of funny things on Netflix, and I watch them,” Dewan says. “But we’re doing something live and we can have a communal experience with folks here in Lancaster.”