ImprovMania welcomes back audience with talk show SanTan Sun News

ImprovMania welcomes back audience with talk show

ImprovMania welcomes back audience with talk show
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By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

ImprovMANIA is welcoming back audience members to its theater in downtown Chandler after a six-month hiatus was taken to protect patrons from the coronavirus.

Owner Dave Specht is excited to perform comedy again before a live audience after he and his staff were unexpectedly forced to only produce digital content for the last few months.

The actor and comedian had transformed his home office into a mini television studio in order to continue posting weekly sketches and commercial parodies.

But Specht said he’s eager to get back onto a stage again and be able to elicit reactions from actual people.

The videos were a great way to keep ImprovMANIA’s fans entertained during quarantine, he added, yet they couldn’t offer the same satisfaction a performer feels when they’re in front of an audience.    

The theater’s slowly begun introducing live events at its downtown location and will soon offer a live talk show that features Specht as the master of ceremonies. The spectacle will include sketches, jokes, special guests, and lots of interactions with the audience.

It will be in the spirit of what Conan O’Brien or Johnny Carson did with their shows, Specht said, and hopefully provide some comedic relief during a chaotic time for Chandler residents.

And the talk show will be broadcast live online thanks to some new video equipment Specht has set up inside ImprovMANIA. Specht said it is important for the theater to maintain a digital presence despite its return to in-person shows.

ImprovMANIA had always planned to offer digital content at some point in the future. But the theater’s staff just wasn’t expecting a pandemic to come along and force them to completely reimagine how they do comedy.

Staffers weren’t sure at first how it would work since something that’s funny in-person might not translate well over to a Zoom call.

“It’s been difficult but it’s also been a blessing,” Specht said.

The theater had to find a way to innovate, he added, which proved to be arduous because the service ImprovMANIA provides can’t be easily packaged and delivered to someone’s front door.

As restaurants around Chandler found ways to quickly continue feeding customers during the shutdown, Specht struggled to shift ImprovMANIA to a digital format.

“Having a theater closed for six months is probably one of the most challenging businesses to close because we have no ‘to-go’ option or curbside pickup,” Specht said.

He named the theater’s first online show “Curbside Pickup” as an ironic wink to the fact that ImprovMANIA’s comedy wouldn’t quite be the same online as it would normally be on stage.

And finding ways to be humorous during a deadly pandemic led to another challenge for Specht and his performers.

They didn’t want to do jokes that only focused on COVID-19, yet there wasn’t much else going on in the news that they could use as source material.

“It was a challenge for a while to find non-COVID related details so we would just take spins on it,” Specht said.

The comedy team did playful parodies of “The Masked Singer” – in reference to the fact everyone is now being forced to wear masks – and penned a holiday song titled “The 12 Days of COVID-19.”

The content always attempted to be uplifting and lighthearted, Specht said, because the theater didn’t want to get too dark into the harsh realities of how COVID-19 had radically changed the world.

And that’s the attitude Specht has tried to adopt himself for the last six months; he’s remained optimistic and upbeat even during the pandemic’s darkest days. He’s not ignorantly shying away from the bleakness of the current moment, he said, but instead offering a moment of joyful respite that may be sorely needed by many people.   

“I’m going to smile in public and cry in my car,” Specht joked. “I’m going to be that beacon of levity.”

Before the onset of the pandemic, ImprovMANIA seemed to be on a prosperous path that included an expansion of its space and a growing popularity in its youth theater programs.

The pandemic has interfered with some of ImprovMANIA’s plans for this year, Specht said, but staff has found creative ways to keep educating and entertaining its younger students.

Rather than perform a production of “Beauty and Beast” in front of an audience, ImprovMANIA’s youth theater decided to film the show as a movie and post it online for family members to watch from home.   

This strategy ended up being quite successful, Specht said, and the youth theater intends to keep filming productions for the foreseeable future.

The theater plans to remain cautious with how it reopens and begins to invite back audience members.

Seating in the downtown theater has been drastically scaled back to allow for more space between patrons and everyone’s expected to wear a mask whenever they’re not eating or drinking.

Despite these changes to how the theater operates, Specht feels like the future is once again bright for ImprovMANIA since there’s so much buzz and excitement with how they’re going to stage their live talk show. The format will be fresh and new while still preserving elements from ImprovMANIA’s original shows.

“The x-factor, I think, is going to be the fact that we’re improvisers at heart and we’re just not afraid of the unknown,” Specht said.

More information about ImprovMANIA’s upcoming shows can be found at ImprovMANIA.net 

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