Closure of iO West Opens Many Doors in the L.A. Improv Community


MoniqueLeBleu

MoniqueLeBleu

Event Editor, Registered Critic, Writer


1270 words, about a 6 minute read.

When the Los Angeles improv community lost venue and teaching institution the iO West Theater in Hollywood on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, the folks at Mi’s Westside Comedy Theater, Impro Theater, The Pack and The Nerdist, have stepped in and stepped up to help students seeking continuation in their programs by offering discounts, internship opportunities, and a new home.

Same famous alumni that have come from iO West include Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, Kay Cannon, Seth Meyers, Kate Flannery, Stephen Colbert, John Favreau and recent Oscar winner Jordan Peele. Notably, alums Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser, and Matt Walsh, went on to found the Upright Citizens Brigade.

These established L.A. venues offering to help students in their transition not only already cater to the local improv teaching and performance community, but also have ties to, or are alumni of, iO West.

Photo courtesy of M.i.’s Westside Comedy Theater

Mi’s Westside Comedy Theatre Artistic Director and Actor Nick Armstrong (The Office/Grey’s Anatomy), has “deep roots” in iO West, with 17 years as a member and with L.A.’s Critically acclaimed Harold Team King Ten. He and the staff at Westside Comedy plan to intake students in direct continuation from their last levels at iO West.

“Improv is all about support, so we thought ‘Why not offer something? We need to do something to help our community,’” said Armstrong.

“We kind of just wanted to open our arms and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got your back!’ which is kind of a motto in improv,’ and that we wanted to help these displaced improvisers, a lot of which we perform with,” he continued.

iO West was a six level program, so community concern was being able to enter into programs at equal levels so students wouldn’t have to start over. Westside has seven core levels with training in different focuses, which Armstrong said is on par with comedy intensive training formats.

Photo courtesy of M.i.’s Westside Comedy Theater

At Westside, iO West students can come in at one step level above their last level and those from upper levels offered a 25% discount. The program offers opportunities to workshop in shows on Sundays, and the House Teams pick from classes during daily weekly performances.

Former iO West student and L.A. native Marissa Madsen of online YouTube sketch comedy shows “Those Girls Comedy” and “20’s vs. 30’s” begins her transition to Westside this week, continuing from level 3. She sees improv as a “good workout as a comedienne” and in honing “gut instincts.”

“I wanted to jump back into classes just to keep my improv skills sharp again because I do a lot of sketch comedy,” said Madsen. “I do miss being somewhat in a performance setting or classroom setting just being able to have a live audience.”

Jacob Sorling, of Colorado, also comes to Westside in March from iO West, where he interned as Stage Manager working in trade for classes. Also working part-time at Second City in LA as a stage manager, and likely again for the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival at Fringe Central, Sorling comes to the Westside to not only join some of this fellow students and co-workers, but because the theatre will be honoring his earned credits toward improv classes.

“A lot of the interns at iO were going to be left out to dry because they worked for free for classes that they are no longer going to get any more,” said Armstrong. “So we’ve offered to honor their classes here at no price.”

The training will fuel Sorling’s work on the “Buddy Puzzle” which plays every second Saturday at another Improv venue and school, The Pack, in a show that features ten improv duos performing in five minute monothemes which Sorling co-hosts with partner and girlfriend Anatasha Blakely.

“My intention going in is just to continue in a community that I love,” said Sorling. “Nick [Armstrong] has welcomed me with open arms. I immediately feel like I am welcome there.”

Photos are courtesy of The Impro Theatre. Impro Theatre School’s Conservatory class performs Tennessee Williams Improvised at Impro Studio on Vermont.

The Impro Theatre is also giving discounts on basic and core classes to students who were at IO West. The Impro teaches narrative and genre improv, using “literary styles as a way to teach improv.”

“I think people take improv for lots of different reasons,” said Producing Artistic Direct Dan O’Connor at Impro. “But those people who did genre who used to be at iO now have a place to come study with us.”

With a show in residency at the The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, covering ten months of ten different genres over that times, the Impro Theatre offers students future opportunities to to perform in full length plays with sets, props, costumes, and music. Themed shows like “Chekhov unscripted,” “Sondheim Unscripted” or “Tennessee Williams Unscripted.”

“There’s a lot of cross breeding between all of the improv studios in town and it seems like everybody is opening their doors and offering deals to those who are studying that,” said O’Connor.

The Impro does everything: “An all woman, dystopian, YA novel improv group … we have one group that does improvised Star Trek Next Generation … Shakespeare, H.G. Wells, X-Files, [and] Stranger Things, named ‘Stranger Suggestions,’” continued O’Connor.

The Impro is offering $85 off their 12-week courses to former iO students who wish to enroll within the next six months. Students who have completed iO West Level 2 can bypass the Impro Basics course and jump directly into their C.O.R.E. program.

The Pack Theater is offering iO West intern hours up one full free class and adding “additional Level 1’s to cover interest” where the teachers will “teach for free” and cover rents.

Students who have completed a class at any level at iO West in the past year will get a 25% discount on their first class at The Pack, and those close to finishing the iO West program—completion of Level 4—can receive an eight week Master Class on Harold for free.

We will also make sure you get some shows up at The Pack. This won’t get you the “diploma,” but I think it will finish out what you were pursuing in that program.

Because of the way The Pack’s program is designed, they can’t offer level transfers or intro levels, as all levels are advanced. IO West students needing discount codes to register online for classes can go to their Facebook page for detail info.

“Since this all has happened so quickly and without warning, these offers will remain in place for the March/April sessions as well as the May/June sessions,” per their Facebook post. “[But] you will all find a new home.”

The Nerdist Improv program is four class levels and offers classes in Improv, Sketch, and Acting. Each level ends with a class show on stage and instructors are trained actors, improvisers and writers.

Classes begin at level 1 and they have internships as well, but iO West students who wish more information can contact them at Classes@nerdistschool.com.

As The Pack reminds on their Facebook page, “The community is larger than a place. The process ends when we die.”

Photo courtesy of M.i.’s Westside Comedy Theater

To sign up for classes:

Mi’s Westside Comedy Theater, 1323-A 3rd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Go to westsidecomedy.com or contact Training Center Director Annie O’Connor at annie@westsidecomedy.com for more details.

Impro Theatre, 1727 N Vermont Ave #211, Los Angeles, CA 90027. For more information go to improtheatre.com, info@improtheatre.com , school@improtheatre.com, or call (323) 638-4196.

The Pack, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038. Go to packtheater.com, classes@packtheater.com or internships@packtheater.com.

The Nerdist, 7518 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, 90046. For more information go to nerdistschool.com or email classes@nerdistschool.com.

Featured image: Impro Theatre Main Company performs Twilight Zone UnScripted. Photos courtesy of The Impro Theatre

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