10 Years of Laughter

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In 2003 Indianapolis creative minds were bubbling over with ideas to transform the arts scene. That year the Indianapolis International Film Festival, Motus Dance Theatre and INDYPROV all got their start. INDYPROV found a niche bringing irreverent improv to the stage while discovering some of Indy's best local talent. A decade later more than 70 performers have been in the cast, and the mobile comedy troupe can be found weekly in different spots around Indianapolis. The group will be celebrating those 10 years on Dec. 14 at White Rabbit Cabaret in Fountain Square.

I spoke with Bill Skaggs, INDYPROV founder and managing creative director about the growth of INDYPROV, his big plans for the future and how the Indy art scene has changed since its inception.

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How did INDYPROV get started? 

Bill: I answered a flier I found at the Keystone Arts Cinema 10 years ago about an improv class being taught by David Brunoehler. Brunoehler founded the National Improv Theatre in NYC and had moved back to Indianapolis. At the end of two courses he encouraged the 10 of us in the class to start our own troupe. We first performed at El Sol de Tala in the old Union Station building and then moved to The Funny Bone Comedy club for a rather long run until the club closed.

How has INDYPROV evolved since its early years?

Bill: Like any project it grows and changes. We add new members every year, and as we add new members the dynamic changes. We have gone from one venue a month back in 2003 to four shows a month, an education curriculum for adults and youth, corporate training, and we tour the United States.

How has the Indianapolis theater scene changed over the past 10 years?

Bill: So much has changed. Now you're seeing so many of these cool nomadic groups popping up and doing really great work like EclecticPond and Q Artistry. What's even better is seeing all the support nomadic groups are getting from other actors and organizations. People are more willing to push boundaries and take risks in Indianapolis now. And, a lot of actors are realizing how important improv training is for actors.

Who makes up the cast of INDYPROV? Where do you find them?

Bill: We draw from all walks of life. We've had some of the biggest names in Indianapolis take our stage, and they still do. We also have die-hard improve gurus with us too. We actually take on a lot of new members from the classes we teach so, typically we get housewives, actors and nerds. And not just local talent; we performed with Flo from the Progressive commercials and William from RuPaul's Drag Race.

INDYPROV performs at a variety of venues that attract a wide variety of audience members. What role does the venue and audience play in your show?  

Bill: The venue and audience is key. They say in improv, "know your audience." And that is really important. The audience will alter the way a show goes, and as we learn what the audience wants, that's what we deliver to them. Each one of our venues is different, and that's very rewarding to an improviser.

What are some favorite memories of INDYPROV over the years?

Bill: Where to start? This is impossible; we'd be here forever. But, I will say that INDYPROV has become my family. I'm not originally from Indianapolis, so these people are my brothers and sisters. I love coming to rehearsal and hearing two troupe members talk about their night out the week before. It makes me think that if it weren't for INDYPROV these two may have never been friends. I love seeing the relationships grow and evolve.

What is in store for your 10th anniversary celebration?

Bill: We're doing three shows that night. One of the shows will feature our new long-form improv team. We have special guests and celebrities, giveaways and some other surprises. I can't leak everything or you won't be surprised. But I will say, we've been working on it for quite some time. No one will be disappointed.

Where do you see INDYPROV in 10 years from now?

Bill: We will have our own venue with four shows a week. We will have a training center here in Indianapolis too. We will be in children's hospitals and community centers teaching youth how to use improv to better their lives and make them more enriching. I can see us traveling more, maybe even doing several college tours. And, we'll have our own reality show too.

Final question: If you could recast the leads of any movie with INDYPROV actors, what movie would you choose and who would you cast in what roles?

Bill: Hands down it has to be Clue. That movie had so much improv in it anyway. I'm going to get in so much trouble if I don't give everyone a role, but I have to say, of course, I would play Madeline Kahn's role of Miss White. Sorry, I know she's female, but I just can't help it. The beautiful Erin Cohenour would make a great Miss Scarlet. Our new member Derek Martz would kill as Tim Curry's Wadsworth. Veteran actor and improviser, Chris Meek would have to be Col. Mustard, and David Bahr would be a great Mr. Green. Amity Aschliman would have to play quirky Mrs. Peacock, and Jerry Johnson would be a perfect Professor Plum. And don't forget Juli Inskeep as Yvette the Maid. I'm so glad you asked that question, I've been making that movie in my head with INDYPROV actors for 10 years now.

Where You Can Find INDYPROV:

First Saturday of the Month: SoHo Cafe & Gallery in Carmel
Second Saturday of the Month: White Rabbit Cabaret in Fountain Square
Third Friday of the Month: Talbot Street Nightclub in Indianapolis
Fourth Friday of the Month: Spotlight Players in Beech Grove

Additionally, INDYPROV hosts an annual Laff-A-Thon that raised more than $30,000 last year for local charities, and it partners with Talbot Street to host RuPaul's Drag Race Events on First Fridays. Visit its website for a schedule of upcoming events or, if you are feeling brave, information on taking an improv class!

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