The Improv Shop Finds a New Home in the Central West End

by

Kevin McKernan and Andy Sloey.
  • Kevin McKernan and Andy Sloey.

The Improv Shop, which is currently running classes out of the basement lounge at Brennan's cigar and wine bar, is moving to 510 North Euclid in the Central West End. The theater isn't quite ready yet, but after just a few finishing touches classes will begin running out of the new venue, with a projected opening planned by the end of the month.

Since Kevin McKernan founded the Improv Shop at Washington University in October of 2009, the outfit has operated out of three locations (Pat's Bar & Grill in Dogtown being the third). The participants in the first class, mostly students of Wash U and MICDS, were already involved with St. Louis' similar Improv Trick, led by comedian and Overland native Bill Chott. The class convened in response to a Craigslist ad McKernan had posted several weeks prior. The only affiliation the course had with the university is that it happened to take place on campus -- McKernan's credits as an authorized instructor of improv were at the most fundamental level: experience and enthusiasm for education.

"We still have people who sign up for our class thinking it's a standup class," says McKernan. "They spend the first 30 minutes of the class confused." As with music, there are genres to comedy, but they're not always so easily defined. The end (and at times hopeful) game of all comedy is laughter. "So we explain: When you go see live comedy, you might see standup. I'm guessing you know what that is. You might see sketch -- that's Saturday Night Live. We go through short-form, which is like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, but what we do is not like that. It's long-form and it's scenic based, and you don't see a lot of it on TV."

Just barely under a year after their first meeting, the founding class debuted as a student showcase upstairs at the Tin Can on Locust Street. "The goal for me wasn't to necessarily do shows," McKernan clarifies. "That was a natural part of the process, but being a teacher it's education, education, education. And then everything will come from that."

Shortly after this performance, Andy Sloey joined the Improv Shop as both an administrative partner and teacher. There's no "Improv Certificate" like there is a degree in Music Theory; it's a platform driven by individuals committed to the development of a different way of thinking. While there's not an official qualification checklist, the duo's background stems from completion of the Improv Olympics Program and years of putting on shows. And for Sloey, it also includes a pass through the famed Second City Conservatory.

Each venue move and call for expansion leading up to the purchase of the new theater was based on growing class sizes, not from overpriced show tickets or a push from outside investors. "Since the show isn't guaranteed to be hilarious, and people are going to fail on stage -- it's going to be sloppy to a degree, because it's improvised -- you can't necessarily charge people," McKernan explains.

Continue to page two for more on the move.

Not all students of improv are on the entertainment career path. Some are lawyers, some are class clowns and some may have no idea what they're getting into. The goal is to give the students the knowledge and experience of forward and impulse thinking, so that they may take it into whatever field they see fit. There are over 100 graduates from the program, most of whom still performing on Mondays and Thursdays, and 120 students are currently enrolled.

Both Sloey and McKernan have maintained day jobs to support themselves and keep the Improv Shop operating on a self-sustaining level. According to Sloey, the core tenant of improv is "Yes, and...?," an exercise that begins with a statement followed by those two simple words, which is then carried on by the next performer in line. The situation goes on to build and grow in whatever direction the participants take it. The community that now surrounds the Improv Shop is following suit: What began as an idea by one individual has been adopted and carried on by many.

For updates on the theater's progress, show times and information on course enrollment, see http://www.theimprovshop.com.

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