By ROBYN ZELICKSON
They say laughter is the best medicine. One of the best places in Tucson to find family-friendly laughter is at “Unscrewed Theater,” 3244 E. Speedway Blvd. Tickets are $5, so the cost is minimal and the laughs plentiful.
Unscrewed Theater does short-form improv comedy and, yes, there is long-form improv comedy as well. When thinking of improv, we typically think of comedians like Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and the late, great Robin Williams.
The theater’s executive director, Chris Seidman, moved to Tucson in 2004. His bio on the Unscrewed Theater website identifies his previous occupation as a Disneyland Jungle Cruise captain, which seems like a punchline in itself.
The nonprofit theater is run 100 percent by volunteers, from ticket-takers to performers. The main house team, which is called Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed or NBOJU, has performed every weekend in various locations in Tucson since 2002.
“There are so many different people in the organization with so many different jobs,” Seidman said. “We have teachers, a couple of engineers at Raytheon. We have an astrophysicist. One of our people is at the University of Arizona in the theater department.”
The diverse group has one thing in common – a love of improv.
NBOJU is comprised of 22 members who rehearse once a week, running sample games and scenes in order to stay comfortable with each other, to build chemistry and to keep their skills sharp.
Each show is comprised of six improvisers and a “host.” The host designs the line-up of games and notifies the cast the night of the show which games will be played. If you’ve seen the TV show “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” you have an idea of what to expect.
Unscrewed Theater opened its current location on Speedway Boulevard in January 2014. Having a permanent location has allowed the troupe to build a following that doesn’t have to search out where they are performing each weekend.
Troupe members also teach classes in improv.
The classes run for eight weeks at a cost of $150 per session. The fee includes an optional student showcase at the end of the session. If you pay in full when you sign up, you get a free T-shirt.
The current class will present its showcase in early December. The next session starts Jan. 4.
Class participants don’t have to perform if they choose not to do so. Learning the principles of improv is still valuable not only in everyday life, but in business and personal relationships, Seidman said.
“It gives you the confidence to know that if you don’t have anything to say, you can trust in the fact that you will have something to say,” he said. “Basically what we’re doing from the minute we wake up in the morning is improv, because life is unscripted.”
He notes it’s important in relationships to really listen and focus on what the other person is saying, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak. In improv, your partner might say something unexpected, so you learn to listen and be present.
“Besides all that, our improv classes are really fun,” he added. “If you have the kind of job or a life where you could just really use a couple of hours every week to be goofy, our classes are great for that as well.”
Opportunities exist to blow off steam and be silly in a safe environment. There’s an Improv 101 class for beginners and an Improv 201 class for more advanced students.
Casey Sullivan, a musical improviser who is part of a house troupe called “From the Top,” is taking the Improv 201 class this session. She enrolled in the class after receiving encouragement from another improviser.
The most difficult aspect of improv is when, as a performer, you get ‘stuck in your head’ and can’t create a character or just go with the flow of the scene, she said.
The challenge and the rewards are all worthwhile though, she added.
“I’ve learned that it’s OK to let go of who you are and become someone else,” Sullivan said. “The trust and friendship that grows from the support of your partners brings so much joy.”
Unscrewed Theater occasionally brings in improv specialists to conduct workshops. In the past, they’ve had David Razowsky, who has worked since the ‘90s with Second City in Chicago and Los Angeles.
The troupe is currently looking forward to a workshop with Laura Hall from “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”
Hall, who plays piano and specializes in music improv, has worked with Second City and is a published author. She developed improv karaoke and recorded tracks for improvisers who don’t have a musician.
For more information on Unscrewed Theater, visit unscrewedcomedy.com or facebook.com/UnscrewedTheater.
Best of all, treat yourself to an evening of the best medicine you can find in Tucson.
Address: 3244 E. Speedway Blvd.