Improv: A Booming Art Form in Rochester NY


Anna Hubbel

What started as monthly classes at the Rochester Brainery, the occasional weekend performance by small comedy groups, and casual stage time at Johnny’s Irish Pub has yes-anded into a flourished improv community of esteemed talent. Theater-drawn members of the Rochester, New York municipality have been flocking to the Focus Theater, a small local theater that now offers numerous classes for the arts, primarily a birthplace to the new improv comedians of tomorrow.

The quaint theater had its humble beginnings last year, starting off with some intro to improv classes, which then graduated into Level 2, then Level 3, before the students would ultimately graduate into full-fledged house teams. Many of those students have remained active at the theater, continuing to perform with some of the most renowned comedians in the Rochester area.

The Focus Theater is run by a small group of comedians who themselves have been performing improv and comedy for years. Perhaps you have heard of Left for Dead, Thank You Kiss, or Canary In A Coal Mine, popular improv groups in Rochester. Some of the theater’s class teachers even have Second City experience. So while the theater has humble beginnings, it has some more-than-qualified hands plowing the fields.

Fast forward to a year later, the Focus Theater now hosts improv and comedy shows every Saturday, welcoming both native class groups and outside comedians to the stage. The theater also now offers more classes, such as sketch writing, improv for tweens and teens, and even stand-up. Teams made of long form improv graduates from the theater also continue to perform regularly.

What Is Improv?

Improv is a terrifying form of comedy that requires quick, on-the-fly decisions by the performers. It functions on a plethora of maxims, the most important of which is the concept of “yes, and.” “Yes, and” is the religious practice of accepting what another performer has created in a scene and then adding to it to progress the scene forward.

There are two types of improv: long form and short form. Long form involves a series of long-ish, comprehensible scenes, whereas short form consists of various improvised games, much like those you see in the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Improv is an astounding skill of quick responses and enormous amounts of trust and courage. The Rochester community is beginning to realize that talented individuals who embrace this skill (or at least learning it) live amongst them and are now emerging from the shadows into the Focus Theater spotlights.

It will be wild to see just how much the Rochester improv community will continue to grow now that the locals are really starting to take notice. The Neighborhood of the Arts, Rochester’s arts district, has highlighted the artistic minds in the area for years. However, not many people knew about these ninja-like comedians of the night; these people who never know whether they’ll be a clown with a child allergy one moment or a karate polar bear the next. All they know for sure is that they like to make people laugh - regardless of how ridiculous they might look doing it.