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Providence Improv Guild Celebrates Five Years of Spontaneous Comedy

By Pamela Sosnowski

A lot of people think of improv, or improvisational theatre, as something only highly trained actors or comedians can do. After all, who else can come up with humorous dialogue on the fly, while standing on a stage in front of an expectant audience? But as Melissa Bowler, the executive director for the Providence Improv Guild (PIG) explains, just about anyone can take on improv.

"We think improv is for everyone and we're always looking for new ways to utilize this art form," she said. "We've developed specialized curriculum for businesses, sales persons, food management, persons with disabilities, military personnel, teens, and more."

The non-profit was developed five years ago to teach the art of improv comedy and give the Providence community a venue to enjoy a performance and have fun along with the actors. A trained actress, Bowler soon gravitated towards improv's more unpredictable and unstructured nature.

"I came from scripted theater and later moved into standup," she said. "I fell in love with improv because it combines the community of theater with the applicability of standup."

Located in the Southside Cultural Center on the corner of Broad and Bridgham Streets, the guild performs its "PIG" shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8 PM. Tickets are only $5 for an hour long performance. Bowler and her team also teach classes in improv using a curriculum that they've been developing over the past five years. There are four levels of classes ranging from an introduction to improv to advanced scene work for students ages 16 and up. Once a class group completes their eight weeks of training, they have the opportunity to demonstrate what they've learned at a PIG show.

PIG will also take its show and its lessons on the road; they've been hired to teach workshops as far away as Maine, Georgia, and Texas. Bowler has trained corporate employees, university staff and students, and more. The guild may also be hired to perform shows offsite. PIG has entertained audiences at birthday parties, schools, hospitals, fundraisers, and other venues. Performances can last from 30 to 60 minutes, and non-profit organizations receive a discount.

The guild also offers a more serious service; its trained actors have been hired to assist in military training operations. Improv actors help add realism when simulating conflict management, deescalations, and other stressful situations for training purposes.

On August 26, PIG will celebrate its 5th anniversary with a special evening that will feature a performance as well as food and drinks. The doors open at 7:30 PM and tickets are $20. Bowler invites everyone, especially those that have never watched a live improv performance before, to come out sometime to see what all of the enjoyment is about.

"Watching improv is fun," she said. "You get to see the seams of people working and trying to build together and when it's pulled off it's pure magic. Everything is made up on the spot and watching it live makes you apart of it. The audience truly is the most important part of our performance. Hearing their laughter and feeling their energy fuels the show."

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