WIT’s spring run pushes the boundaries of improv comedy and AI

WIT will kick off a six-week run of performances on Friday, March 22 under the marquee “Improv Versus the Machine.” The run will feature two original productions that explore artificial intelligence, comedy, and the juxtaposition of human creativity and machine learning.

“At its core, improv is grounded in personal interaction and human relationships,” says WIT’s Artistic Executive Director Mark Chalfant. “To watch scene partners create an entire imaginary world, based solely on an audience member’s one-word suggestion, requires quintessentially human attributes like trust, instinct, and emotion. Our upcoming run presents exciting opportunities to experiment by substituting human input with AI—something that is computerized, robotic, and inherently unhuman.”

The run will also include performances on opening weekend by Kinfolk, who recently won the 2024 Fighting Improv Smackdown Tournament, as well as many of our hilarious company ensembles and talented local indie troupes.

On April 19 and 27, there will be performances by the inaugural cohort of improvisers, who were welcomed into WIT’s new Musical Improv Conservatory in January.

During the run’s final weekend, on Friday April 26, WIT’s Queer Variety Cavalcade (QVC) Presents: The Queeries! — an awards-style show that will feature a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington (GMCW) 17th Street Dance ensemble, an interview with Dr. James Ellzy about GMCW’s Portraits project, as well as appearances by DC drag and theater artist D’Manda Martini and singer/songwriter Francis Grey, plus other special guests.



Beat the Bot

Co-directed by WIT improvisers Nora Dell and Cale Harper, Beat the Bot is the first of the two AI-themed productions to hit the WIT stage starting with a special, “pay-what-you-choose” preview on Saturday, March 23 at 5 PM. Beat the Bot has the look and feel of a 1970s TV game show in which audience members are in charge of determining whether they’re watching “genuine” improv that is being invented by humans on-the-spot, or a computer-generated comedy script that is being memorized and subsequently performed by the people on stage.

“You could call it a ‘Turing Test for comedy’,” says Harper, referencing what the British mathematician and logistician Alan Turing initially called the “imitation game” back in the 1950s, which sought to evaluate whether a machine could exhibit intelligent behavior that is indistinguishable from that of a human. “We’re using AI and human improvisers to explore the boundaries between idea generation and creative inspiration,” adds Dell.


The second of the two shows centered on AI is called LOLgorithm — a mash-up of the acronym for “Laughing Out Loud” and “algorithm,” which describes the programming instructions that tell a computer how to learn and operate on its own. Directed by Craig Gagel, and assistant directors Jeanna Kim and Betsy Milarcik, LOLgorithm premieres on Friday, March 29 at 7:30 PM. 

“We will have humans interacting with AI on stage in real time to test how well it performs in different types of improv scenes,” says Gagel, who adds that he sourced the production’s name by asking AI to generate suggestions. “LOLgorithm will explore the potential limitations of AI in understanding and replicating human emotions, creativity, and humor. It’s a live experiment in human-machine collaboration.”

LOLgorithm can be seen every Friday from March 29 to April 26 and Beat the Bot will be performed every Saturday from March 23 (preview) to April 27. Times may vary.

Members of the media and industry press who would like more information should contact WIT’s Marketing and Development Manager Anna Nelson (anna@witdc.org).

PHOTO: Beat the Bot co-directors Nora Dell (left) and Cale Harper.

March 7, 2024