July 20, 2015
Contact: Dan Miller
(Washington, DC) Washington Improv Theater (WIT) enrolled a record-setting number of students in its classes this winter, the result of the 16-year-old nonprofit’s emphasis on sharing improv as both an art form and a dynamic platform for personal and professional growth. More than 350 Washingtonians from all walks of life signed up to take eight-week longform improv classes with WIT, with students hailing from all eight wards of the District.
The popularity of WIT’s classes coincides with the ascent of longform improv nationwide. Actors like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey have written and talked extensively about the creative power of improv. Major media outlets like NPR, Slate, and Fast Company have covered improv’s real world applications in the workplace. The social and personal rewards of the craft have helped improv theaters across the country, including WIT, flourish with their educational offerings.
WIT classes not only emphasize the technical elements of improv—the skills that help the organization’s 70-plus performer community create exciting and spontaneous shows—they also help students get comfortable with public speaking, act without pre-planning, and realize the power of saying “yes” in the spirit of creative collaboration. A recent US News article highlighted the health benefits of improv in reducing anxiety.
“I didn’t realize how beneficial it would be,” [WIT student Meredith Whipple] says, calling the experience “an exercise in mindfulness.” She tuned into the people around her and slowed down her thinking. “Being an anxious person, I’m often caught up in my own thoughts and not really in the present moment,” she says.
WIT Artistic/Executive Director Mark Chalfant, who helped re-found WIT in 1998, is one of the theater’s most experienced teachers. “WIT has always had a double-barreled mission of performance and education,” he said. “The type-A workaholic culture of DC has so many people wound tight—peoples’ jobs run their lives and it’s hard to get people to stop looking at their phones. Helping people exhale and rediscover their own playful, creative genius is deeply rewarding for us. We’re reducing the stress quotient in DC and ramping up the fun quotient one person at a time.”
Riding the momentum of several years of steady growth and a desire for a more inclusive and diverse community, WIT recently ramped up its schedule of free sampler workshops and renamed them Improv for All workshops. The organization also created the Improv in Every Ward initiative, aimed at providing Improv for All workshops in every ward of the city plus Maryland and Virginia. To date, the effort has taken WIT to venues ranging from the Petworth Citizen and Reading Room, the Anacostia Arts Center, the Takoma Park auditorium, and the Northeast Neighborhood Library. The record-setting winter term included WIT’s first-ever full eight-week class at Anacostia Arts Center (supported by an East of the River grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities).