Get a job in computers.
If you’ve ever told your parents you want to entertain for a living, you likely received a similar response. But the virtues of a solid career in IT didn’t keep Tara DeFrancisco or Rance Rizzutto from pursuing improv comedy professionally in Chicago. Now, after more than 10 years performing with several Chicago-based improv groups, including Second City, they’re creating a path for aspiring improv actors right here in Columbus.
Tara and Rance are opening Nest Theatre this month, the capital city’s first improv-only theater, offering a variety of classes and shows designed to entertain, but also provide a steady track for aspiring actor-comedians.
And who better to lead the cause than the woman who was voted Funniest Person in Chicago by the Free Press, and one of the Top 25 in Comedy in the US by Curve Magazine?
DeFrancisco, a Columbus native and Bishop Watterson grad, says her family was supportive of her career goals, despite not really knowing how to be.
“There’s no real track of how to become an improviser like there is to become a doctor, where you know you go to school this long, and go to medical school, and you ideally have a residency,” she said. “Being a comedian is a way more amorphous line of work. And that’s part of the reason we wanted to give more options to people of how to train and do comedy for a living.”
To put our city’s current scene in perspective, Chicago has about 10,000 active improvisers, while Columbus is home to around 200. That’s 200 seasoned improv actors who don’t necessarily have a home base.
“Once you have 100 to 200 people, the art form grows exponentially after that point,” DeFrancisco explains. “We love Columbus. It’s a cool city with a nice amount of people doing improv. It seems people are hungry in Columbus.”
Whether people here are hungry for comedy or just personal growth doesn’t really matter, classes at The Nest keep both objectives in mind. While a performance track is available, there’s also a class for those who are more comfortable in the boardroom. Turns out improv skills actually translate quite well to the business world.
“We have classes that are not only designed for people who want to learn how to perform and do improv on stage, but classes for people who want to be better human beings, and need improv skills to help them with the business side of networking or just being a nice person in general,” Rizzutto said. But improv means being funny, right? And having to be funny in front of a group of strangers can be terrifying. So what if you’re less like Tina Fey and more like Ned from Accounting? Actually, in improv class, not being “funny” is not a problem. “A lot of people have misconceptions of what improv classes might be like. You see improvisers and they’re very funny, you think, ‘Oh no, I’m taking a class on how to be funny,’ and that’s not really what it’s about,” DeFrancisco said. “It’s more of a class in being present and connecting with other humans well so that funny things can come out.”
Although we may not realize it, improvising is something we all do every day as we go about our lives and interact with those around us. Taking an improv class may just be a chance to reinforce what used to come naturally, the theater’s founders say.
“A lot of our classes are about unlearning rather than learning. You’re really good at playing when you’re a child, and no one gave you an instruction manual on how to do that. [It’s] learning to play again. Not act, but actually play again,” DeFrancisco said.
Tara and Rance will be inspiring hundreds to play again, using not just what they’ve learned in Chicago, but the experience they’ve gained from traveling the world to teach.
“The tours we’ve done in Europe have been the greatest thing because you get to see these little pockets of improvisers who’ve all kind of had to figure out their own style. The style in Bremen, Germany is different from the style in Estonia, is different from the style in Riga, Latvia. They’ve only taken what they could get and had to create their own flavor of improv, and it’s been a magical thing to get to experience all those styles,” Rizzutto said.
The Nest will also offer a variety of shows five nights a week, to give patrons a chance to see Columbus-style improv in more of a spectator role. While the show themes will rotate often, some offerings include: Tipsy, featuring under-the-influence performers, and Craigslist: The Theatre Experience. Whether you want to play an active role in the Columbus comedy scene, or just enjoy a new type of entertainment experience, The Nest will likely become a favorite spot. Tara and Rance are already working on plans to offer classes in sketch and pilot writing, as well as Live Lit open mic nights. The idea is to keep the theatre evolving so they can provide a place for people to find comedy several nights a week that isn’t necessarily stand-up.
“We’re probably looking at an opportunity here to grow a community of people that want to do good comedy,” DeFrancisco said.
Or, at the very least, some really playful computer techs.
Get more information about Tara and Rance, sign up for classes, and check out the current show schedule at nesttheatre.com.