COMEDY FESTIVAL ‌ Truth in Comedy 

Washington Improv Theatre keeps it real

click to enlarge (L to R): Patrick Gantz, Mikael Johnson, and Jason Saen of Washington Improv Theatre Group Best Friends
  • (L to R): Patrick Gantz, Mikael Johnson, and Jason Saen of Washington Improv Theatre Group Best Friends

Washington Improv Theatre
Fri. and Sat. at 9:30 p.m., Stars at the American Theater


Justin Purvis was once performing a scene with his improv troupe Caveat when his character's romantic advances toward a woman in the scene were rebuffed. The situation, he recalls, hit close to home.

"I realized a scene eerily similar to this very one had happened in my actual life," he says.

If there's a shtick to Washington Improv Theatre group Caveat, performing here this week with fellow WIT troupes Jackie and Best Friends – a hook if you will – it would be accidental revelations like Purvis'.

"Everything that we try to do is based in truth," he says. "We find truthful characters in ourselves."

The show begins with a one-word suggestion, followed by four "truth monologues" in which the actors react to the word.

"It's whatever that word brings to mind," Purvis says.

Characters are established in those monologues and the actors carry them through the show, interacting with each other, taking each other on the journey. While he enjoys the rapid pace and sporadic action of short-form improv, Purvis says the long-form Caveat provides a welcome exploration.

"You get to take a half-hour or an hour to get lost with these characters," he says.

The show also includes lots of music, currently provided by the actors, but it could expand to audience contributions in the future.

"The music inspires us to go further than we normally would and brings the audience in more," Purvis says. "It's like a soundtrack or a score to the show."

This isn't Hank Hill and the boys on stage either. Caveat is one of several well-trained troupes coming out of the Washington Improv Theatre, based in D.C. WIT offers classes throughout the year ranging from the foundations of improv to performance preparation.

"One of the greatest rewards is to see people from all walks of life coming in," Purvis says, noting there are students looking to study improv professionally, others indulging a hobby, and some trying to improve their public speaking skills.

Purvis' roots in improv began as a kid, watching the original Whose Line is it Anyway before his love for improv was fostered at the University of Maryland and, later, as a student under acclaimed improv instructors Joe Bill (performing at the Festival with Bassprov), Susan Messing, and Mick Napier.

Still, all that learnin' hasn't pulled the members of these three groups away from the obvious goal of improvisational comedy – a good time.

"We're out to have fun and connect with the audience," Purvis says.

For the audience, Purvis offers this advice:

"Sit back, relax, and enjoy. 'Come sail away,' as the famed band ... um, was it Styx? Journey maybe? I can't remember. You get the picture." –Greg Hambrick

Related Locations

Charleston Comedy Festival 2007

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