Justin Lukasewicz, inspired by a Chicago-style improvisational theater thriving in the small town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, returned to his city of choice to start his own unique comedy organization. Tucson Improv Movement began in 2012 with six students and Lukasewicz crammed in the back room of a massage studio. Now, TIM Comedy Theater is working to put Tucson on the comedy map. Find out more about classes and shows at their Fourth Avenue location (329 E. 7th St.) and at tucsonimprov.com.
How did the Tucson Improv Movement get its start?
It was always in my plans that I’d love to get back to Tucson. I really like Tucson as a place to live. It’s a great city. When I got here, there wasn’t really improv happening in the way I wanted it to be happening. So I taught my first improv class at the Lotus Massage & Wellness Center, which is just a really interesting joke. We always say that the jokes write themselves on that one. There were about six students, mostly friends that I had coerced into coming and some people from the community. Pretty much in two and a half or three years, we went from one class renting out a little room to owning a theater space down on 4th Avenue. My hope is that we are a good member of the community and we help make Tucson, all around, a better place.
Tell me about your classes.
Our classes run for six weeks at a time and each of the five different levels of classes focus on different aspects of improv and performance. Classes cost $150 for six weeks. We love to have new people in our classes. I think the great thing about our classes is, like, there are a lot of reasons to take improv. Some people come because they want to be performers, some people come because they are actors, some people because they want to do stand-up, some people come because they want to be improvisers. Some people come because they want to do something different … or meet friends … or get better at public speaking. I think that our intro 101 course is really built to be a life class. We teach the basics of improvisation but the skills are completely complementary to anything else you need to do. Improv is a life philosophy … People work and have to pay bills and all that sort of stuff but they get to come here and have fun and be whatever. It is really cool that I get to facilitate that for so many people. You know, we call it a comedy school. It’s really interesting when people come in and we tell them we are going to take this seriously. It’s still a lot of fun but there is this academic portion of it that people don’t expect which is also really enjoyable for people.
What do you think is valuable about looking at comedy in that academic way?
I think the best comedy is smart and intelligent and a reflection of society. If we can do really good improv, it’s like artwork. Looking at it in an academic way forces people to look at things in a smarter way. We know that the work we put on stage is going to be more intelligent because we spend a lot of time looking at things that way.
Does one student’s story stick out in your brain?
One of the first improv classes I taught … we had a student come in who was very clearly like, “At my job I have to give some public addresses and I am not prepared for this.” It was really great to watch him improve over six weeks. He only took the 101 class but by the end of it, he was so ready to go do his speech. He was like, “I understand how to manage the audience now ... I feel like I have all these skills that I can take and utilize for this work task that I was essentially horrified to do before I took this class.” So that’s a really clear way of how it helped someone directly.
A lot of times, people have rough things going on in their lives, be it addiction or breakups or whatever. There’s like two or three folks at our theater that say that this has changed their life and this has saved their life. Improv is different from a lot of other forms of comedy in that the focus is on being positive. The focus is on agreement. Like, if two of us are on a stage and you say something, I have to agree that that exists because it just wouldn’t work if I didn’t. If you say we’re on the moon and I say “No, we are in this cafe,” nothing would work. It is a completely different life shift. We have to re-train people’s brains to think in a positive way and I think that it can be really uplifting for people.