Something funny is going on: Local improv classes and shows are gaining steam 

As adults, we rarely get the opportunity to play—to be silly, make things up as we go along and, most of all, let go of the fear that you’ll look foolish. In a world that prizes productivity, play can feel pointless. But if you’re like me, when life feels overwhelming, I long for the release and the lack of self-consciousness I had as a kid at play. 

Maybe I’m not alone. Improvisational theater, which involves actors who perform, with no planning and no scripts, in response to spontaneous suggestions and cues from fellow actors, is the epitome of a lack of self-consciousness. And it appears to be on the rise in the Reno area, with local theater companies not only hosting improv shows, but also teaching newbies how to harness their imaginations and play along. 

“The core of its appeal is the opportunity to see the start of the creative act, the birth of a new idea,” said a recent article in The New York Times about the form’s increased popularity. “There’s an irreplaceable excitement in that. It’s why, I suspect, there’s so much activity now.” 

Improv’s appeal 

Ian Sorensen has the words, “Yes, and” tattooed on his arm. The two words are a guiding star for any improvisational theater actor worth their salt—a reminder to not only accept any idea proposed by an onstage partner, but also to build upon it. In his 15 years of experience in the craft, Sorensen has found it a helpful reminder to be present and open to whatever comes his way.  

“I’d been in college a couple years and didn’t really even have a major,” he said. “I was kind of listless, directionless, didn’t really know what to do creatively, and then a friend from high school was like, ‘Hey, I’m doing an improv and sketch show, and we just had a guy drop out. Would you want to come do it as a one-off? If you like it, you can stick around.’” 

Turns out he did like it. A lot. He loved the high he got from acting by the seat of his pants and making people laugh along the way. That troupe, with Sorensen as one of its regulars, went on to become The Utility Players, which performed in venues around town for nearly a decade. Though its members branched off into other ventures, many of them have remained passionate about improv—including Sorensen, who can now be seen at Reno Little Theater’s Midtown Improv Jam every month. 

It’s one of several improv-related events that has cropped up recently in our area. For example, Good Luck Macbeth just hosted its recurring production Sex Ed: A Sexprov, Reno, an improv show with a sex-education theme. Other one-time events can occasionally be found on local stages. 

While Sorensen isn’t sure what’s caused the rise in improv’s popularity, he has theories.  

“After the COVID lockdowns, we needed that human connection. Improv provides instant connection. And maybe people came out of the pandemic like, ‘I want to try something new, because who knows what tomorrow holds?’” he says.  

It also provides high returns for low investment. After a couple of years of cancelled performances due to COVID, resulting in wasted time and production costs, improv is increasingly appealing: It only needs a few actors, a performance space and a willing audience—no sets, costumes or months of preparation.  

Studies in silliness 

Down at Brewery Arts Center in Carson City, Wednesday nights starting on June 12 will be dedicated to improv classes hosted by Proscenium Players, Inc., culminating in monthly public performances. And Reno Improv in Midtown offers a range of classes, workshops and monthly Improv Olimpix performances.  

Jason Sarna, a Second City-trained sketch-comedy writer and instructor with Reno Improv, explained that the facility offers classes in three improv levels: intro to short form, which is primarily game-based, similar to what you’d see on the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?; intro to long form, which involves a more fully developed scene with characters; and the montage, in which multiple actors take part in multiple scenes within a larger setting. Also offered is The Playground, a workshop for beginners to quickly learn the basics of improv.  

I met Sarna during session seven of an eight-week, long-form class. His students are mostly amateurs, folks with day jobs entirely unrelated to the stage. 

“We get people of all ages, from different backgrounds,” he said. “Maybe they’re doing public speaking, or they’re just looking to try something new—a creative outlet.” 

When I asked the students why they were there, a man named Josh said, “It’s just fun. You’re always laughing and having a good time. But also, social skills, listening, being a good conversationalist, not being as nervous at parties.” 

Another student, Jeff, added, “Anxiety cuts you off from other people, right? So to me, improvising is about spontaneity and creativity. It’s not necessarily about humor (though it’s often humorous). If I’m anxious, it’s hard to be spontaneous and creative, so if I get better at those things, my anxiety goes down, and I can be more available to others.” 

But isn’t improv inherently anxiety-provoking? After all, without a script or a safety net, the chances of failure and humiliation go up, right? 

Failure, both Sarna and Sorensen argue, is often where the funny lies. But improv is about letting go of that worry. You can’t try to be funny. Ironically, when you’re trying to be funny, you rarely are. Improv is de-risked when you attain psychological safety within a group of people who will always say, “Yes, and …” to any idea you propose. When that’s achieved, there’s empathy and instinct—a respect for what’s being created—and everyone acts for the best of the group, like all winning teams do.  

Sarna said that one of the best things about improv is that it gives everyone a chance. “I think everyone has potential. Everyone has a sense of humor,” he said. “Sometimes it’s buried deep inside, but I think people like getting onstage and showing it. I also think it’s permission to kind of act inappropriately. You get to go onstage and enter into, like, a whole different personality or relationship and play that out. It’s essentially just play—like being a kid.” 

Check out Midtown Improv Jam at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, June 15, at Reno Little Theater, 147 E. Pueblo St., in Reno, with special guest Christopher Daniels. In July, catch two performances, on Tuesday, July 16 and 23, in honor of Artown.

For a schedule of classes and performances at Reno Improv, visit  

For details about Wednesday night improv classes and performances at Brewery Arts Center, follow Proscenium Players, Inc. at