The Old Pueblo isn’t where you typically hear puns about glockenspiels, but the mission of the Tucson Improv Movement is to always accept improbable challenges.
TIM performs improvised sketches almost every Saturday at The Red Barn Theater on Main Avenue and First Street, just south of Speedway Boulevard. Audience members spew out illogical topics, like toothpicks or Delaware, and the members of TIM fearlessly conjure up a scene on the spot.
“Improv is a journey,” said Justin Lukasewicz, founder of TIM and an assistant director for UA Residence Life. “It’s about getting to a place of play.”
Lukasewicz created TIM just over a year ago after he moved to Tucson from North Carolina. He said that he found the environment in The Old Pueblo to be lacking a unified outlet for communal comedy.
Starting with an “Improv 101” class of just five people, the organization expanded to 27 performers and a full curriculum of higher-level classes. These classes are closely based on the principles taught by prestigious companies like The Second City in Chicago where comedic talents Tina Fey and Amy Poehler studied.
According to Lukasewicz, the skills of successful improv include finding patterns of repetition, creating big contrasts between characters and, most importantly, accepting whatever circumstances arise in the moment.
This fear of forgoing control is what partially attracted TIM company performer Catherine Bartlett. She took her first class back in March 2013 and now is a regular performer.
“I made a resolution to put myself in uncomfortable situations,” said Bartlett, who works as an invertebrate keeper at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. At an “ugly-Christmas-sweater”-themed show, Bartlett was forced to repeatedly adopt a Bill Cosby impersonation — an impersonation she admits she might need to work on.
The TIM company consists of talent from all types of people. The organization holds auditions every few months to recruit performers from their various classes. They always encourage individuals with zero performance experience to try improv, as many students have reportedly walked away from a TIM class with improved public speaking skills and increased confidence. “We’re a really diverse group of people,” said Bartlett, “but everyone is on the same page.”
Lukasewicz says that, in the future, he wants TIM to become an institution of comedy for the city, similar to how Austin, Texas, has very recently emerged as a network for improv talent. TIM intends to produce well-polished, sophisticated comedy that is as synonymous with Tucson as its scorching heat.
“I hope we get to a place where we are more thematic — where we begin satirically commenting on society,” Lukasewicz said.
Tickets to TIM shows are in the range of $3-$5, and TIM performs multiple shows almost every Saturday. More information can be found on TIM’s website: www.tucsonimprov.com