The Steel City Improv Theater Interview
The Steel City Improv Theater is a space to experience long form improvisational theater performed by various local troupes. Long form improv, as opposed to short form, is less like Whose Line is it Anyway, which is traditional short form, and more so composed of longer scenes or a series of scenes. SCIT also offers classes in which the student starts out at level one and progresses with each course. They’re offering a musical improv session in the spring. These classes have become so popular, they’re sold out until the next round starts. Word on the street is that the SCIT has been preparing to relocate from a small space in a Northside church basement to Shadyside in a place much more suited for their needs. With these exciting times on the horizon, we decided to talk with Kasey Daley, SCIT’s Artistic Director, to learn more about the theater’s beginnings and some of her favorite moments so far.
Kymbo Slice: Can you provide us with some background on yourself and the SCIT?
Kasey Daley: About three years ago, my husband Justin Zell & I moved from New York to Pittsburgh (where I’m originally from), and began teaching classes and doing some shows in Lawrenceville. We met at the People’s Improv Theater in New York many years ago. He was on a house team called The Wilhelm and I was an improv student. We had both spent the previous ten years as actors in New York, me mainly in musicals (I’m a graduate of the American Musical & Dramatic Academy), and he was doing theater and some commercials. Justin had been doing improv since he was in college. He had studied at the PIT, Second City, The Magnet and UCB, and had begin teaching workshops at the PIT. I had done some short form both in Pittsburgh and in New York, and studied at the PIT, UCB and the Magnet theater. We’ve both been in countless groups, Justin performing on The Wilhelm, a house team at the PIT, and also creating and performing in an improvised noir and an improvised horror movie. And me with several indie teams and Sunday Night Improv (the longest running short form show in New York). I also was very involved with the musical improv scene, performing with a group called 8 Bar Cut. He really got me into long form, which is what we perform and teach. Short form is Whose Line Is It Anyway, long form is improvised theater or sketch. Generally a good long form show may look like a (hopefully good!) episode of SNL, except we ask for an audience suggestion at the top of the show and that word or phrase inspires the entire show.
KS: How has the SCIT grown since its opening and what inspired the move to Shadyside?
KD: The first “Totally Free Monday” had 12 performers and two people in the audience. Our first class had four people in it. Over these last two years, we’ve grown to a full schedule with up to four shows a night. Totally Free Mondays now has four teams, 27 performers and full houses. We’ve taught well over 200 students, and our classes that start in January and February are sold out. In the Northside, we were only allowed to use our space on specific days and specific hours. Essentially, we wouldn’t have been allowed to expand if we wanted to have anything other than our current show and class schedule. We began searching and happened upon this Shadyside space. The theater and lobby are bigger, plus we now have a classroom area for classes and rehearsals.
KS: What do you love in particular about longform improv that motivated you to make SCIT’s productions primarily longform?
KD: I love longform because it’s not about being funny. It’s about real, truthful emotions and relationships at its core. The more truthful and honest you are, the funnier it is – and failure is encouraged! In improv, we fail 90% of the time, but learn to have fun while failing, which took me a long time, having come from a musical theater background where it’s wrong if your pinky is at the wrong angle. There are other tenants of longform, such as building on another persons idea and making your scene partner look brilliant. When you’re on stage, there are no stars – the group is the star. It’s a team sport. Actually, long form improv is a lot like sports. The nature of improv is that you’re not sure what will happen (just like sports), you rehearse or practice plays and certain moves, but you’re never sure if or when they’ll come into play (just like sports). It’s better to wear comfortable shoes and pants, you need to move (just like sports). You don’t know if you’ll be playing a cowboy or a robot or a fairy princess. Plus, it teaches us valuable, usable life skills like listening, teamwork and agreement.
KS: Name a favorite moment from a scene, or a favorite night to host at SCIT.
KD: I really love the shows when they’re really excited to be on stage and everyone has a crazy amount of excitement and camaraderie, like level one class shows and especially when new TFM teams take the stage. I also love jams, because they’re so filled with love.
KS: What is being an instructor like VS. running an actual theater? Which do you prefer?
KD: I like my job as Artistic Director. I love teaching, but one of my passions has always been producing and what goes along with that. I love seeing a group go from practice to their first time on stage, and groups work together to really find their own voices. And I love putting show lineups together, which is a big part of my job. I really try to craft an entire night of shows that are complimentary. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s improv!
If you’d like to get a dose of improv, join them Monday for their soft opening and stay tuned for details on their grand opening party on Friday, May 3rd.