Since 2005, The Philly Improv Theater has served not only as the only longform improv training center in Philadelphia, but as the area’s strongest source of off-beat comedy shows. It’s grown into a full-blown comedy hub, fostering a comedy community comprised of its a huge network of students, past and present, as well as local stand-ups, sketch comics and established names from out of town (PHIT has produced shows and/or workshops with Paul F. Tompkins, Matt Besser, Adsit and Gausas, and more). However, one thing the theater still doesn’t have is a permanent theater space of its own. Thanks to Kickstarter.com and a lot of support from the community, that’s bout to change. Punchline recently caught up with PHIT’s executive director, Greg Maughan.
Can you give us a little background on the Philly Improv Theater? When did it start? What’s your comedy background?
Philly Improv Theater started in 2005, although we were initially just a school for longform improv classes. At the time the theater started I had been living in Philly for four years, and the entire time I had wanted to see comedy shows at a place like The Second City or Upright Citizens Brigade. For the first couple of years I was convinced someone else was probably working on opening a venue like that – because it just seemed like such an obvious need in the city – but eventually I got tired of waiting.
What kind of training programs do you have? What kind of shows do you produce, improv and otherwise?
We’ve got three main types of training programs as of this fall: improv, sketch, and standup. The standup classes are starting for the first time, and the improv and sketch classes have just been revamped and revised which we are pretty excited about.
As for shows, we produce a pretty wide spectrum of stuff that the theater has come to refer to under one umbrella as “alternative comedy” – which is a fun niche to occupy. Basically we have sketch groups do two-week runs with performances on Saturday and Sunday nights at 8pm and then the rest of our Friday and Saturday is built around improv groups. Earlier in the week we do a lot of shows created by stand-up and sketch comedians around town.
You launched a Kickstarter Campaign to fund a permanent space for the theater. What had the theater been using up until now? How did the campaign turn out?
We did use Kickstarter to begin our big capital campaign back in May and that’s the first real fundraising we’ve done. For a long time we simply weren’t raising funds because we were focused on our continued existence in the moment and everyone felt like there wasn’t enough talent ready to fill a stage full-time. It wasn’t really until the end of last year – after we’d successfully gone from doing one week a month of performances to two – that thoughts of a space got serious. It’s always been the goal, but it didn’t feel like it was really going to happen until we got approached with a potential space last November. That’s when the business plans got re-written and the realistic budget got put together.
Then a super-generous donor stepped in and offered that if we could put $50,000 in our capital account by the end of the year they would match. The Kickstarter campaign was the start of all this effort, and the plan is go back there as the end of the year approaches to finish that way as well. Our initial goal was $10,000 and we ended up raising $15,000 in just 44 days – which was nothing short of incredible.
You’ve described the proposed new theater as, “a home for alternative comedy in Philadelphia.” What does that title mean to you?
I guess we have described the new space in that way, haven’t we? When the Advisory Board for the theater got put together one of things we talked about was the vision for what would be in the space – and it isn’t just meant to be a stage to perform on. The goal really is for the space to serve as a hub for comedy in the city – not just a place to see shows, but also a place to learn, to practice, and to get together and collaborate.
As a comedy dude, what’s kept you in Philadelphia? What’s your take on the comedy scene here?
It honestly wasn’t anything specifically comedy related that kept me in Philly – I moved here almost a decade ago and just fell in love with the place, and then my family lives nearby as well. But the thing that makes all of this fun is what a great comedy scene there is in the city. By and large it’s very supportive, very collaborative. We’re still putting up great shows and recruiting amazing instructors… and we’re not having to make compromises. I think with the way things are going the city will have a pretty solid reputation around the country within a few years as a place to come and find people… All this stuff makes everyone at PHIT very optimistic about the future.
Be sure to check out PHIT next time you’re in the city of brotherly love and looking for copious laughter!