The performers at the Baltimore Improv Group, endearingly nicknamed BIG, need nothing more than a one-word suggestion to transform their simple black-box theatre into any setting imaginable. Think your run-of-the-mill dining room or an outpost of the International Space Station. Such is the magic of unscripted theatre—which doesn’t need props, sets, or costumes to make a story come alive.
However, even an improvised theatre company needs organization. After 13 years in Baltimore, the company has decided to hire Terry Withers from the renowned theater Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) as the new managing director in hopes of better engaging the local community with its shows and classes.
“What gets me excited is when I feel like I can help an organization grow quickly,” said Withers. “I’m bringing seven years of professional experience at the largest, most successful improv theater in the country. And I’m bringing the passion for improv that I learned there, and I can see that many others already have a similar passion here.”
Withers made a name for himself in New York City’s comedy scene as an improviser and instructor at UCB, an institution known for its rigorous improv curriculum and notable alumni roster (Amy Poehler, Donald Glover, and Nick Kroll, to name a few). Withers performed with multiple troupes, including his own group called The Terry Withers Mystery, in which Withers and fellow comedians solved an improvised murder case every month. He also served as head of UCB’s sales department, where he worked to expand their corporate and tour sales.
Only in his new position four months, Withers has already turned his attention towards BIG’s programming schedule. By the end of January, BIG will produce at least one show a night with no ticket being more than $5. By offering more frequent and affordable programming, Withers hopes to make attending performances at BIG feasible for all.
“I want everyone to feel like they can come to BIG any night of the week and that it’s no big deal,” Withers said “If you don’t have something fun to do, you can head on over to the theatre to catch some really cool, live, independent comedy—see what the smartest and funniest people in Baltimore are up to.”
In fact, some of BIG’s new events are even free. This past fall, local improvisers Pamela Hugi and Jennifer Diamond brought Withers the idea for a unique show called Impropourri, where unaffiliated and house troupes alike can show off their comedic skills in a lively, bring-your-own-crew show every Thursday night. They also offer free open mic nights every other Wednesday for anyone adventurous enough to try out a stand-up routine.
In addition to the change in management, BIG has recently settled into residency at Single Carrot Theatre in Remington. While the two theatre companies operate separately, they recently performed together at a fundraiser where one BIG improviser played off of a scripted actor from Single Carrot. The bit was so well received that the theatres hope to produce more collaborations like it in the future.
For those who would rather do than view, BIG University offers many improv courses open to all skill levels. The first three courses introduce students to the basics of improvisational comedy as well as BIG’s unique improv style, which focuses on developing characters and relationships.
“I think anyone can do improv,” Withers said. “If you can order breakfast successfully in the morning, then you can be a great improviser.”