Remember that feeling you had on the first day of school, every year from the age of five to fifteen? When I walked into The Hideout Theatre, I had that same feeling of sneaking into some kind of secret society for the first time.
Tucked away amongst its varied neighbors, which include those of political, artistic and hotelier fame, The Hideout opens up beyond a narrow doorway at 617 Congress Avenue. Filling two theaters (one 50-seat and one 90-seat), with a coffee house that offers breakfast, lunch, drinks and desserts, The Hideout is much more than first meets the eye.
Kaci Beeler, improv lover, performer and Hideout Design Director, gave me some amazing insight into what it takes to occupy the stage of an improv theatre. She also mentioned that she met her husband, Roy Janik, through improv eight years ago this summer.
I have plenty to tell you about this particular experience, so do your best to stay with me. This story might go a bit out of sorts for those of you used to my typical beginning, middle and end.
A Pie in the Face of Humanity
I was ready for a night of exploration and firsts at The Hideout Theatre. Having never experienced improv firsthand, I did what any good explorer would do: found something familiar to me. From the front door, I spied these sweet little pies. I immediately found a hilarious irony to the fact that there were pies…at an improv comedy place.
Needless to say, the pies are basically a staple at The Hideout and so worth the wait in line. I found out that a former Hideout student and current performer and teaching assistant, Karen Jane DeWitt of Scissortail Savories & Sweets, is the mastermind behind the pies. She said that taking improv classes changed the way she made decisions in her life, and that her improv journey was inspiration to open her bakery business.
For you first-timers, another Hideout class member told me that the pie of choice is Chocolate Cream. Along with Karen’s pies, you can add to your food order before entering the theatre from a menu of wine, beer, coffees and more.
Humor Is as Humor Does
With no better way to enter a theatre than with an entrance of pie and love, I still felt a bit like it was my first day of school. Next, imagine a dodgeball to the face. My entire perspective changed when I was introduced to a show that The Hideout refers to as Theatresports.
After five minutes inside the cozy, well-designed theatre and face to face with a stage full of performers, I was filled with laughter and humbled by the nonsensical take on any topic that was thrown in the performers’ direction. There was singing, dancing, a kaleidoscope of emotions – all of which seemed to end in a smile.
What, might you ask, is considered improv? Beeler set me straight with this definition: “Improv is a very unique art form in that it is 1) relatively new in its current form (a bit over 50 years old), and 2) requires very little in which to create an entirely different live theatrical experience for performers and audience alike. We don’t want to ever feel like we have to do things a certain way. It’s a blank stage and we want to use that flexibility to our advantage.”
When I asked Kaci to tell me about her most memorable moment inside the doors of The Hideout, she shared the story of a power outage on their block of Congress during a 10 PM Saturday Maestro Show. “We gave our audience the option of leaving, but they wanted us to finish the show. They pointed their cell phones toward the stage to light our performers and we did the last 30 minutes of the show lit by the small digital lights. It was amazing and such a treat to witness. The audience and performers united to continue the show, a process which I think is fundamental to improv.
“Community is very important to us. The performers and students at The Hideout all come from entirely different backgrounds and span a variety of ages. The one thing we all have in common is that we love to perform.”
The Way of the Pun
When I asked Beeler how they get people out of their shell during their first experience on an improv stage, she said they “teach people to take risks, let go of their fear, and embrace themselves and the unknown.” By playing low-risk games and participating in group exercises without worry, students learn that it doesn’t matter how they do things, as long they’re having fun.
Proving the fundamentals start with participation, Beeler, who began practicing improv when she was 15 years old, first saw improv at The Hideout more than 10 years ago. “I laughed so hard I fell out of my chair repeatedly,” she told me. The Hideout, which was originally created and opened by Sean Hill in 1999, was eventually taken over by Kareem Badr, Jessica Arjet and Roy Janik. The collaborative vision was to keep improv alive in downtown Austin, building a community of students and performers of improv.
With a successful amount of growth in the past year, The Hideout is now offering six levels of improv classes and electives for adults, as well as improv classes and summer camps for kids and teens. In addition, four special events are planned each year, including The Improvised Play Festival and the 44-Hour Improv Marathon. Meanwhile, The Hideout runs eight shows a week, year-round, and, six full-scale mainstage shows each year.
Another great opportunity for team building, the possibility of complete embarrassment, or just an experience that will become an age old story at the office, The Hideout offers corporate training events or custom shows and events for local businesses.
I left the theatre with a laughter-filled bellyache, just as intimidated by the improv stage as when I walked in. So I will leave you with this one challenge. Take your chance on the stage at The Hideout and hold me to the same. In a world full of uncertainty, Beeler calls improv “a sometimes scary, but very delightful, form of live theater that can teach people to be open and accepting. That quality carries over to our friendships and relationships with each other.”
Have you ever tried improv? Would you if you had the chance?