By David Dixon
Improv theater in Old Town offers performances, classes
Old Town Improv Co. only opened in November, but the crew behind the scenes have been in the comedy world for years. Founder, Donny Dunstone, was a stand-up comedian for decades and did improv at Sacramento Comedy Spot.
Dunstone’s goal was to open his own theater. After fully committing to his dream, he brought several improv artists to aid him in opening Old Town Improv Co. One of the employees is marketing and community relations specialist, and ensemble performer, Phillip Ongert.
Like Dunstone, Ongert had experience with performing. He worked at The Second City in Las Vegas (which closed in 2008) and studied at The Groundlings in Los Angeles.
More recently, Ongert made people laugh at San Diego’s Finest City Improv. If it wasn’t for Finest City, Dunstone and Ongert would have never met.
“I was lurking in the bushes and dragged Ongert into the shadows,” Dunstone said. “I asked him if he could help out.”
“I was told he jumped out of trees to find other people,” Ongert said.
Similar to other theaters, Old Town Improv Co. features different kinds of comedic evenings each month. Coming up soon are ensemble events, holiday celebrations and even an indoor tribute to the outdoors, “Campfire: LIVE!” “There is a uniqueness to each show,” Dunstone said.
Nights consist of either short-form improv or long-form improv. The former relies on warmups, exercises and quick games similar to activities on “Whose Line is it Anyway.” The latter focuses on lengthier and extended spontaneous scenes.
When it comes to bibliophiles, Ongert recommends the long-form program created by Sidestage Improv called “Book Club.”
“After the audience and players create the title of a book from an individual genre, a fictional typewriter narrates different sequences,” he said. “For about an hour, the actors and narrator influence each other by creating a fresh story for viewers. It’s a super well-rehearsed team and they’ve worked together for quite some time.”
A unique aspect about the organization is that there are corporate programs and training for people in the business world. Ensemble members and instructors can lead team-building workshops at individual companies or at the location in Old Town.
When asked what he prefers, Dunstone would rather have participants visit the theater. He knows there’s a better chance that trainees will be more open and loose.
Since Old Town Improv Co. is fairly new, the comedy center is going to change and expand in the near future. Some of Dunstone and Ongert’s plans are to start a kid’s program, work in senior centers and commit to charity work at hospitals.
As the group continues to grow, Dunstone wants people to take advantage of several of the courses being offered. In January, students can strengthen their comedic skills with i101: Foundations of Improv Comedy. For six weeks, attendees, regardless of experience, can become more self-assured by taking part in various activities. “Improv is such a great tool to have a better life,” he said. “Even if you’re a shy person, you can become more confident and quick on your feet.”
One of the messages about improv that Ongert thinks is important is about the rewards of live performance. “There are so many benefits whether you’re in a work environment, trying to find that special someone or trying to get along with friends,” he said. “We want to bring that to the masses in different forms.”
For tickets for performances or more information, visit oldtownimprov.com or call 619-663-OTIC(6842).
—David Dixon is a freelance theater and film writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.