Local improv theater celebrates four funny years in Austin

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The New Movement comedy theater is a part of the growing improv comedy scene in Austin. The theater is the only one in the world that doesn't take suggestions before their show. (Photo courtesy of The New Movement)

Stephanie Robalino

As a city that boasts numerous comedians, clubs, troupes and its own annual Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, Austin is attracting funny people left and right.

Austin’s premier comedy theater, The New Movement, is now in its fifth year of operation. The conservatory provides both free and paid comedy classes to the public. Both newcomers and comedy veterans study under seasoned comedic professionals Chris Trew and Tami Nelson. 

Trew and Nelson founded The New Movement in 2009 after returning from a two-year tour around the country, during which they performed at as many comedy festivals as they could, while continuing to hone their crafts through workshops. The tour opened Trew and Nelson up to what was happening with comedy on a national scale. The diverse array of improv they experienced in each city allowed them to bring back a broad knowledge of comedy they now offer to their students. 

After the tour, Trew and Nelson decided on Austin as a home base partly because they believed Austinites would be accepting of The New Movement, not only as a business, but also as an artistic community. 

“Austin is a very smart, attentive audience,” Trew said. “If you work hard and put on interesting shows, Austinites show up. They are good at supporting the arts, especially when its something they haven’t seen before.”

Perhaps the main reason so many Austinites have been showing up to The New Movement is because of its unique brand of improv instruction.

“We’re the only improv theater in the world that doesn’t take suggestions before our shows,” Trew said. “Our students and groups are trained to just get onstage and improvise together without needing a prompt from the audience.” 

Since The New Movement is a multi-city network of theaters, they are able to provide unprecedented opportunities for their students. Members benefit from connections fostered in the Austin entertainment markets. The theater and its students have been booking festivals, going on tours and getting involved in film projects. 

Since their students have an abundance of opportunities to practice through these outlets, The New Movement is responsible for turning out professional comedians who in turn build careers off their improv passions. 

“There really isn’t another theater in town that has such a large base of improvisers who are so tightly knit with one another,” improv student James Blake said.  “It’s pretty common to have multiple [The New Movement] events happening in several places at the same time because [The New Movement] has so much talent and so many connections.”

The theater has a diverse blend of students from different backgrounds with many different goals. Lawyers, teachers, college students and actors are all included in the broad range of people who want to learn comedy at The New Movement. Many members want to get involved with the vibrant improv community and meet new people, while others simply want to have fun while working on their interpersonal skills. 

“Improv helps you be a better communicator and vastly improves your quality of life,” Nelson said.  “It gives people an opportunity to collaborate with other adults in an environment that is supportive. You’re able to be more honest and be rewarded for being you. I think people get addicted to that.”

Published on March 1, 2013 as "Comedy improv group keeps Austin laughing".