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Two on the Aisle: Ventura’s Laughing Place
by Jim Spencer & Shirley Lorraine

There’s a place in downtown Ventura where laughter, lightheartedness and song always prevail. It’s located mere steps off Main Street near the old Mission and it’s been around for over two decades. Yet, some feel it is still one of Ventura’s greatest cultural secrets. It is the Ventura Improv Company (VIC).

For twenty-three years the VIC (formerly known as Ventura Area TheatreSports) has been presenting live, two-hour improvisational comedy shows in a theater setting every Friday and Saturday night at a cost far less than the price of a movie ticket.

The shows’ formats vary. Some pit one randomly formed team against another as they improvise comedy scenes based on audience suggestions. Others feature spontaneously created musical comedies, again, grounded on audience input. Another form uses a last-improviser-standing approach. Whatever the format, the comedic quality of this PG rated entertainment remains hilariously high and consistent.

There are several reasons the VIC’s product remains predictably extraordinary. First, being improvised, it is always fresh, topical and vital. Second, there is consistency in the artistic leadership. Co-artistic directors Tom Mueller and Gary Best, along with Judy Gottlieb, have been involved from the start.

The VIC’s workshop and outreach programs are at the core of its continuing success. As the leadership explains, all the workshops are designed for fun or performance. If you just want to loosen up, hone your spontaneous social skills or possibly become a performer, then one of the VIC’s workshops may be for you. They are conducted in a secure, non-threatening atmosphere where humor and success are the keys to sharing the skills that work equally well in daily life or on stage. If you get bitten by the performing bug, you can move to performance level activities. The workshops for adults are currently held on Monday evenings at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

In addition, teen workshops are currently offered on Tuesdays at 4:30 p.m. Geared for middle and high school age students, the workshops focus on teamwork as well as individual growth, communication and free expression. In addition to being “teaching” avenues, the participants learn to let loose and just have fun.

On top of the weekly improvised shows, the VIC has teams of A-level improvisers that are available to entertain at private or public functions, such as fund raisers, club programs and the like. Or, the troupe can be rented to customize a performance for a special event such as a birthday or anniversary.

Several times a year VIC hosts tournaments, inviting improvisation groups from all over. These special events are often sold out as teams compete from Friday to Sunday in elimination rounds. The biggest tourney takes place over the Labor Day weekend and often boasts participants from as far away as Canada.

Ventura Improv Company, 34 N. Palm St., old town Ventura. Friday & Saturday-8 p.m. $10/Seniors & Students $8. Group rates available. Information and reservations. (805) 643-5701. www.venturaimprov.com.