Q&A with local improv performer Bill Sabo

By Columbus Alive
From the October 24, 2013 edition
  • Photo by Tim Johnson

Bill Sabo has been involved with theater and acting since college, but it wasn’t until eight years ago he found his biggest passion — improv. After attending a few classes, Sabo caught the improv bug and never looked back.

As a founding member of the troupe See You Thursday (formerly Squishy), Sabo has watched the Columbus improv scene grow rapidly over the last couple years. As part of the committee organizing the second Columbus Unscripted Impov Festival, Sabo is proud how this year’s festival matches the growth of the scene.

This year’s festival brings some of the most talented names in improv from Chicago and the rest of the country to perform and teach workshops. The Columbus Unscritped Improv Festival is a full weekend of events at multiple venues, so make sure to check the website for full details.

I was totally inspired by “Saturday Night Live,” “Second City TV” and that kind of comedy. Around eight years ago, things started to wind down … so I thought I’d have my midlife crisis. I pretty much transitioned my theater background into improv.

Our troupe got selected to go to the Chicago Improv Festival. We did an apprenticeship program and that’s what inspired us to go into festival mode [here]. At that time we probably had three or four troupes that were performing on a pretty regular basis. Now we have about 15 troupes. And that’s pretty much in the last year-and-a-half that those troupes have grown.

This year we went back to Chicago Improv Festival and were asked to do two shows. We did them both at the Annoyance Theatre, which was just a dream come true. After we got back, we knew the improv community was growing and we needed to do another festival. Our goal is to get Columbus on the map as a place for improv.

Columbus has a growing improv scene because I think Columbus is a growing art community and the theater community has always been here. We have a lot of quality theater here in Columbus and a ton of talent. And I think people want that creative outlet. We have a lot of hams in Columbus who like to get on stage and just do stuff. It’s fun and you catch that bug of improv, that adrenaline rush of being on stage and being able to just play, like when you [where a kid].

You don’t have a second chance in improv. You do learn to be in that zone. You can feel it. There have been scientific studies that measure brainwaves when you’re doing improv. When you’re in your right brain that’s when you’re most creative. Your left brain is your analytical side. When things occur in your right brain, you’re removed from that short-term, long-term memory. So you don’t remember the scene if it’s good.

Improv isn’t a lot of pressure if you just get up there with the intent of playing. In 30 minutes it’s over and it’ll never happen again. Putting a lot of stock in what you do is probably dangerous because it’s not really a product you’re after in improv, it’s a process.

I like to bring people in from Chicago [for the festival] because I haven’t had the experience they’ve had. Mick Napier is director at Second City. Susan Messing is main stage at the Annoyance Theatre. They are the Ivy League of improv. So I bring them in to expose people to what the improv world is really like because Chicago is the Broadway of improv. We don’t have to be Chicago, but we can take that influence and be our own thing.