A small but influential “Blackbox” theater in Hollywood closed its doors tonight for good. This isn’t an unusual happening here in Los Angeles, in fact, small theaters “go permanently dark” with alarming regularity. …but this time it was different. This time it was my theater.
By “mine” I don’t mean I had any financial stake in the place, I didn’t pay the bills. I just showed up there. A lot. For nearly 15 years. I had done some improv classes before, both in Boston and when I first got to LA. I had also done a tiny bit of stand-up in Boston, but not much. After a couple rounds of improv classes at some of the better-known LA improv venues, I audited a class at bang. that was being taught by the founder & creative director, Aliza Murrieta. Within ten minutes I knew that I had found the place I needed to find. I started as a student and went though the program & graduation like most people would but then — I didn’t leave. I stuck around for years of “Master Classes,” weaseled my way into more shows than I could possibly list here, became a teacher and even, for a little while, an actual “Board Member.”
Bang was special because they wanted “alumni” to keep contributing. No idea was too outlandish to pitch to Aliza. A 36-hour improv marathon? Sure! ….oh, you’ve never done more than 10 minutes of stand-up but you want to do a one-hour one-man show? We’ll give you a Saturday night slot! I couldn’t have asked for a better, safer place to really figure my shit out, to “fail epically” a million times and still feel welcome back on the stage to do battle again. As I said, I couldn’t possibly name all the shows I was a part of, or all of the great people I performed with… There is just too much to remember.
As often happens when humans congregate regularly, bang. became more than just a theater for many of us. I agree that the whole “family” thing is a cliche’ but one thing you do need in a big anonymous city like LA is a central place for your creative self that also gives you some real human connections. A “home field” kind of place. So bang. wasn’t just about the shows & the comedy. Some of the longest-enduring friendships of my life were started there. We’ve attended weddings, and funerals together. Nearly every paying job I’ve had in the past decade has come from a bang. connection. Heck, I even (accidentally) made my first, and I’m pretty sure only, real “enemy” there… a painful, but very useful lesson. What I’m saying is, okay, I’ll avoid the word “family,” but I’m going to have to go ahead with the word “community,” because that is what it was, a very family-like community. There is just one problem with being the “best-kept comedy secret” in Los Angeles…. No one knows you exist.
Tonight’s last show was, fittingly, a Student Group Graduation night followed by an alumni jam. Nothing fancy, just bang doing what it always did: Improv for Improv’s sake. I’ll miss it. It would be lying to say otherwise, but I also know that it would be doing all of my improv training a disservice if I didn’t keep looking forward and saying “yes, and…” to whatever is going to come next. …because something always comes next.