Baltimore Improv Group
Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) serves as the region's leading non-profit improv comedy venue.
- 1 Overview and History
- 2 Mission
- 3 BIG Online
- 4 Artscape
- 5 BIG University
- 6 Corporate Communication Workshops
- 7 Staff
- 8 Instructors
- 9 Venue
- 10 Jams and Open Mics
- 11 Baltimore Improv Festival
- 12 External Links
Overview and History
The Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) began in 2004 by Mike Subelsky
In the years since, BIG has grown to 100+ performers, taught thousands of students how to improvise, produced thousands of shows and entertained (we hope) tens of thousands of attendees. In October 2017, The BIG Theater in Station North opened.
The theater as of May 2018 offers it's shows for free every night of the week with over 800 shows a year.
BIG also produces the annual Baltimore Improv Festival.
Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) – a non-profit 501(c)(3) – serves as the Baltimore City and Maryland state's largest improv comedy venue. BIG began in 2004 and now entertains with over 120 shows each year. With an annual audience of over 5,000 people, over 100 regular performers present audiences with shows every night of the week. As part of Young Audiences of Maryland (YAMD), BIG performs in assemblies and teaching residencies in Maryland schools.
- Baltimore City Paper readers named Baltimore Improv Group as the best comedy outlet in 2017.
- More than 500 adults, teens, and youth received high-quality instruction in the 2017 calendar year.
- Annual audience exploded from 3,000 attendees in 2016, to 10,000 attendees in 2017, to over 20,000 attendees in 2018, with over over 27,000 attendees in 2019
- Partnerships with Johns Hopkins, Coppin State, Loyola University Maryland, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Towson University, and University of Maryland Baltimore County
- Baltimore Improv Group's student base has more than doubled from 2016 to 2018
- A free podcast recording studio is open for the public use
The Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) advances the art and appreciation of comedy improv in the Baltimore region through enthusiastic participation and education. BIG enhances the quality of, expands participation in, and fosters the appreciation for improv throughout Baltimore.
BIG envisions awareness of, participation in and passion for improv comedy spread throughout the Baltimore region. We similarly envision improv’s infectious culture of support spread throughout the greater Baltimore area, inspiring community and creativity among all.
Key values we work to promote include:
YES AND - An approach to life that encourages us to build harmoniously on the ideas, values and preferences of others rather than placing our ideas, values and preferences above our colleagues or in competition with them. MAKE OTHERS LOOK LIKE GENIUSES - Improv teaches us to honor and celebrate others, even if objectively they make mistakes or reflect opportunities for personal improvement, as we all do. When we make choices that amplify the best in someone else’s actions, we actively invest in a bigger, better, shared success.
A GROUP IS GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS - Improvisers enhance each other’s strengths through unconditional support, acceptance and enthusiasm. By embracing ideas without judgment, improv turns so-so ideas into good ideas, good ideas into great ideas and great ideas into earth-shattering masterpieces.
INCLUSIVITY & RESPECT - In pursuit of its goals BIG seeks to share the joy of improv with everyone. In order to ensure that all parties feel welcome and able to fully participate in our offerings, BIG insists that all stakeholders uphold these standards:
- Mutual Respect & Civility
- Acceptance and Celebration of our Diversity as a source of strength
During the current COVID-19 health crisis, nightly performances and classes at the theater in Station North haulted.
The BIG Online program developed to to continue to perform improv comedy online using Zoom and YouTube Live.
To capture the feeling of a live one-time improv show, where the element of being in the moment is important, recorded live streams are removed the day after they air. As a way of previewing the live experience, clips will be made available from shows.
To help others adapt and to earn the basics of improv comedy from home, the four week online class called "Improv Fun!" was to developed to help build confidence, improve public speaking, and connect at home students with new friends using video conferencing technology.
One-time intro to improv workshops and corporate communications workshops also were developed for remote students.
For Baltimore's free arts festival Artscape 2019, audiences attended 31 separate performances from early Friday afternoon until late Sunday evening. The event held an average attendance of 85 people per show.
Over 2,250 people saw an improv show at the theater over Artscape weekend. Another 480 people saw the theater's stand up show LOL@Artscape.
More people saw improv at BIG during Artscape weekend than during a full month of shows in 2018.
Artscape 2019 attendance was higher than two full months of shows in 2017 and more than 8 months of shows in 2016.
BIG University teaches improv classes for adults, classes and workshops for kids and teens, and an Annual Improv Summer camp. They are as resident artists with Young Audiences of Maryland (YAMD) performing in assemblies and teacher residencies in schools across Maryland.
Baltimore Improv Group currently serves as one of the largest arts education venues in the area outside of a university space.
The Baltimore Improv Group offers workshops for kids (ages 8-12 years old) and teens (ages 13-17 years old). Special programming, includes month-long Teen Improv Intensives and BIG Summer Camp are offered at various points throughout the year.
Baltimore Improv group is a Teaching Artists with the Young Audiences of Maryland and the Maryland State Art’s Council and can come to schools for assemblies and residency programs. Contact BIG’s Education Director and visit Young Audiences of Maryland for more information
7-Week Improv Classes
- Level 101: Intro to Improv: Students learn the basics of improvisational comedy while building confidence, improving public speaking skills, and having a blast with new friends
- Level 201: Intro to Improv Game: Now that students have the "Yes, And" basics from Level 101, focus shifts to the "Game of the Scene" and strengthening connections with your team
- Level 301: Improv Scene Work: Levels 101 and 201 sharpened students improv instincts. Focus is on dynamic scenes with stronger relationships and vivid world-building.
- Level 401: Group Games: With two-person scenes and walk-on's looking great, students now figure out how to balance everyone on stage at once with big, goofy group mind
- Level 501: The Harold: Put all skills learned in Levels 101-401 come together in The Harold, one of improv's most famous and challenging formats.
Corporate Communication Workshops
Corporate training, educational workshops, and private performances using improv comedy given by Baltimore Improv Group members. Workshops are shaped for all types of organizations and groups of any size.
Improvisers teach lessons in Improvisation and how to applying improv principles in the workplace.
Baltimore Improv Group has worked with Blue Cross Blue Shield, Brown-Forman Corporation, Business Volunteers United, Evolve Communications, Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins Medical School, Legg Mason, T. Rowe Price, and Transamerica. They also focus on education with Bet Yeladim Preschool (Training for Teachers), Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population & Reproductive Health, Harford County CC, Johns Hopkins (ORA) office, Loyola University, McDonough School, Park School, St. Paul’s School and World Trade Center Institute
- Terry Withers, Managing Director
- Jennifer Withers, Artistic Director
- Michael Hartwell, Education Director
- Richard Gorelick, Facilities Director
- Morgan Griffin, Marketing Associate
- Nathaniel Tyson
- Julia Gerhardt
- Justin Brashear
- Kathryn Carlsen
- Tavish Forsyth
- Maggie Phenecie
- Baltazar Benavides
- Julia Hall
- Alan J. McCombs
- Kim Scarfe
- Ti Coleman
- Michael Harris
- Andy McIntyre
- John Windmueller
- Michael Hartwell
- Terry Withers
- Jennifer Withers
- Kate Zelensky
The BIG Theater
The BIG Theater opened in October 2017 in Station North. The theater offers 3,000 square feet of space for shows; classes and workshops for adults, kids and teens; a podcast studio. BIG shows include improv comedy, stand-up, sketch, and more.
The name pays homage to Baltimore Improv Group's name for the past 14 years. Part of this history is building community engagement with affordable arts programming in Baltimore since 2004.
The new theater will bring everything under one roof. The theater houses comedy shows focusing on special events, holidays, dance parties, burlesque, and other events as submitted by the community and public.
In May of 2019, BIG created a mobile theater reaching neighborhoods around the city. After renting a large U-Haul with a sign to the side of reading “U-HAHA”, volunteers convert the truck into a theater as part of their mission to spread improv throughout Baltimore.
Baltimore Improv Group continued as program partner of LOL@Artscape in 2018 and 2019. featuring comedic stand up shows, improv performances and comedy activities.
In July 2019, The U-HAHA was outside of The BIG Theater on North Charles holding free continuous shows throughout Artscape.
- Fells Point Corner Theatre
- Mobtown Theater
- The Patterson
- The Strand
- The Mercury Theater
- The Single Carrot Theater
Jams and Open Mics
BIG also offers jams and opportunities to get stage time with the larger improv community.
This jam starts right after a regularly scheduled Tuesday Harold Night show. The jam is geared towards improv students of any level getting some extra (credit) stage time! No need to sign up in advance, just come to the previous show and don't leave the building! Check the schedule for when we have Extra Credit available.
Open musical-improv practice at The BIG Theater. Learn musical improv games and song formats in a fun and supportive environment. No music background or musical improv experience necessary. Accompaniment by Brian E. Young on the keyboard and ukulele. Bring your voice, musical instruments, and learn the joy of making up songs in the moment at the speed of fun.
XJAM is an improv jam for women, transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming performers. If you're an improv newbie or a seasoned performer, come on out and play! You don’t need to sign up ahead of time, and you won’t know who you’re playing with until you get on stage. We start with a big group warm up. Then, hosts will call out for a number of people and will give them a unique format, input or challenge. They'll have 5 or 10 minutes to play, depending on the number of people to attend, and then we’ll do it again with a different group! If you have a format you’d like to try, you will take the reins and host that set. We’ll end with a big montage for anyone who didn’t get a chance to play.
Stand Up Open Mic
This is your chance to get up and tell jokes- no experience necessary. This is part one of a two-part show. Come to this open mic and try out five minutes or less of material. At the next show, we will select a few performers to do their set.... and then do improv off of it!
Baltimore Improv Festival
The Baltimore Improv Festival (BIF) showcases a variety of local, regional, and nationally-known improv groups in shows and workshops in Baltimore. Proceeds from performance ticket sales will fund BIG's artistic mission, compensate guest instructors, and will also help cover the cost of future Baltimore Improv Festivals.
BIG teams performed at the Del Close Marathon, NYC Improv Festival, Chicago Improv Festival, Out of Bounds Comedy Festival in Austin, the Atlanta Improv Festival, the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival (formerly Dirty South), the Philadelphia Improv Festival, the DC Comedy Fest, and Duofest. BIG produces 100+ public and private performances in and around Baltimore, as well as teaching classes and workshops for kids, teens and adults throughout the year.
As of 2019, the annual Baltimore Improv Festival brought in over 400 performers in 100+ comedy teams to the region. In 2019, they visited the event from 25+ cities, 15 states, 2 countries, and performed in 45 shows over 7 days. We've brought you one of the largest improv festivals on the east coast and mid-atlantic.
- 2007 - Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company
- 2017 - The Cast
- 2018 - Fuck That Shit (A Comedy Team)
- 2019 - The Cast, The Stepfathers, Fuck That Shit (A Comedy Team), Asian AF