The comedy team Blimprov is nothing if not ambitious going into 2017.
The year marks the 10th anniversary for the local troupe, which is celebrating by doubling its performance schedule – and then some. It will host a new hourlong show every Saturday throughout 2017 in what it is calling The Year of the Blimp.
Doing a weekly show puts a bit of pressure on the group, says Nick Haas, one of Blimprov’s founding members. It’s also a heck of a motivator.
“We’ve already said it. Now we’ve got to pull through,” he says.
The group’s first performance, Saturday night at Fresno Soap Company, will feature the Blimprov A team – Hass, plus Magnus Chhan, Jarod Caitlin, Sydney Mason, Byron Watkins and Marcos Hammer. For future shows, the group will pull from 15 local on-call performers and bring in out-of-town improvisation teams. There are already shows booked through April, including several comedy game nights where Haas leads a round robin of guest comedians in various improv games; a few nights of Chicago-style long-form improvisation; and an official anniversary celebration Feb. 2 at the Sunnyside High School Theatre. That’s where the group staged its first show, back when its members were first out of high school.
In its 10 years, Blimprov has created a name for itself both locally – it staged a series of wildly popular Rogue shows – and regionally. The group was part of the house team at iO West theater in Los Angeles and various members have been featured on stage at The Second City and The Pack Theater.
Yet there were moments when the future of Blimprov was in question. The group’s three founding members often found jobs and schooling and other acting obligations limited the number of performances they could do.
“We had a tough choice to make,” says Hammer, another of Blimprov’s original team. “Are we going to keep pursing this?”
If the group was to continue, it would need more members. That meant developing the art on a local level. So, Haas started teaching improvisation at area high schools. For the past two years the group has been offering improv classes at Fresno Soap Company. New adult and youth classes start this weekend.
Through the classes, Haas and Hammer have discovered new talent in performers such as Caleb Loving. The 18-year old met Haas through his class at Clovis North High School, but he never gave much thought to being a performer.
“Then I got the call from Nick,” says Loving, who is currently studying psychology at Clovis Community College.
Haas invited him to take part in a Blimprov rehearsal, after which he was asked to come back. Loving now does shows with the group every few months.
“I’ve had so much fun with them,” Loving says. “They opened the door for me.”
That may be Blimprov’s greatest achievement, Haas says. While it has improved both the quality and variety of its own shows, it has gone from being simply a performance group to an actual theater company, Haas says. It’s the reason he feels confident they can pull off the Year of the Blimp.
“We think we have the human capital, the performers,” he says.
The question now is how the audience will respond.
In a way, these shows are a test of how much interest the public has in attending these kinds of comedy shows, though Hammer sees no reason why a city of Fresno’s size shouldn’t be able to support a weekly improv night. He says this after spending four years in Los Angeles, a place that has shows running every single night.
“If you build it, they will come,” Hammer says.
- 8 and 10 p.m., Saturday
- Fresno Soap Co., 1470 North Van Ness