Arts & Entertainment

River City Improv celebrates 20 years this month

Core group holds troupe together in a constantly changing industry.

February 7, 2014
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River City Improv
River City Improv is celebrating 20 years this month, which is a remarkably long run in the comedy industry. Courtesy River City Improv

In 1994, a group of recently graduated Calvin College students got together to put on an improvisational comedy show. Now, 20 years later, many of those same performers will celebrate two decades as River City Improv.

A lot has changed since Rick Treur and Jeanne Leep founded the improv company.

Treur said that, in the beginning, most people didn’t really know what an improv show was, but the popular show “Whose Line is it Anyway,” which ran from 1998-2007, has made audience members more familiar with what to expect.

Other improv groups also have popped up across the city.

“Since we started, there have been a lot more opportunities, and we have some of our team members perform on other improv teams now, too,” Treur said.

It’s a rare feat for an improv team to last even a year, according to Treur, so it’s particularly unique and special for River City Improv to celebrate 20 years this month.

“I think part of it was that we have a solid core of people who have pretty much been on the team for the whole 20 years so they know each other — and having trust with each other on stage is a huge component,” he said.

“We try to spend a lot of time working on team dynamics and making sure the team functions well, and I think that aspect has helped to keep us together.”

Most of the River City Improv members aren’t looking to head off to Chicago or Los Angeles to make it big in television or film.

“Most of the people on the team really like Grand Rapids and are staying around here,” Treur said.

That’s not to say some former team members haven’t left to chase Hollywood dreams. In fact, earlier this year former River City Improv performer Marc Jackson returned to Grand Rapids to share his latest film “The Kings of Summer.”

Over its 20-year history, 30 people have been a part of River City Improv, with at least 12 members forming the team at any given time.

“We have auditions,” Treur said when asked about how someone goes about joining the team.

River City Improv gives 60 to 80 performances per year with about 20 of those public shows and the rest private parties.

The team also is part of the LaughFest lineup, which it has participated in since the festival’s first year when it helped organize the improv track.

River City Improv celebrated its longevity with a special sold-out anniversary show this past weekend at Calvin College’s Covenant Fine Arts Center.

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