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Improv troupe celebrates 10 years with free show | Arts & Culture

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Improv troupe celebrates 10 years with free show
Improv troupe celebrates 10 years with free show

"I can still smell it. It was like rancid oil mixed with musty concrete."

That's the former artistic director of east-side-based Atlas Improv Co. describing the improv troupe's humble beginnings, which included holding classes in the dank basement of a Planned Parenthood. 

Neil Pohl now works in New York as a copywriter and studies improv at Magnet Theater. Pohl's been improvising for 14 years and was with the company in the beginning, when the group split from then ComedySportz Madison and founded Atlas.

On March 29 from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Atlas will present "PhatCamp: 10 years, 10 hours," a non­stop evening of improv offered up as a free event in celebration of the company's 10-year anniversary. 

Current artistic director, Kristina Martinez, credits the performers and the community for the group's decade of longevity.

"Ten years for Atlas is huge," Martinez said in a news release. "We wouldn’t be celebrating this milestone without the community. It means that a number of people have worked to make Atlas a success, not just the players but the audience. There has been a constant community for the art of improv, specifically for our style of storytelling."

Reflecting on the troupe's first eight years, which included hauling equipment to shows and holding classes in a musty basement and shows everywhere from a now-extinct Pizza Hut to a coffee shop, Pohl said the company's come a long way since it was established in 2004.

"You can imagine how much getting our own venue [in 2012] meant to us," Pohl said. "When the space at 609 East Washington was getting remodeled, I would go there alone, sit on the stage, run my hands on the wood, and tear up thinking about how many stories would happen there."

Another Atlas performer who has been with the company for its duration, Jess Schuknecht, said he's proud of how the company's evolved.

"We started with nothing except our people," Schuknecht, who has 18 years experience performing  improv, said. "We had to earn money for rent, equipment, everything. It's nice to see all that pay off 10 years hence. We've also become better storytellers, both in the stories themselves and the ways we tell them.

"Ultimately, though, we still exist because our members love improv, and love storytelling. We don't get paid, and we're not out to make huge profits. We are just passionate about this."

There is no cost for the show but donations are welcome. Attendees are welcome to come and go as they please. Atlas is partnering with other area businesses to combine PhatCamp with special offers like discounts at area restaurants and taverns. Atlas Improv Co. performs four shows each weekend and teaches classes in its own theater.   

-IF YOU GO-

  • WHAT: Atlas Improv Co.'s PhatCamp, a 10-hour come-and-go show
  • WHERE: 609 E. Washington Ave.
  • WHEN: Saturday, March 29 from 4 p.m.-2 a.m.
  • COST: Free, but donations are welcome
  • MORE INFO: Atlasimprov.com

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