The Ledge opens a stage for L.A. improv actors of shade

In 2020, when ACME Comedy closed on account of pandemic woes, Shaun Landry questioned aloud — through Fb — if anybody would wish to give her cash to create a theater residence for folks of shade. It was, largely, an harmless question, however her community of buddies, co-workers, college students and extra took it critically, urging the improvisational actress-writer-teacher-mentor to maintain pushing for that dream.

“The #MeToo movement hit, and then [Black Lives Matter] and us coming to grips with what was going on in improvisational theater, and also in comedy in general, and how we have been treated in certain establishments. That was going on — and then the pandemic hit,” Landry mentioned.

These cultural upheavals appeared to stymie some in improvisational theater in Los Angeles (Landry is a member of many improv teams) as folks scrambled to determine what to do to maintain the artwork kind alive. The response to Landry’s on-line question and the stagnant nature of what was happening round her impressed her to behave.

“I sat in numerous meetings online and on Zoom. There were a lot of people talking and a lot of stories. Hearing the stories is a good thing and it’s cathartic,” Landry mentioned. “Stories are great, action is better.”

Shaun Landry, founding father of the Ledge, L.A.’s first Black-owned and operated improv/sketch comedy troupe, stands onstage at Skiptown Playhouse.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Instances)

“I knew somehow in the weirdness of the ’90s, they were not going to give a 30-year-old Black woman a theater. This was the time. I’m old enough. My reputation is good enough. [She points to a wine refrigerator.] I’m a classy wino.”

From that willpower, the Ledge Theater was born. Landry and the members of the Ledge carry out and train improvisational appearing and workouts in class, theater or company environment. Established in spring 2021, the title got here out of a dialog Landry had with Kim Howard Johnson, creator of “Truth in Comedy: The Manual for Improvisation.” The Monty Python aficionado and actor needed to help Landry however hadn’t improvised shortly. Landry mentioned that she would “take him to the ledge” to assist him hone his rusty improv abilities. The encouragement, and the title, caught.

However in L.A., has it actually caught on? Locations like Chicago revere improv as an artwork kind, however L.A., with all its distractions and different leisure vying for consideration, could not have correctly embraced it. Improv is extra than simply comedy. It’s clearly not scripted, however there are numerous buildings and templates to carry out below. It’s not stand-up comedy, however there are ample alternatives to riff. It’s communication, and although it might be categorized as theater on account of its staged presence, it has offstage and real-world functions.

“Most of the people when I started in Second City were people who were lawyers who wanted to speak better in front of their clients and in front of a jury. It was doctors who wanted to communicate better,” mentioned Landry. “I’ve done drama therapy before in prisons. What it does is it grounds a disadvantaged community. Even if it’s a disadvantaged community of Caucasians, having theater can be that guideline to getting out of places.”

Landry and her husband, Hans Summers, an improv efficiency couple who’ve been married since 1991, assist kind the board of administrators for the Ledge, together with people whose abilities preserve issues working. Summers and Jeffrey Thompson deal with the financials, Stephen C. James is academic director, Marshall Givens and Royce Shockley deal with programming and Becky Brett oversees fundraising.

Vincent Carubia, owner of Skiptown Playhouse

Vincent Carubia, proprietor of Skiptown Playhouse, stands in a entrance room.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Instances)

Programming and fundraising throughout a pandemic are difficult. The group discovered a brief residence at Lyric Hyperion Theatre, however as exhibits have ramped up — together with the venue’s latest musical “The Streaming-Verse of Madness: An Unauthorized Musical Parody” with Aidan Park — the Ledge needed to rethink that association. The group just lately moved to Skiptown Playhouse, however its objective is to have its personal theatrical and academic area.

Regardless of enterprise issues like an unstable theatrical base, an uncooperative California Arts Council (the group is simply too new for funding), a curler coaster of a pandemic (a COVID spike pushed the Ledge’s opening on-line) and consistently making an attempt to verify artists receives a commission, the board members are persevering with to deal with what introduced all of them collectively.

“Not many comedy theaters are nonprofit because there’s a stigma around comedy being worthwhile,” mentioned Brett, who lives in Hawaii and is continually looking out for donations to the Ledge. She has seen how improv will help folks and understands that “representation matters.”

“When kids can see their life acted out onstage, and see that it can turn out OK, that can change their entire trajectory,” Brett mentioned.

Whereas the board handles the enterprise of the Ledge, the members of the group carry out and train theater to kids, teenagers and adults. They have a full arts curriculum created for colleges — improvisational theater that goes past simply comedy and drama — and being geared towards the POC and LGBTQIA+ communities is only one step on a bigger corrective path.

“We’ve basically — all of us that are on the board and are performers — all had the experience of being the one Black performer in a group of white improvisers or performers and feeling that onus of wondering why there weren’t more people like us on the stage or in the seats,” James mentioned.

A man on a ladder and a woman looking up at him

Hans Summers units up store with Shaun Landry in a backstage room at Skiptown Playhouse in Los Angeles.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Instances)

“When Shaun put that post out there on Facebook, I said to myself, ‘She figured it out.’ That’s what we do. We open a theater that is ours, and we invite everybody in and normalize the idea that the leadership is a Black woman. That the faculty are of all different races and genders and backgrounds, and we basically make it where it’s not just — no offense to [them] — a bunch of white guys in hoodies and New Balance shoes. We spread the word by opening up the world.”

Shockley additionally rapidly noticed the importance of Landry’s thought and provided to assist.

“Because I am also the director of [the Pack Theater], what I learn in one place, I take that knowledge and just think, ‘Where can I help somewhere else?’ Whether that be, ‘Hey, I’ve got this contact,’ or ‘Hey, here’s an idea for how to do this business thing,’” Shockley mentioned.

“I loved the first show because it was a little bit of everything. That’s essentially what we want the theater to be. Comedy is for everyone; it shouldn’t be done by just one group of people.”

“That’s essentially what we want the theater to be. Comedy is for everyone. Because it is for everyone; it shouldn’t be done by just one group of people.”

— The Ledge board member Royce Shockley

That spirit of paying it ahead can be on the root of the Ledge’s academic philosophy.

“For the kids that come through, the object of taking a class at the Ledge is — yes, we’ll put you onstage — but the object is to leave so that you can create your own theater and you can create your own voice and you can become your own leader. Take it and carry it on and pass it to someone else,” Landry mentioned.

It’s nonetheless early days for the Ledge. Its most impactful present so far featured Marsha Warfield (of “Night Court” fame). It was a packed home, and Warfield informed Landry that she plans to return. Landry bonded with Warfield over their shared upbringing: They, in addition to Bernie Mac, Barack and Michelle Obama and Chaka Khan, all come from the identical normal Chicago neighborhood and share huge expertise and massive personalities.

Landry could not wish to hear it however the success of the theater group could hinge on her. As founder, she has the drive, information, contacts and charisma that would energy its development. She opens her residence to any artistic who wants it and is simply as beneficiant along with her reward for instructing and performing.

“If you’ve ever been onstage with her, she makes it feel like home,” James mentioned. “And then, when you’re backstage with her, she makes it feel like home. Basically, she carries home with her wherever she goes.”

“Contrary to popular belief, I hate performing at the Ledge. I love performing there, but I hate it because this is not ‘The Shaun Landry Show,’” Landry mentioned. “This is not about me, it’s about all of us, so I prefer not to have me or Hans perform. I prefer to teach.

“I want this to be all-inclusive, with different voices and different viewpoints.”