Urban Improv is proudly celebrating 25 years of empowering Boston’s youth through theater. Since 1992, the interactive program has engaged over 75,000 young people at more than 125 schools and community groups.
Located in Jamaica Plain, Urban Improv’s structured improvisational theater workshops are designed to strengthen social and emotional (SEL) skills and help students deal creatively with real-life challenges through dialogue and performance
Led by professional actor/educators, each workshop teaches young people self-awareness, empathy, impulse control and responsible decision-making by presenting realistic scenes around current social issues and highlighting the skills young people need to navigate them. At the height of the scene’s conflict, students are invited to jump in and use their minds, bodies and creativity to resolve the conflict, experiencing the consequences of their choices firsthand. Through Urban Improv, students can express their unique voices, explore choices without fear or judgment, and build understanding and community through shared dialogue.
“Poverty, structural racism, violence, and divisions exacerbated by today’s political climate continue to be everyday realities for many of our students,” said Kippy Dewey, Co-Executive Director of Urban Improv. “For 25 years, Urban Improv has been, and will continue to be, a safe space for young people to work through critical issues and develop key social and emotional skills.”
The positive effects of the program have been verified through an independent multi-year study that began in 2001 conducted by the Hamilton Fish Institute on School and Community Violence. The study found that “Urban Improv not only halts the progression of aggressive behaviors, but supports the development of pro-social behaviors such as cooperation, assertion, and self-control” (Journal of School Violence, 2006). The study was led by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., founder of The Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute.
The History of Urban Improv
Founded in 1992 by Freelance Players, Inc. in collaboration with Boston Public Schools as a response to Boston’s escalating youth violence, Urban Improv was initially modeled on the Living Stage, a successful community outreach program of Washington D.C.’s Arena Theatre.
Urban Improv began as a nine-week curriculum for fourth graders at the Tobin and Farragut Schools in Roxbury, and has since evolved to include four core programs:
• School Workshop Series, regular workshops for Boston schoolchildren in grades four through eight
• Youth Unscripted, an interactive after-school program for high school students
• Re: Action Assembles, custom-designed, fee-based workshops for schools and community groups
• Student Mentoring, one-on-one relationships between adults and School Workshop Series students
In 1996, Urban Improv created the first Banned in Boston fundraising event, now an annual comedy and music revue. “Banned” features a cast of local Boston celebrities, media personalities, politicians, and business, arts and community leaders who rally together to put on a one-night-only show of hilarity, musical satire and skits. Through the years, Urban Improv has been joined onstage by local politicians, personalities and celebrities including Governor Charlie Baker, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Marty Walsh, KISS 108’s Matt Siegel, Tom Hamilton from Aerosmith and many more. Banned in Boston 2018 is scheduled for May 11 at the House of Blues.
In 2017, the Freelance Players and Urban Improv were brought together under a new unifying name: Rehearsal for Life, empowering young people through theater.
For more information on Urban Improv or to support the program, visit www.rehearsalforlife.org.