The Hideout Theatre—Austin’s oldest improv theatre—turned 15 years old last weekend. If the Hideout were a Latina girl, we’d wrap her in a pastel colored, bedazzled dress and parade her around a conference room at the Hilton. But the Hideout is not a Latina girl; the Hideout is a theater. Theatre. The British version.
Is anything duller than someone’s “How I got into improv!” story? They’re all variations on the same theme, i.e., “I was kind of unhappy and restless. Then I discovered improv. And now my life is much more fantastic than it was before!”
So I’ll spare you the tale of my improv genesis, except to say that it didn’t begin at the Hideout. It began at Merlin Works. But when there weren’t enough students for my Level 4 class to “make,” I jumped to the Hideout.
I wonder why I chose the Hideout and not, say, the New Movement or ColdTowne. I didn’t pick the Institution because I didn’t really know it existed, and it was too far south for my finicky taste. ColdTowne intimidated me, filled as it was with young bucks with huskier beards than mine. And even in my larval stage I knew that The New Movement was theater non grata. (For the record: I long ago warmed to TNM. But back then, nearly four years ago, I spat in its general direction.)
The Hideout reminded me of high school theater class. At nighttime, with the gold lights and dark wood, the Hideout felt warm. That long, skinny staircase is like walking into a secret passage you find in your grandparents’ old home: something special exists that way. The upstairs theater was the perfect size, in my opinion.
(I still wish our shows were up there. The downstairs theater, while more economically viable and accommodating to larger stagings, feels cavernous and cold to me.)
And they cast me in a show! I’d been thru one full class—Level 2—when I got put into the improvised Woody Allen show Manhattan Stories. It was a literal dream come true. People say that—people say “it was a dream come true”—and they’re usually lying or exaggerating. Not here. Being in a mainstage show at the Hideout was a dream. Being in a Woody Allen was a dream (I’d had since about seven years old). And now I was in both, kind of.
Truth is, for the first six months of my time studying at the Hideout, I was terrified of some of the bigwigs. I couldn’t talk to Roy or Kareem, the co-owners. Jessica Arjet and I almost never crossed paths. I felt like a nobody, another in a long line of students. I managed to warm up to Kaci because we were in Manhattan Stories together, but I was in awe of her—of everyone. I was a nobody.
I’m still a nobody, for the record. But I’m a somebody nobody now. I can talk to Roy. I managed to make Kareem laugh once recently. Jessica directed me in a show this year. And Kaci knows my full name.
For me—who came to improv after a decade in the poetry slam, a community in which I was a big fish—these are victories. Improv still seems enormous and daunting to me. So when I make these connections with folks, I’m grateful as heck. Some of my best friends came to me thru the Hideout. Ryan Austin. Jon Bolden. Troy Miller. Many others.
I’m a lucky guy. And a not insubstantial portion of my luck can be attributed to signing up for improv classes at the Hideout Theatre.
Happy birthday, you adorable Latina you!
Crank up the Ariana Grande and let’s fucking party.