Interview with Mike Subelsky, founder of the Baltimore Improv GroupFor all the many people who love the Baltimore Improv Group, and our shows and classes – we have Mike Subelsky to thank. Mike founded BIG ten years ago, when he rode his bike around Baltimore posting fliers for people who wanted to join an improv group.
What started in someone’s living group as a small group of maybe 8-12 people has grown into a 50+ person non-profit theater organization doing multiple shows each month…and this fall we’ll finally be doing it from our own theater!
Here’s an interview with Mike reflecting on 10 years of the Baltimore Improv Group.
1- How does it feel to see BIG turn 10 years old? Can you believe it? I mean really, can you believe we’re 10? Holy schneikes.
It feels great! Since I have two little kids I haven’t been able to stay involved as much as I like, and it’s really wonderful to see the organization grow and thrive without me, thanks to the dedication of BIG volunteers and leaders.
2- What do you hope BIG does as it continues to grow over the coming years?
I would like to see Baltimore develop a distinctive style of improv performance, distinct from the “when-do-I-get-to-be-on-SNL” desperateness you sometimes feel when attending a show in New York.
Baltimore has a generous, enthusiastic, unpretentious, and professional vibe, that I think could be deliberately cultivated by BIG, and promulgated globally via festivals and the Internet.
Another way of saying it: this ought to be the city where stage improvisation is the most important thing, cultivated and perfected for its own sake, by people who love improv more than anything.
I also hope that my own contribution becomes so small in proportion to all of the other great stuff that today’s performers and leaders are doing that I become merely an interesting historical footnote!
3- What are some of your favorite memories of BIG over the years?
The first New Year’s Eve show at Fells Point Corner Theater. The first time we booked a show at the Creative Alliance. The first shows we did at Artscape (incredible crowd energy). The first Baltimore Improv Festival.
My best memories revolve around seeing people become friends through BIG. To have helped create an organization that spurred new friendships (and romantic relationships) feels really special.
4- How has creating BIG changed your life?
Immensely. When I came to Baltimore I didn’t know anybody, and I was a Navy officer. I had always been a big joiner of organizations. Helping to create BIG gave me an early exposure to entrepreneurship – I found that I liked doing the paperwork as much as doing the improv!
(I’m pretty proud of the fact that I filed our 501(c)(3) myself using a Nolo book, hopefully I didn’t cause too many headaches for today’s board of directors!).
I learned a lot about marketing, leadership, organization, accounting, and more. Fast forward 10 years, and I’m working on my second tech company!
What’s your advice to BIG for the next ten years?
Now that BIG has a long-term tenancy arrangement, I hope that frees up some cognitive bandwidth to make a plan for the next 10 years. What do we want to be celebrating in 20 years?
Take advantage of this stability to create a long-term strategy. How are we going to make Baltimore a center of excellence for improvisation? What would that look like? How do we capitalize on Baltimore’s strengths to do something truly artistically unique?
I’m proud of BIG, and grateful to everyone who’s dedicated themselves to it.
Big thanks to Mike for the interview, and for being such a great leader. Come celebrate BIG’s 10th birthday with us on Sept. 21! We’ll be honoring Mike that evening as well.
Christian just completed his Level 101 and 201 classes with BIG University. In the next session he is taking two 300 Level courses: Intro to Sketch Writing and Movement for the Improvisor. Christian shares his own thoughts about his improv experience below:
I began taking classes with the Baltimore Improv Group from a curiosity for comedy and performing. Improv quickly went from a hobby to a passion. I begin each class and performance with butterflies and leave with confidence and exhilaration. I love that about it. BIG has taught me to react honestly, to collaborate with others, support others, and to take failure as a gift—lessons that all translate into the real world as well. Above all, the greatest value of my BIG experience has come from the relationships I have made with my classmates. Everyone comes from very different backgrounds, but through improv I connect with them on personal levels. I recognize so much talent in them and am inspired by them as performers. I feel excited to learn with them, embarrass myself with them, and create with them. The entire BIG community is supportive, talented, and just loves fun. I was instantly hooked on all the awesomeness that the Baltimore Improv Group has to offer. -CT
Christian (front, 3rd from the right) is pictured here with his Level 201: Intro to Longform Class taught by Dave Lasalle.
Various BIG members and friends contribute to the blog. Enjoy!