Jumping Improv Under St Mark’s

Jump on 3 OnstageMJ Gonzalez Members of Jump on 3 mid-show on Friday Feb. 4 at Under St. Mark’s. (From left) Matt Dennie, Scot Holmes, Matt Starr, Maelle Doliveux, J.D. Amato, Phil Jackson.

What happens when you put a South African Wine importer, an advertising agent, an illustration student, a couple aspiring writers, and a government employee in a room, and yell the word “zipper” at them?

I don’t know. And they don’t know. We’ll have to all find out together. “That’s the beauty of improv,” says Matt Starr, 23, one of the seven members of the comedy improv group, Jump On Three. “Not only is the audience trying to figure everything out, but the improvisers are right there with you. You’re seeing everything unfold right before your eyes.”

Jump on 3 was created in March 2010, when a group of improvisers met at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in Chelsea. After searching the city for a performance spot, they finally found what struck them as an ideal space at Under St. Mark’s, an underground theater at 94 St. Marks Place.

“At the time, there was kind of an indie team explosion,” says Jump on Three member Phil Jackson, 27. After seeing another independent group, Rogue Elephant, perform at Under St. Mark’s in October 2009. When he found out that Rogue Elephant would no longer be playing at that venue, Mr. Jackson jumped at the chance to snag the space. “It was the perfect storm of circumstances and opportunity,” he said.

Now, Mr. Jackson and his fellow improv members perform regularly at Under St. Mark’s, hosting a show on the first Friday of every month, performing with other groups that ask to play at the venue. “We used to have to beg other groups to perform with us when we were first starting out,” Jump on 3 member Scott Holmes said. “But now they’re begging us.”

In the 11 months that the group has existed its members have established a strong rapport, they said.

“It takes time to build trust,” said Maelle Dolveux, 22, “Everyone has bad shows. But now I have complete faith in the group—that they’ll have my back, that they’ll support me; and it goes both ways.”

Though most of the members’ day jobs may have little to do with improv, many members say they use improv techniques in their everyday lives. Mr. Jackson, who works in an advertising agency, says improv has honed his ability to listen and create ideas, both key aspects in advertising.

“There are definitely muscles that you work to get better in spontaneous situations, to not only react, but react honestly,” said Matt Starr, 23 an aspiring comedy writer and actor, adding that improv has taught him to think on his feet, given him more confidence, and re-taught him how to play — something that he thinks grown-ups don’t allow themselves to do often.

The group members said they were excited about playing at Under St. Mark’s and joining the East Village community. “This is an important part of the city,” said Mr. Starr, not only because of the improv culture in the area, which includes Theater 80 a few doors down from Under St. Mark’s, and a new Upright Citizens Brigade theater, opening a few blocks south on Third Street and Avenue A, but because the area has a history of artistic creativity.

And, of course, it is easy to find places to hold post-show hangouts with improvisers and audience members.

With tickets to Jump on 3 sold at $5, and most proceeds going toward paying the theater’s rent, the group is left with few earnings for themselves.

“It leaves us with enough for a pizza party — maybe half a pizza party,” Mr. Holmes said.”But it’s worth it.”

See Jump on 3 on the first Friday of every month at Under St. Mark’s, 94 St. Mark’s place at 10:30 pm. $5 admission.