I’ve heard of sports widows, gamer widows, exercise widows, even porn widows. But improv widows? That was not something I expected to find at Dallas Comedy House (DCH). At least, that is, until I met one.
Actually, I guess it would be more accurate to describe Sunny Allison as a former improv widow. It’s not because her husband, David, stopped playing with his friends. Instead, after years of watching David on stage, she decided it was time to see what the fuss was all about.
Ironically enough, David and Sunny met at an improv audition at Mansfield High School. He passed the audition and joined a short form troupe called Pipin’ Hot Bowl of Comedy. Sunny had other priorities. Nevertheless, they remained friends, and after a couple of years, started dating.
By then, David was a student at TCU where he latched onto the improv program. When he moved on from TCU, he took the improv bug with him. He made the rounds of Four Day Weekend in Fort Worth and ComedySportz, took out-of-town workshops, and with a group of friends from around UNT, spent five years performing in coffee shops, student centers, virtually anywhere that would put them up.
In 2010, David found an improv home with DCH. After taking classes (yes, even experienced improvisers start with Level 1 at DCH’s Training Center), David has performed regularly with several audience favorites including David and Terry (with Terry Catlett), The Rift, On-Time Delivery, The Improvised Horror Movie, Radio! Radio!, and Little’s Giants. He also coaches Ewing teams and teaches in the training program [full disclosure: David was my super talented, demanding, cerebral (yes, THAT David) and incredibly supportive Level 2 teacher].
Sunny took a lot longer to warm up to the idea of improv even though she had stage experience in high school and through community theater. In the early years, she watched David struggle to learn, find stage time, and develop his improv footing. She found it inspiring to see him grow as a performer. She also admits that she felt a little intimidated.
“As the spouse of a performer or as a regular audience member, you build up how difficult it is to become a performer,” she said.
Instead, she supported David from the audience.
It took their discovery of the DCH community to finally convince Sunny that taking classes was worth the risk.
“Amanda and Kyle [Austin] encouraged me to take classes and showed me a tremendous amount of support while I was just buying drinks and showing up for shows," she said. "It’s such a welcoming community, and so cool to watch it grow.”
Now a graduate of the Training Center, Sunny is a full-fledged and accomplished member of the performing community at DCH where she is on stage regularly with her two troupes, CLR and Trust Fall Five. Even so, Sunny protests when it is suggested that she has made the emotional transition from being an improv wife to identifying more as a performer. David on the other hand is not buying that. He looks at Sunny and insists, “You’re definitely your own person here.” In point of fact, take Sunny’s performance this year at the Dallas Comedy Festival when her troupe CLR opened the improv portion. After years of watching David on stage at the festival, she found herself with roles reversed.
“It’s crazy! I actually got to perform!” she said.
After all this time and training, Sunny still can’t quite accept that she’s made it on her own.
That brings up a question I’ve had as I watch DCH students move from the training program to other roles. When do you know you’ve arrived as an improv performer? In a community like DCH, it’s sometimes hard to tell the students from the veterans.
“You watch people on stage for so long, see people that you admire," she said. "Then you’re up there, too. I was taking the sketch class with Noa. Holy cow, it’s Noa from APB!”
David is quick to agree.
“That’s something vital about the growth of the theater," he said. "We’ve done a good job from the beginning never putting anybody on a pedestal. Now we as individuals will say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s Kyle Austin,’ because they’re in the shows that we see and we love so much, but everybody who is on that level has done a great job of coming down and talking to people, saying hello, and humanizing themselves. It’s amazing that I’m so lucky to call pretty much everybody I’ve idolized, not only an acquaintance but a friend. It’s ridiculous that a community can provide not just great improv but friendship that works. It’s so silly to say, but it’s true, it’s absolutely true.”
Funny he should say that, because there I was, a lowly Level 4 student, sitting at that table in the DCH bar, thinking the exact same thing of two of my idols, the lovely and talented Sunny Allison and her equally lovely and talented husband, David.
Postscript: I can only imagine the sparks that will fly if we ever get David and Sunny on stage together. But first, we’ve got to get David back in shape after breaking a vertebrae (ouch and lingering cringe!), which has forced him to curtail his improv activities. He confirms that the withdrawal from his stage habit is at least as uncomfortable as the pain in his back. Although I have not confirmed this with Sunny directly, I would suspect that the pain in her neck from having David restricted to the house outstrips even that.
Next up: Ten Minutes in Heaven
Carron is a Level 4 student in the Dallas Comedy House Training Center, where her husband, Gary, is in Level 2 and her daughter, Haley, is in Level 1. She is pleased that they form DCH’s first improv family dynasty (as far as she knows). Their legacy will be a new house format called the Armstrong.