Alumni Evan Kelly finds success in improv

Photo courtesy of Wherehouse Productions

Photo courtesy of Wherehouse Productions

Zeitgeist Zinema has looked very familiar every weekend night: the performers of Renegade Improv throwing quick and hilarious jokes, a crowd of people laughing in their seats and shouting suggestions, and everyone involved having a good time. Part of that familiarity is Evan Kelly, who has been performing improv there for the past 10 years.

“It’s a cool place to do this, we’re really lucky to have this,” Kelly said. “It’s a really good group to be a part of.”

Photo courtesy of Wherehouse Productions

Photo courtesy of Wherehouse Productions

Kelly, a UMD alumni, has been performing with Renegade Improv since he graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in theater and a minor in dance. While attending UMD, he liked to stay very involved with the theater programs and shows.

“[It is] your home away from home.” Kelly said. “I would spend weekends there, help building on sets. I basically spent all my time there.”

In his time at UMD, Kelly met the person in one of his classes that would later become his wife.

“We met the first show of our last year. We ended up getting married, so I would say that was a good experience,” Kelly said.

Shortly after graduating, Kelly got word of an improv team that had recently opened up in Duluth, and decided to audition. He made the team, and over the years refined his comedic skills. Kelly also worked his way to technical director and improv manager for the Renegade shows. He helped build and design sets for both the improv shows, and for other performances at Zeitgeist in downtown Duluth.

“What makes it all work is that you gotta love what you’re doing and work really hard at it,” Kelly said. “When you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work.”

Photo courtesy of Wherehouse Productions

Photo courtesy of Wherehouse Productions

While improv is mostly used in theater and comedy, Kelly sees a benefit in it for everyone. He teaches classes on how to use improv in one’s own life. Kelly’s lessons in improv can be used at work or at home.

His classes involve practicing quick thinking, how to go “off-script”, and staying calm if things don’t go according to plan.

“Be confident, and knowing if something does go wrong, it’s not the end of the world.  Everybody out there makes mistakes,” he said. “If something goes wrong, if you’re prepared enough, you can get back on track and you’ll know where you need to be. Everything’s gonna be alright.”

Kelly doesn’t think improv is limited just to theater majors and performers, however. While structure makes things easier, not everything falls in line with a script, he said. The ability to think quickly helps with decision making and problem solving. Kelly said this skill can be useful in any sort of career or situation, which is why some companies and organizations hire or use training seminars, like the classes Kelly helps teach to help their employees.

Evan Kelly has used his skills in improv to much success. He has found the thing that he enjoys most, and doing it well for the past 10 years. Kelly, when he performs with Renegade, isn’t doing work, because he enjoys doing it.

“In my work in comedy, when there’s a demand, I’m more than happy to supply.” Kelly said.


Culture Kevin Fischer