Dallas — The DFW Metroplex is the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the United States by population, trailing only those surrounding New York, LA, and Chicago. Yet, in terms of the volume of improv comedy theaters and training centers, it lags not only behind those cities, but the more bohemian niches of San Francisco, Austin, and the Pacific Northwest.
Part of this is understandable inasmuch the area does not position itself as an artist’s mecca. While a lot of great comedy and art in general is being produced here, no one moves to Dallas to kickstart their comedy career, unless they’re coming from someplace like Seagoville.
Still, everyone loves to laugh, many people like to create laughter, and with a metro population of over 7.2 million, DFW can sustain more than one big and several medium-sized improv theaters.
Stepping into that void is Lindsay Goldapp, a Chicago-trained veteran of the Dallas comedy scene. She teamed up with Chad Cline, who headed up the erstwhile Dallas improv outfit Ad-Libs and matriculated at the knee of Groundlings training curriculum co-creator Randy Bennett as well as Groundlings founder Gary Austin. Together, they’ve created Stomping Ground Comedy, the area’s newest entrée into the North Texas comedy scene.
"Improv is more popular than ever. We saw a need here in Dallas, and we wanted to fill that need,” says Goldapp. “We've trained at a lot of different places and seen a lot as far as training centers go, and we felt like we could bring something new to Dallas.”
Their approach is at once very mindful of the existing Dallas comedy apparatus and desirous of cooperation and teamwork with it, and altogether radically different than anything else being done in town.
In terms of that “coopertition”—a term that Goldapp emphasizes she did not coin—she sees it as necessary.
"Android and Apple are competitors, but they also wouldn't put out amazing products without each other. They push each other to innovate and be better. Coopertition means that you look at competition as being healthy and necessary rather than letting it get ugly,” she says. “And you can take that a step further and even help your competitors out and collaborate with them. When Second City was set on fire and lost their training center couple of years ago, iO took in their shows and classes for a time period. They know that without Second City there's no iO, and vice-versa. Every comedy theatre loves comedy and wants to see it do well as an art form, and the best way to make that happen is to have great training and great shows and a city full of awesome comedians."
In terms of what Stomping Ground does differently, it’s hard to know where to begin, but it’s a model that’s both intriguing—seductive, even—and kind. It’s a non-profit, which Goldapp says will (along with a large board of directors) allow comedy to remain the focus and for no one single voice, even her own, to drown out the others in terms of important decisions to be made or which direction to steer the organization.
Secondly, there’s a heavy emphasis on how improv can improve mental acuity and quality of life, something that usually gets lip service at most comedy theaters but little else. The locus of that emphasis is how improv can help mitigate symptoms associated with a host of brain maladies from garden-variety anxiety to dementia to autism. They call this their Improv for Life program.
"There's actual research and science behind how improv enriches people's lives and mental health across all different types of brains,” says Goldapp. “Improv for Life includes classes for caregivers, because research has shown it can really give caregivers a new, healthier, less stressful way to communicate with those whom they're caring for."
But make no mistake, if you’re simply a comedy nerd who has no larger agenda than having fun and learning great improv (and other forms of comedy), Stomping Ground is a place where you will find teachers who want to do nothing more than facilitate that.
"I love to see light bulbs go off for people, it's a huge part of why I teach. I love getting to witness those shared experiences. When I look back, later in life, I want to feel I helped my community grow through what I love, comedy," says Cline.
Goldapp expressed similar sentiments and says she loves it when her former students become “better than her,” a refreshingly low-ego approach in a market chockful of conceit.
Stomping Ground, which is looking for a permanent home but will be a roaming outfit for the foreseeable future, already has a few workshops scheduled. Their website has all the deets, including donation info (non-profit, remember)? The fun begins Saturday with a benefit performance at Arts Mission Oak Cliff.