Monday will bring together actors and comedians from all across Los Angeles for a very special cause. Gary Austin, the founder and original director of the Groundlings improv theater in Hollywood, is battling myeloma and his friends have rallied to help him raise money for his treatments. On July 12th at 8 p.m., the once in a lifetime performance will be held as “a night of improv, comedy and music that Gary will put together with…top name performers improvising their improv muscles.” Featuring talent like Paul Ruebens, Jamie Kaler, Mindy Sterling, Mark Dacascos, and many more “surprise guest stars,” it is sure to be a fun-filled evening!
Helen Hunt, Lisa Kudrow, Ed Begley Jr, and Robert David Hall are some of the sponsors of this event who will be appearing, as well, if schedules permit.
“Gary’s been teaching and directing for nearly forty years, and has influenced an unbelievable number of actors, writers and directors– including all of our sponsors and performers,” the organizers of the event, Steve Stockman and Rob Watzke, explained. “Everybody was incredibly responsive– we didn’t have to twist any arms. Good wishes and donations are still flowing in from all over the country.”
Stockman and Watzke wanted to help their friend and mentor in any way they could. Neither of them are working actors, but they both still improvise with Austin whenever they can and believe that what he teaches is valid far beyond the realm of comedy or the entertainment industry. A favorite motto of his is “YOU are sufficient to the work at hand…He means that you can do what’s being asked of you (onstage or off) if you just commit to doing it. You might not read a line like Al Pacino, but however you read it, if you commit and give it something that really comes from you, will be unique and interesting to an audience. A lot of the work…is getting out of your own way.”
This show is already sold out, but Stockman and Watzke want to encourage fans and supporters to donate through the website they set up for the event. Austin still plans to teach a full course load at the Groundlings, except for a brief period in the fall when he will need to focus on recovery, so every little bit helps.
The Groundlings began as the Gary Austin Workshop in 1972. Over the last few decades, many well-known actors (not all of which have gone on to focus on comedy) got their start in troupes on the Melrose Avenue stage. Jennifer Coolidge, Will Ferrell, Pat Morita, Michael McDonald, Conan O’Brien, Julia Sweeney, Kristen Wiig, and Kathy Griffin are among those notable alumni. Griffin even recalls Groundlings memories fondly in her recent memoir, sharing a story about a time when she dropped dramatic actress Mariska Hargitay during a trust exercise. Melissa McCarthy of CBS’ upcoming Mike & Molly is still an active member. Visit the Groundlings website for information about other upcoming shows to support local, new, and up-and-coming talent.