Jeff Quintana, cofounder of Miami's Villain Theater, woke up on a Central Park bench every morning for two weeks in the dead of New York City's winter. It was 2009, and Quintana had just left Miami to pursue his love of comedy — a passion not readily supported in Miami. He was on a mission to learn from some of comedy's greats and was determined to bring it back home.
After six months of grueling city life in the Big Apple, Quintana left for Chicago. There he worked with the Improv Olympic Theater and eventually learned from Mick Napier, the founder and artistic director of the Annoyance Theatre and an award-winning director at the Second City.
This weekend, things come full circle as Napier and 11 of his Annoyance Theatre performers take over Quintana's Villain Theater. The group, which has been known to produce Saturday Night Live comedians such as Beth Cahill and Melanie Hutsell, will host two days of improv and sketch shows. Napier will also teach a two-hour workshop on his approach to long-form improvisation. The artistic director, who has worked with Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, and Amy Sedaris, says the best improv begins with the self.
"If an improviser can take care of themselves when they're improvising, then that supports their partner in the scene," Napier says. "It works hand in hand."
Napier, who recently opened an Annoyance Theatre in New York, was sure to say he would never open in Miami. "I'm not going to compete with Villain," he says. "I'm sure I'd lose."
Quintana and cofounder Peter Mir preach Napier's alternative approach at Villain. Instead of following all of improv's ingrained rules, such as "never ask questions" or "never do a transactional scene," Napier concentrates on teaching things to do.
"Mick was actually the last class I took before I left town, and we just really connected. It was clarity," Quintana says. "He looks at comedy in a way that is just very clear, and it’s like, if this doesn’t work, why do we continue to do it?"
Unlike cities such as Los Angeles, whose comedy culture was imbedded by the Second City, or New York and Chicago, which have long histories of comedic greatness, Miami is a relatively young city, untouched by any of the well-known theater chains.
This past August, Quintana and Mir cofounded the Villain Theater, a microtheater that operates in the back of Made at the Citadel in Little River. The budding playhouse hosts Chicago-style improv, sketch, and standup shows while also offering workshops for aspiring performers. Their select improv groups include the all-female Orange Is the New Wack and the Marvelloso Brothers. The former, headed by Jannelys Santos and Sheela Dominguez, is a wry take on female inmate culture. Each set lasts an hour, surpassing what most comedy clubs in our city can offer in both quality and quantity.
"It’s us in Miami doing it ourselves. We’re not waiting for anyone to come bring it," Quintana says. "In fact, I was dying for someone to come. It was hard being away [from Miami], but it was the only way I could see someone doing anything about our comedy community."
The Annoyance Theater Takeover, With Mick Napier
8 p.m. Friday, February 26, and Saturday, February 27, at the Villain Theater, at Made at the Citadel. Tickets cost $19.98. Visit villaintheater.com.