Arts preview: The Nest dedicated to improv

Jim Fischer

The Columbus improv comedy scene is significantly bigger than it was when Tara DeFrancisco was growing up in Worthington, but there's still plenty of room for growth.

That's part of why the veteran of Chicago's iO Theater, Second City and ComedySportz troupes decided to come home and start The Nest Theatre, a Downtown space dedicated to presenting improvisational comedy, with her longtime performing partner Rance Rizzutto.

The Next Theatre opened in November after a few months of renovations. DeFrancisco and Rizzutto have been doing shows on weekends for the past five weeks. The Nest also offers classes in improv, with a new session to begin with the new year. And while the pair is new to the scene, it certainly has a pedigree: Teaching in Chicago, students included a handful of current "Saturday Night Live" cast members.

"Once we had done what we set out to do [in Chicago], we thought we should do it for ourselves," DeFrancisco said in a recent interview inside the Cherry Street venue. "The goal was to come back home and start a theater."

"We have friends in troupes in Columbus but there was no dedicated space for improv," DeFrancisco said.

"There's a community with a good chunk of knowledge but we're hoping to expand it," Rizzutto said.

The duo's centerpiece production is "Here: The Musical," a long-form, two-person improvised musical play. DeFrancisco and Rizzuto have been doing "Here" for about two years, and have toured the show to 50 cities in 17 countries (including October's Columbus Improv Festival).

The Nest also presents "Storyteller," a larger ensemble piece that pairs an audience suggestion with true stories from the lives of the cast members, Cage Match, a weekly contest between improv teams to stay on the stage, and a Jam, sort of an open mic for would-be improv-ers.

DeFrancisco and Rizzuto plan to offer additional new shows after the first of the year, among them the ComedySportz brand, a short-form, family-friendly show that's licensed in 25 cities.

It's all part of helping to foster a community among performers, students and audiences, for improv in Columbus.

"There's no way to predict the show you're going to see," DeFrancisco said. "It's ephemeral, but when something happens…"

"…it's magic in the theater," Rizzuto finished.

The Nest Theatre

15 W. Cherry St., Downtown