Some of Boston’s biggest celebrities helped Urban Improv celebrate its 20th birthday last week at the House of Blues. Governor Deval Patrick, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Mayor Thomas Menino and Aerosmith bass player Tom Hamilton, among a slew of others, joined the group’s cast for its annual “Banned in Boston” fundraising performance.
Urban Improv is an educational program that helps youths and teaches them, through theater, to tackle difficult issues like violence, bullying and peer pressure in positive ways. At “Banned in Boston” its members and volunteers — including local politicians, entrepreneurs and media personalities — use their theatrical talent to enact parodic skits on stage.
The humorous and often musical performances revolve around politics, pop culture, social events and recent news headlines. This year’s themes included Republican candidates and their foibles, cell phone technology, reality television, the Occupy Boston movement and the arrest of South Boston’s notorious mobster Whitey Bulger.
The preliminary cocktail party took place next door at The Lansdowne Pub, where several Boston and Cambridge restaurants provided signature dishes from tasting stations.
Chef Lydia Shire, representing Towne and Scampo, served curry noodles; Paul O’Connell, chef owner of Chez Henri, ladled out bowls of chowder to the crowd; and for a sweet bite, Upstairs on the Square’s co-owner Mary Catherine displayed mini cupcakes and chocolate turtles.
At 7:30 p.m., revelers ambled to the House of Blues, where the celebration continued. Cone-shaped birthday hats, jelly beans, Goldfish crackers and programs topped each table, and waitstaff with trays of wine and cupcakes from Sweet made the rounds. Boston-born David Walton, who now lives in Los Angeles and stars in the NBC series “Bent,” emceed the performance.
The night on stage opened with an energetic greeting from the Urban Improv co-founder Lisa Alvord, followed by a personal account from Shana Auguste, a former student of Urban Improv’s Youth Unscripted program and current member of the program’s artistic staff.
Born and raised in Dorchester, Auguste is now an Emerson College student studying communication. “I was really able to be myself in Urban Improv,” she said. Auguste cited three roles that the program played in her life: a family who provides love and understanding; a teacher with the lessons it offers; and a friend who gives advice and support.
The first skit was “Downtown Crossing Abbey,” a parody of Masterpiece Theater’s “Downton Abbey,” a British period piece presented by Masterpiece Theater. The local spoof had the Boston crowd chuckling with characters named Lady Allston-Brighton, Lord Somerville and Chelsea Revere.
After that, Gov. Patrick showed off his vocal chords and Frank Sinatra impression with a ditty called “Drive Me ‘Round the State,” a light-hearted political song sung to the tune of “Fly Me to the Moon.”
Artistic Director Toby Dewey thanked the actors, reminding them and the audience that the performances are making a difference in the Boston community. He noted how far the program has progressed in 20 years. Dewey explained that Urban Improv is an educational program that uses improvisational theater to promote “three-dimensional learning … using the mind, body and emotions.”
(This article originally appeared in an April 2012 issue of the Bay State Banner.)