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Who We Are

BATS Improv is proud to be the largest and longest-running Improv Theatre and School in Northern California.  The multiple award-winning BATS Company performs exciting, new shows every weekend at BATS' own Bayfront Theater in Fort Mason, San Francisco.  The BATS School offers improv classes year-round designed for students at all levels from beginning to advanced.  Thousands of people, young and old, from all over the world, have attended BATS workshops. In addition, BATS' corporate training and entertainment wing, BATS On-the-Go, has served over one hundred high profile corporate clients. 

BATS Improv also reaches out into the community through our Youth Performance Series program which, thanks to funding from the Wattis Foundation, gives free performances and workshops to Bay Area high school students.  In addition, our Laughing Stock program provides free workshops for people with life-threatening illnesses.

BATS Improv is a non profit that continues to sustain a vibrant, growing community that touches thousands of lives in the Bay Area and beyond.  You can help BATS continue its mission to entertain and teach the principles of creativity and collaboration by making a tax deductible donation. Any gift, no matter how large or small, is greatly appreciated.



History of BATS Improv

BATS Improv traces its origins back to Professor Keith Johnstone, one of the few internationally recognized authorities on improvisational theatre.

During his tenure at the London Royal Court Theatre in the 1950s and 60s, Johnstone developed a series of improvisational exercises to help playwrights overcome writer's block by short-circuiting the natural tendency to edit themselves.

After moving to Canada in the 1970s, Johnstone developed the "Theatresports" format, in which two teams of improvisers compete against one another for points.

Over the next few years, performers from around the world discovered Theatresports and formed their own companies dedicated to the format. One such company was Seattle Theatresports (now "Unexpected Productions"), founded in 1983 as the first U.S. company to perform the format...and this is where the real story of BATS begins!

Seattle to San Francisco: A BATS Timeline

November 1986: A San Francisco comedy theatre group, Fratelli Bologna, invites Rebecca Stockley, a teacher from Seattle Theatresports, to lead a workshop and teach the Theatresports format.

November 10, 1986: Stockley's workshop culminates in a sold-out performance at the Zephyr Theater (now the New Conservatory Theatre). Several actors in the audience that night will later join BATS founding members to form BATS' first company of improvisers. (Click here for a list of past performers in BATS' Main Stage Company.)

1987: Bay Area Theatresports forms its first performing company and begins offering classes. The company performs in spaces throughout San Francisco: the New Performance Gallery, the New Conservatory Theatre, The Asian American Theater, 450 Geary and the Bayfront Theater, among others. Driven by a love of good, fully-developed stories and characters, BATS soon begins doing its own Long-Form shows in addition to Theatresports matches.

1988: BATS begins renting space at the Army Street Studios, which is its home for several years. BATS alumni found Los Angeles Theatresports (now Impro Theatre).

1990-92: BATS hosts International Theatresports Tournaments at the Magic Theater, drawing improvisers from around the globe.

1991: BATS begins offering regular workshops to the general public. Students from BATS' workshops begin performing at the Phoenix Theater.

1994: BATS offers its first summer school session in conjunction with Stanford University, featuring a residency with Keith Johnstone. The BATS summer session becomes an annual tradition and today draws students from as far away as Australia, Europe and Japan.

1997: BATS takes up permanent residency at the Bayfront Theater in the historic Fort Mason Center and experiences tremendous growth. The Company adds more classes and workshops, and expands its performance schedule to three shows a week.

1998: BATS begins its Laughing Stock program, offering free improvisation classes to people living with chronic, life-threatening illnesses, such as HIV, AIDS and cancer, and to their partners and caregivers. BATS is also voted "Best Improv Company" for the first time, in the SF Bay Guardian's annual Best of the Bay poll. 13 more "Best of" honors from the Guardian, the SF Weekly, 7x7 Magazine, San Francisco Magazine, and the San Francisco Chronicle follow over the next 11 years.

2001-02, 2005: BATS creates one of the nation’s finest performance settings devoted exclusively to improv theatre through a series of fund raising campaigns and capital improvement projects. A completely renovated Bayfront Theater includes new lobby and concession areas, new seats and a new wheelchair-accessible stage.

2009: BATS Improv continues to be the Bay Area's premier improvisational performing company and improv training program, attracting more than 11,000 audience members and 1,300 workshop enrollments every year.