The Institution Theater

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Improv classes and off-beat theatre in Austin, TX

Instructor Biographies


Tom Booker

TOM BOOKER [Owner/Artistic Director] started studying improvisation in 1986 at The Second City Training Center in Chicago before studying with legendary improv guru Del Close at ImprovOlympic (iO) where he performed with the infamous house troupe, Blue Velveeta. He is also a founding member of Chicago’s Annoyance Theatre where, among other things, he performed in their Off-Broadway production of The Real Live Brady Bunch at the world famous Village Gate Theater and at the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles.

After moving to Los Angeles in 1991, Tom formed Theatre-A-Go-Go! with Laura Hall, the musical director from Whose Line Is It Anyway? He eventually started teaching improv and sketch writing at The Second City Training Center in Los Angeles. Tom also co-wrote and co-directed (with producing partner Jon Kean) the feature film Kill The Man starring Luke Wilson, which premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival. Tom has appeared in several television shows, a few movies and nearly a hundred commercials.

In 2007, Tom Booker came to Austin to start an improv theater and school and Austin’s Institution Theater was born! He’s a really nice guy. You should meet him.


Asaf Ronen

ASAF RONEN [Education Director] is the author of Directing Improv: Show the Way By Getting Out of the Way and the creator and Editor-in-Chief of, a website devoted to improvisation. He has been involved in improv since 1990, working with Theatresports, ComedySportz and within countless original longform improv troupes and formats.

Asaf has taught improvisation in Canada, UK, Norway and over twenty-eight of The United States. His directing credits include the B. Iden Payne award-winning The Suitcase, the Miyazaki-inspired Spirited, the improvised comic book adventure show Ka-Baam!!, and in the NY Fringe Festival with Death in the City, a dramatic longform improv piece. He was also a producer on Trust Us, This Is All Made Up, a documentary on legendary Chicago improvisers TJ & Dave that premiered at SxSW.

In 2000, Asaf worked with Cirque de Soleil as a scout for improvisational talent. Asaf currently performs improv with several troupes including the B. Iden Payne Award-winning Confidence Men: Improvised Mamet and the mostly silent improv duo IMP., both of which have represented at festivals nationally.


Sarah Marie Curry

SARAH MARIE CURRY [General Manager/Pixie] has been an acting singing improvising artistic adventurer for over fourteen years, with extensive experience in musical theatre and theatre management. She has been an improvisational actress since 2009 and shares her passion by teaching, coaching, and developing and directing new work. Most recent projects include Tarantula: Dynamic Improv, Improv the Musical! (It’s Scripted) and her weekly duo show with Cat Drago called The Impromp-Two. She is a proud member of the B. Iden Payne Award Winning Troupe: Girls Girls Girls Improvised Musicals. On stage she has been called “hilarious”, “fierce” and “truly exceptional” and was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role by the Austin Critics’ Table Awards for her performance work in 2014.

For show info, updates and more, visit


Brently Heilbron

BRENTLY HEILBRON was born in Dallas, Texas, a magical place not unsimiliar to Narnia. He began performing improv in comedy clubs at age 14 and stand-up at age 15. At 20, he was voted Best Comic in Austin by the Austin Chronicle readers’ poll. He has toured around the country, worked with Woody Allen in an opera and emceed for Paul McCartney, George Takei, and the Mighty Boosh.

As an actor, Brently has appeared on Friday Night Lights and the improvised series Significant Others. Last year, he relocated back to Austin for the queso and is thrilled to teach at the Institution, where he also wrote Fuck It’s Hot and Fragile Rock. Brently is a sexy ukulele player and dad to two awesome kiddos. He is the founder of Brently Artists and Media: a boutique event, talent, and media management agency.


Clifton Highfield

CLIFTON HIGHFIELD has been performing improvisational theater for 20 years and teaching improv for 10 years. Clifton studied at iO in Chicago during 2000, and performed in multiple improv festivals with Men in Shirts from 2001-2004. Clifton performed at The Institution Theater with casts of The Suitcase, Danger, and Pulp Friction. Clifton has also performed with iScream Sandwich, Concrete, and NugeField.

Clifton directed a remount of Townsville at Coldtowne Theater, and season one of Late Night Time Machine at The Institution Theater. He produces LoveFest at The Institution Theater. In 2007 he co-produced The Live Improv Movie Project at iO West. In 2010 he was the Technical Director for A Bloody Mary Christmas at Space 55, and The Unhappiness Plays debut in Phoenix and subsequent performances in the New York City Fringe Festival in 2011. Also at Space 55 Clifton was featured as Dewey in Bakers of Lakewood.

Clifton understudied in How Cissy Grew at the El Portal Theatre in Los Angeles. He added voice talents to the feature film I Am Legend and also The Blindside, an audio adventure game available for iPhone. Clifton was a stand-in on a couple Mad Men episodes, and a hand double for CSI: Miami. He has been an extra in CSI:NY, Scrubs, House, M.D., It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Changeling, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and a bunch of other things probably. Clifton played Bobby the Gardener in a retelling of the Henry Hill story in a 2011 production of Locked up Abroad, and co-starred in the short film Damsel which premiered at the Phoenix Film Festival in 2012. He played Walt in Dog, which won an editing award at Challenge 2.0, a 2004 film festival in Chicago. He is on the internet in Gordo 2.0 from 2010, Best Friends from 2013, and Four Twentysomethings in 2015.

Clifton would like to extend a sincere and timeless thank you to everyone he has ever shared a stage with, because you taught me everything, like it was new, every time we shared the stage.


Jo Chauvin

JO CHAUVIN took the very first class offered at The Institution Theater back in 2008, and, despite hiding at the back of the class for the first two years, enjoyed herself so much that she stayed as a student for 4 1/2 years.

Jo has performed at 4 of the 5 Austin theatres and has participated in many improv workshops, led by such improv greats as Keith Johnstone, Laura Hall, and Jill Bernard. Jo is a member of The Better Half, an improv troupe with local legend Regina Soto. She also performed with Flying Theater Machine, a weekly improvised children’s show, for two years. Jo performs improv, scripted work, and hosts many shows around Austin.

She is extremely happy to teach Level 101 and seeing the light in the students’ eyes as they get comfortable onstage, have fun, and make an improv breakthrough.


Shaun Branigan

SHAUN BRANIGAN has been writing, performing and teaching children’s theatre in Austin for over a decade. He received his BFA in Theatre at Emerson College in Boston, performed with The Immediate Theatre in Seattle, and moved to Texas in 1997, where he has been writing and performing with Austin’s own Esther’s Follies ever since. He has worked extensively with ZACH Theatre, where he has written over a dozen original plays for the Playspace series for children, including Holiday Heroes, which just celebrated its 14th season. He adapted Strauss’s Die Fleidermaus for the Austin Lyric Opera, and his play Eureka is touring for its fourth season with Boston-based Chamber Theatre. He is currently the puppet master and designer for Fragile Rock, the world’s best emo puppet band, and even did a short video with Cookie Monster- so his bucket list is getting shorter.


Ted Meredith

TED MEREDITH Ted Meredith has been an actor and writer at Esther’s Follies for nearly a decade, where he has performed as such political/cultural icons as Bill Clinton and Honey Boo-boo. Ted has taught at TIT since before recorded time. Seriously, no one was keeping track, he just started teaching one day and hasn’t stopped.

Ted has a BFA, cum laude, in Acting for Theater from Southwestern University, where he studied Viewpoints, Alexander Technique, Directing, Dance, Voice, etc. Upon graduating he joined the company of Austin Shakespeare, performed with Zilker Hillside Musical, and was one of the founding members of the Austiner Ensemble. He has been nominated for B. Iden Payne and Austin Critic’s Table awards.

Occasionally, Ted will be cast in a commercial, film or video game, but he’s not very good at keeping his resume updated. He’s planning on writing a book, a screenplay, and a pilot, but likely won’t finish any of them until he can at least get past week 5 of The Artist’s Way.