When I’ve been telling people I went to an improv festival in Alaska, the first thing they want to know about is… Alaska. And it’s understandable why. Alaska is still a far away frontier filled with danger and beauty. So let’s talk about it for a moment. Juneau, Alaska is surrounded on every angle by beautiful mountains and snow-caps. Lakes and rivers. Oh, and humpback whales. But as foreign an experience as the small little town in the north was, one thing was very familiar; a love of improv.
Juneau has a small downtown, a very small downtown. I walked it’s circumference a few times while I was there. But almost every book store or coffee shop I stopped in at knew I was “one of the improvisors”. In a town that size, people care about their community and are excited to see art grow there. And in a town that size, you’re going to run into other performers at just about every meal or excursion and get a chance to sit down with new folks over a meal and talk improv. Even without a festival going on in the evening, it was a lovely improv experience.
But there was nothing “small” about the improv. Eric Caldwell and Michael Christenson are known for shows around the country that are the farthest thing from “playing it easy”. In a community that may very well let them get away without challenging themselves, they play on the edge of absurdism and dadaism in wonderful ways. The result is a small and educated community prepared to enjoy the many kinds of improv out there.
And that’s what they brought into town; puppetry, apocalyptic cabaret, shows exploring the themes of Lovecraft and 1930’s pulp and more. I personally was very happy to showcase invocation to an audience like that at the beginning of my Sunday show.
Oh yeah, and we all got on a boat and watched humpback whales.
This is about as far an experience from Del Close Marathon as one can get. It’s like getting welcomed, ever so briefly into a little secret art community and have the chance to share your art and learn from theirs and then go home. I’m actually torn now because I would desperately love to submit a show to visit again next year, but I’d almost feel guilty of robbing some other performer a chance to experience such a thing.
Huge thanks to Eric and Mike and all of the volunteers who were there every day. This isn’t going to be an “every year” festival for most performers. It’s a big journey. But I hope every troupe tries to visit this place and recharge their improv.
Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America.