ASIF – Review of The Alaska State Improv Festival

The Del Close Marathon. The Chicago Improv Festival. The Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival. The New York Improv Festival. The Boston Comedy Arts Festival.
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Chances are very likely that you’ve heard of these festivals, and probably attended at least two of them. I’m sure that you were exposed to an insane amount of improv troupes from around North America, and possibly Europe, and were blown away by the level of talent and variety featured at each of these festivals. I mean, how could you not be? There’s so much to see and experience. But here’s the thing about some of these mega-festivals: they’re so big and so intense that it becomes difficult to establish any sense of community amongst the improvisers that the typical performer’s e
xperience is to simply show up, get your performer’s pass, see a few shows, perform in your assigned time slot, and maybe see/do something in that city before it’s time to go home the next day.
Plus, one of the evils perpetuated in these types of mega-festivals is the illusion of status. Sure, some people/teams have achieved various levels of recognition be it through television, film, writing, talk shows, magazines, YouTube, or what-have-you, but there’s no opportunity to humanize them in any real way that matters because of the sheer amount of people attending these festivals. Sure, you might be able to go back to North Carolina and tell all of your friends that you got to tal13187866_10157629804150206_1747861823_nk with Jack McBrayer for five minutes, or that Amy Pohler accidentally spilled a drink on you in the Green Room. But where’s the humanity in that? Where’s the real life connection with another human being that matters? The answer is a simple one: The Alaska State Improv Festival!
Here’s one of the things that I love most about ASIF: Eric Caldwell, the festival producer, has been to so many festivals over the years that he knows exactly what to offer in terms of organization, variety, and community. Let me break it down for you.
Organization:
Once accepted to perform in the festival, Eric automatically adds you to the ASIF Facebook group where you receive updates and alerts in real time. I can’t stress enough how fantastic this is because it accomplishes a few things right off the bat: the ability to connect with other performers (both past and present), immediate and direct contact with the festival producer (what other festival can you say that about???), and pertinent information regarding the festival itself as questions arise.
Before the festival has even started, accommodations, rides to and from the airport, workshops, sight seeing tours, after parties, discounted performer “eats and drinks” hotspots, and other individual points of interest have all been worked out well in advance that you genuinely feel taken care of. This isn’t one of those festivals where you hope you are able to find a place to stay within budget that is within an Über ride of the venue. Nope. It’s all been taken care of for you!
13187872_10157629804100206_776965086_nAND on the back of your performer’s pass there is a schedule of all of the shows for the weekend so you can plan accordingly. Quite thoughtful.
And AND…for anyone performing in the festival, Eric has provided a webpage on the ASIF site specifically for improvisers providing information about all sorts of local grocery stores, restaurants, points of interest, workshop schedules, performance schedules, directions, phone numbers, maps, etc. It’s an amazing resource!
Variety:
There is so much about ASIF that I find outstanding that it becomes challenging where to start first. Let’s begin with the fact that you’re in Alaska’s capital performing improvised comedy! The landscapes are breathtaking, and are some of the most beautiful vistas I’ve ever seen (and I literally travel the world for a living)!
Then there’s the incredible talent that Eric is able to bring in from all over: Susan Messing, Amber Nash, Parallelogramophonograph, Pinque Pony, Scared Scriptless, Ranger Danger and the Danger Ranger, Nick Armstrong & Bill Binder, Pawn Takes Queen, and 1 Deep just to name a few off the top of my head. (There’s so many more that are going unmentioned that have absolutely blown me away! Seriously, everyone is just so, so talented!)
And that’s what is so great about this festival: A) the range of performances that you’d rarely get the opportunity to see again, and B) that you actually get to know the people behind the ensemble. What a rare blessing it is to actually have time to sit down to lunch with Susan Messing and talk about life! Which leads me into my last point about ASIF…
Community:
We, as improvisers, know the importance of community. It’s what strengthens us and brings us together both on stage and off. It’s what allows us to brainstorm new ideas and collaborate on projects. If it weren’t for these basic ideals there wouldn’t even be improvised comedy as we know it. We’d be fighting against each other constantly in the latest version of “The ME Show.” So why do we naturally gravitate towards perpetuating this idea that “my way is better”, or “I was taught the real way of improvising”? It’s silly and its destructive. But thankfully ASIF breaks those barriers down by creating a lot of community-building activities in which we get to really spend time together and appreciate other’s way of operation.
Exhibit A: The Whale Watching Boat Tour
When are you ever going to get this opportunity again in your life?! It’s incredible, it’s amazing, and it’s 100% worth it! I mean, come on?! It’s a boat full of rowdy improvisers! How could you not?! So much fun!
Exhibit B: The Mixer Jams
You know what’s even more fun than performing with your team? Performing with a group of extremely talented improvisers from all over everywhere in a completely bonkers show where literally anything can happen! So much fun!
Exhibit C: The Afterparties
Each night after the last run of shows, Eric has made arrangements for everyone to gather together at some of the local bars, restaurants, and local Juneau hotspots just for the sake of hanging out and getting to know each other better. Seriously, what mega-festival does that? Ok, ok…the Del Close Marathon does that. But it’s not open to all performers, AND it’s not an environment conducive to connecting with performers that you’ve never met before. ASIF is the very definition of bringing people together to celebrate this most amazing art form that we all love more than life. So much fun!
Exhibit D: Workshops
I’ve had the pleasure of learning from some of the improv “greats” in my time, and the workshops offered during ASIF are no exception. These master artists (and I refer to them as such) have taught me more about improv, the love of the art form, the creative nature of performing, and small technical approaches that I can apply in my own way than any other workshop I’ve ever taken in the past.
Plus, you’re learning/honing your craft amongst a mixed group of your peers, of whom you may never get the opportunity to perform with ever again. I’ve made so many special bonds with many of Juneau’s local improvisers that will stay with me forever! And I’m genuine in saying that I love these people. I love the connection that we created together. I love the pure joy of discovering things together while being directed and steered towards positivity, emotion, story, and humanity. These are some of my most cherished memories only available to me through ASIF’s magical ability to bring people together.
Special shout outs to Susan Messing, Parallelogramophonograph, and Rich Baker. So much fun!
The long and the short of it is that attending ASIF is like summer camp for adults. You make new friends, you experience new highs, you get to see some of the best performers in the world at the height of their game, and you get to experience Juneau, Alaska in a way that you truly will never be able to experience outside of the festival. It’s magical. It’s personal. It’s beautiful.
The Alaska State Improv Festival – the best festival I’ve ever attended! There, I said it.
Mike Brown
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