Book Highlight: Improv Wins

by Chris Trew and Tami Nelson

by Chris Trew and Tami Nelson

I met Chris Trew and Tami Nelson at the 2004 Southern Improv Festival. I immediately liked them. Their passion for improv wasn’t unique, but their drive to see improv continue to grow and change rather than rest on its successes was something very dear to me.

It was more than talk. In the ten years that followed, Chris and Tami have reshaped improv, not in one town, but in the entire Southeastern part of the country. They’re personal style can be seen in much of the improv in that region, but each city also grows in its own way making its own unique form of those ideas. That’s what’s great about Chris and Tami and everyone at The New Movement. I was excited to receive a copy of their book in the mail and more than pleased to share some thoughts on the book here.

Recently, a review of the UCB Manual of Improv appeared in these pages. In many ways this book is similar to that one. Both are structured more like textbooks than improv books of days past (although Improv Wins is presented in a slightly less linear fashion). Ideas are broken down with exercises for the reader to do at home. Both provide real world examples with discussions of the answers. Likewise, both can very clearly be seen as guides on performing in the style of their respective theatres. This book, in fact, has a very wonderful introduction that is very honest about this; that there are many ways to approach improv and this is but one of them. In these respects, both books are both similar.

But in what I believe to be a very important way, they are also quite different. The UCB Manual could be viewed as a definitive guide. I’m certain it will be sold at the UCB Theaters for years to come. Students reading that book may go on to eventually teach from the same book. Improv Wins is far more aware of the constant changing and growing nature of the craft. There is still great wisdom to be gleaned from Impro for Storytellers, but much of the content of that book is less applicable in a modern improv environment. Improv Wins is self-aware that it likewise is a snapshot of it’s time – a book for 2014, not 2036. Whereas the UCB Manual teaches how to solidify a current form of improv, Improv Wins encourages the reader to use this book as a starting point to reinvent and reshape improv in new ways going into the future. In fact, I would argue that while many of the exercises in this book may be considered quaint in fifteen years, the value of this book will still be in the ideas of continued reinvention.

Tami and Chris

Tami and Chris

For the many students of established improv theatres across the world, is this book a good resource? Sure. It’s a nice supplement to your existing teaching and perhaps offers a different take on ideas that may be easier to understand for the reader. It will be a very useful supplement to their learning, if not necessarily a revelation. But to the hundreds of performers in small towns across the country without access to professional teachers, this can be a huge benefit. This book not only presents exercises that might be presented in a classroom setting, but offers the insight and explanation a teacher might provide. This book shouldn’t be considered a replacement for formal training, but it’s an excellent substitute when that training is not available.

And that works on the flipside as well. I know many many performers who have been playing for a while and are now looking to begin teaching. Read this book. This book can be an example to follow on how to effectively communicate ideas and organize thoughts. Even if your specific focus is different than the teachings of The New Movement, this book can be a useful template for how to present information in a way students can understand.

Although not formally separated into two sections, the book does change focus about halfway through. The second half of this book is why I’m recommending this book to my personal students. After several chapters of how to work well onstage. The second portion of the book offers advice which has rarely seen written form on how to behave offstage; working with your ensemble in healthy ways, building relationships with other ensembles and theatres, good advice on traveling to festivals. (And a special thank you to the authors for the kind words spoken of the festival in my home town.) These ideas are not wholly new, but have existed for far too long as only oral traditions. Thanks to Chris and Tami for putting these thoughts together on paper for those performers looking to grow and sustain their troupes.

Overall this book is cleverly and very personally written. It’s a useful guide to performance as well as a genuinely entertaining read for any performer. But for the beginning troupes, this will be a tremendously useful book in growing. Not growing into The New Movement or The Reckoning or Baby Wants Candy, but growing into something new, something beyond those. This book will help the next generation of performers discover more and leave us in the dusty past. Highly, highly recommended.

You can get the book here.

Hooray books!


Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America.

Spotlight On: Houston Improv Festival


If your an improvisor on the west coast, you know two things about Texas. First, it’s very big. Second, all the good improv festivals are on the east side. That makes for some pretty long drives with your troupe through less than scenic West Texas. But it’s worth it every time. Houston is a big part of that, and with the opening of The Station Theater and really passionate people like Shyla Ray, Todd Boring, Jessica Brown and a dozen others, it’s going to become more so. Houston is growing quick into a town where fantastic improv is happening all the time. I was fortunate enough to learn a little bit more about the Houston Improv Festival with Jessica.

Houston’s improv scene has really grown quite a bit in the last few years. Many performers – even touring ones – having been out there yet. What’s been happening in the last few years that lead to this growth?

P-Graph

P-Graph

This has been a huge year for improv in Houston. ComedySportz Houston just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Station Theater officially opened its new theater space last April, allowing them to increase their weekly performances and class offerings. The University of Houston’s Glaundor from won the National College Improv Tournament. Rice University added improv to their curriculum with Station’s Shyla Ray at the helm. We also have fantastic independent troupes like Rice University’s Spontaneous Combustion, The Univesity of Houston’s Phortasics, Opehlia’s Rope, Feelings and Babyknuckle.

Additionally, both theaters have welcomed special guest performers like Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall, Parallellogramophonograph, Greg Tavares, Chris & Tami, Jill Bernard and more.

Houston improvisers are growing a passionate community. We love what we do and we want to share it with the world. We also want to share the creativity and diversity of the world of improv with Houston.

What’s the scene like now?

The scene has a strong backbone of veteran performers but it is growing rapidly so there is a strong influx of youthful exuberance. Show offerings have drastically expanded. The overall improv audience is not only growing, it is embracing non-traditional forms. There is lot of experimenting and expansion of forms. ComedySportz expanded into long form offerings with Ampersand and their Unscripted series. This Infinite Closet, who performed at HIF last year, took home Best Original Comedy at the Houston Fringe Festival this year for their version of a Bat. Station also took on improvised Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick this year.

I know many of the theatres in Houston have had a lot of shared performers and ideals as other theatres in Texas and Louisiana, as well as their festivals. What are you hoping to bring from their festivals to Houston?

The best festivals and theaters promote the growth of a community and sharing of ideas. We want to continue to bring in strong talent and strong educational opportunities so that this community can continue to grow. We want to embrace all forms and all improvisers yet still keep the spirit of independence that is key to improv.

What are some of the things you think you can actually shake up and make your own?

We have really enjoyed the intimacy of the Houston Improv Festival the last two years. Last year was our first year to offer workshops. It was a powerful experience for groups from local theaters and universities to mix, mingle and share ideas. We want the Houston Improv Festival to continue to be a community building event and an opportunity for attendees to learn from some of the best in the business.

What are some of your goals in terms of exposing audiences to improv this year? What kind of groups are you hoping to submit?

We would like to see a strong mix of long form and short form troupes. Even though we have grown tremendously, Houston’s improv scene is still in its early stages. We want to showcase the diversity of talent in our region so that audiences have a broader understanding of improv overall

What can performers expect outside of shows when they visit? Will there be workshops or other events planned as part of the festival?

Last year we had hang-outs after both Friday and Saturday night shows. Those gave everyone an opportunity to do some networking with our performers and instructors. We are definitely going to continue that this year. For workshops, we are bringing in Jet Eveleth from iO Chicago, and our own Dianah Dulany of ComedySportz Houston. Finally, Sunday afternoon we will be screening “Close Quarters,” a movie featuring some of the improv greats of modern times.

What’s the weather going to be like in April?

One of the reasons we have the festival in April is that the weather is amazing – mid 70s to low 80s and gorgeous. It’s a great time to be in Houston.

When shows aren’t going on? What are some of the things performers can visit and do during the day?

Museum of Funeral History

Museum of Funeral History

There is so much to do in Houston. Of course, we will have our second annual karaoke party at Hefley’s Sports Bar on Saturday night. Our performance venue is not far from the main MetroRail which gives you easy access to Downtown, the Houston Museum District (www.houstonmuseumdistrict.org) and even the Houston Zoo. We have world-class museums like the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Museum of Fine Art Houston, The Menil Collection, The Holocaust Museum and so much more. We also have some unusual museums like the The National Museum of Funeral History, which is probably my favorite museum in Texas. I am in the tourism industry so I am pretty spoiled when it comes to attractions. I tend to go for the unusual!

The Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau website (www.visithoustontexas.com) is a great resource if you want to explore Houston.

When the festival’s over, what would you consider the greatest compliment you could receive?

We had a blast and can’t wait for next year!

There’s so much to do and see in Houston. It’s a great chance to perform and play with passionate people. Submissions are still open, but they’re closing this week. For more info, feel free to contact Jessica directly.

(512) 689-3729
jessica@houstonimprovfestival.com


Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America.

Happy Holidays from NIN!

Hey everyone, Nick and Bill here wishing you all a wonderful Holiday! When we launched in May we didn’t know what to expect, we created a resource for improvisors based on our passion and love for the art. Today, we have 800 members, 400 troupes, 62 Improv theaters listed and 66 festivals listed with 20 running submissions through us and more on the way. We want to thank everyone who has supported this great experiment especially our members. We are grateful for our wonderful improv community!

As 2013 comes to a close we look forward to bringing you even more resources for 2014. We look forward to showing you what we have planned!

We’ll be monitoring the site but we will not be releasing any new content till the New Year. If you have any questions you can PM us on NIN or e-mail at bill@nationalimprovnetwork.com and nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com.

Nick and Bill

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to all

Happy Thanksgiving to all

It’s an incredible time to be an improvisor! As the world gets smaller, we all are reaching out and making connections with performers all over this country and around the world. We’re learning from each other, sharing ideas and discovering that there are so many more people than we ever imagined who share the same deep love of improvisation that we do. And for the most part, those people will do anything they can to help each other, laugh together play together and push each other to grow in improv even more. We are truly blessed.

So today, we take a break to remember the things we are thankful for. As individuals we have all had a year of huge triumphs and defeats. As improvisors, we have much to be thankful for in 2013. Everyone is welcome to add their own thoughts. These are things I’m thankful for as an improvisor this year.

  • I’m thankful that we share an open and supportive community. Always celebrating in each others successes
  • I’m thankful that even the most celebrated and revered performers and teachers will always take the time to help a level 1 student.
  • I’m thankful for the performers and teachers who fly from city to city, sleeping on couches and cheap hotels to share their knowledge.
  • I’m thankful to all our families, who may not fully understand why we are doing this instead of using our engineering degrees, but support us 100%.
  • I’m thankful that more than anytime in history, audiences are coming to understand improv – not as a gimmick – but as a way to truly explore the human condition.
  • I’m thankful that there are over 50 active festivals across North America alone, introducing new people to improv almost every weekend somewhere.
  • I’m thankful that new theatre companies are starting and old theatre companies are finding new homes.
  • I’m thankful for the bosses in our “day jobs” who understand that a few times a year we need Fridays off to go play in another city.
  • I’m thankful for the new friends I’ve met in this year.
  • I’m thankful that the gifts we give each other onstage don’t require waiting in line at Best Buy.
  • I’m thankful for people like Lucien Bourjeily and hundreds of others who have literally risked their lives to bring art and improv to parts of the world where it was once forbidden.
  • I’m thankful for those pushing the limits of form, character work, technology and performance to create new shows we never could have conceived of.
  • I’m thankful that more incredibly talented performers like Pete Holmes and Chris Gethard are getting the praise they deserve and paving the way for more performers.
  • I’m thankful that Chicago, New York and Los Angeles will always have great theatres, but they’re no longer the only cities that do.
  • I’m thankful that all of us; students, teachers, performers, coaches, directors, producers and theatre owners are are taking ownership of this thing we love; protecting it and dedicating their time to it. I know that those who came before us sacrificed so much to make the road easier for us today and we continue to work to make the path easier for the improvisors who will come after us. Each year more and more performers have the chance to play and love to the fullest of their potential. I am thankful for every improvisor in the world who makes this happen.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. And to everyone who has joined us in this daring adventure of a webpage, a most heartfelt thank you. We came to you with a simple idea and you have all yes anded it into something wonderful and still growing. From everyone at NIN, you have our deepest gratitude.

New Site Feature – Communities are Here!

community5

Improvisors coming together

This is an exciting day. When we launched the National Improv Network, just over six months ago. We promised there would be more tools for improvisors to come. We spent those six months travelling and talking to people about the existing site and what they wanted to see next. People have been really excited about the potential to maintain a presence for their troupes, theatres and festivals, but one thing we heard loud and clear was that there needed to be more ways for users of the site to interact with each other. Outside of blog comments and private messages, there hasn’t been much in the way of facilitating conversations. We were very aware of that from day one. We knew conversation and interactivity were key to the growth of an idea like this. We also knew that too many great online communities over the years have died because they didn’t have the right tools to let people communicate in a useful and healthy way. We spent a lot of time researching different models and different interfaces and we talked to a lot of people who make their living developing tools for conversation. But we’re finally here.

So starting today, Communities are part of the site. But what are they? How do they work? Those are two pretty good questions. Let’s take them one at a time.

What are “Communities”?

In some ways, communities will look familiar to anyone who’s used web forums before. So if forums already exist, why not just use them? Two reasons. First, there are already many great improv discussion boards out there. Adding another general improv forum web page to the mix just means one more web page that people will have to visit each day for the same thing. Those pages are great and we don’t have any interest in trying to take away from what they’ve already created. Second, a centralized forum doesn’t really fill the mindset of what we’ve all started creating here together.

When the idea for the festival submission tool was being discussed, we looked at many old lists of festivals and talked about why they didn’t survive or grow. The answer we came up with is that a centralized place for festivals and troupes is great. But it can’t work with one person or a few people try to update the info or anticipate the needs of all its users. Instead, troupes and festivals need to have the power over their own content; troupes need a place to keep their profiles and festivals need to be able to add and customize their own festivals.

The same thought process went into communities. Instead of trying to build forums that could meet and predict every users needs, the page now gives users the ability to create their own places on the page with their own self contained forums on any topic.

Similar Facebook groups, you can now create a community for

  • Maryland Improvisors
  • Theatre Marketing
  • Your Thursday Night Level 3 Class
  • Gender Issues in Improv

Really, anything you want. You can create an ongoing community within the NIN membership and start focused (and private, if you select) conversations with other improvisors. You have control over your communities. They can have multiple administrators and mods. They can be public or private or even hidden altogether from non-members. You can have open or closed membership. You can create RSS feeds from them. Follow conversations, get alerts. You can customize them to pretty much however you’d want.

How do they work?

The first thing you’ll want to do is click the new “Communities” button on the left toolbar of the webpage. This will bring up a list of existing communities to join or the option to create your own. To join a community, just hit “Join Community” or “Request Membership”

Joining Communities

Joining Communities

If you want to create your own community, just click “Create Community” on the top of the page.

You’ll be taken to a quick wizard where you can enter the name and decription of your community. Set your personal preferences, set up an avatar for the community and invite members.Be sure to check the checkbox asking if you want forums if you want to have conversations in the community.

Creating Communities

Creating Communities

That’s it. You’re done. You’ll notice that the Communities section of your page will have a “1” in it meaning you’re now part of that community. You can click this part of your profile to bring up a list of your communities.

My Communities

My Communities

And there you go. Instead of several web pages. All your forums on any improv topic are in one place. You can click on any one of them to read the discussions

What’s that Forums button I see next to Communities?

That’s where things get fun and time-savey. Also, we’ve already gotten some early feedback that the word forums is confusing here, so a different word may be in it’s place in the future. But here’s how they work. Having all of your communities on one page instead of several is great, but you still visit them individually from your own communities page. The forums page is sort of like a mini RSS feed for all your communities. Clicking here will bring up a stream of posts from all of your communities. Borrowing from tools like “Hootsuite” a bit, you can see streams of your own posts, your replies, threads your following or favorites. It’s a way to take a quick glance at what happening in all your communities at once.

Your personal feed

Your personal feed

Oh, did I tease the word RSS? In answer to the next question, yes. All of your communities can be set up for your RSS feed with whatever RSS reader you use. I’m sure the more tech-savvy among you can generate them yourselves right now, but there will be buttons going up soon to make it easy to add any community to your feed.

A note on troupes and communities

As you cn see from some of the time stamps. This is something that’s been in the works for several months and a few people have come in to play with it in the testing phases. Many communities have been built around a performance troupe. That’s awesome. It’s a new way to share messages with your cast mates in a centralized location. That said, a community for your troupe is different than a profile for you troupe. Setting up a community for your troupe won’t automatically allow you to submit to festivals.

So what now?

This is a big new tool. It gives any group of improvisors tools to communicate. It gives a central place for many improv discussions. As one of the programmers who put some work into this. I’m going to continue to tweak and improve the interface and the user experience. But if this is something that’s going to take off we’ll all need to use it wisely. I hope you keep these things in mind as you start building your communities

Be cool

No matter how advanced online communities are, they are not the same as person to person meetings. It’s easy in text for misunderstandings and missed cues to pop up. That’s what leads to YouTube comments. Please remember that everyone here has different ideas, but we’re all together in our love of improv. We want to have the same policy here that many improv theatres have for their shows; we won’t try to police everyone’s actions, but we ask that people be respectful towards each other and act like grown-ups.

Also, the door is wide open on what communities you want to create, but please keep them improv related. Our new hosting site is great, but we still have limited resources, so let’s use them wisely and also not make the site too confusing to navigate for improv discussions.

Be safe

The site has many firewalls already. There are many cool tools that have been considered for the network that were ultimately abandoned because we couldn’t guaranteed the security of users’ personal information. That’s a number one priority. We are asking for your trust to post information here and have that information be safe. We take that seriously. This new tool allows for much more content coming from users. There isn’t a day that goes by that people aren’t concerned about their privacy on Facebook or Google because their privacy settings are confusing. We don’t want that to happen here, but I know that there are probably areas where the explanations on things are absent or unclear on how public or private your information is. In the first few weeks, play it safe. If there’s something you don’t want to be seen publicly, don’t post it. Hold off a few weeks until we’re all a little more familiar with the system.

Be patient

This is the first day communities are public. Some parts of the interface may not yet be intuitive or aesthetically pleasing to you. Some things may require a few extra mouse clicks. Undoubtedly, things will change a little in the weeks to come. So please understand both that things might be unintuitive now and also that they may move around a little bit. If there is something that seems off to you, please drop a line. There’s no ego here. You can click on the “Feedback” button on the right side of the webpage at any time, or just drop a PM directly to me (Bill Binder) and tell me what’s going on. I’d love to talk with you about how to make it better. And if you see me at a festival, grab me and tell me what’s working and what’s not.

Be innovative

This is not revolutionary in it’s newness. There are many similar models out there. But I know it’s not exactly what people are used to with forums. I think the long term payoff will be a much more robust way to communicate in the social media age if we’re willing to sink our teeth into it and find new and exciting ways to use the tool. We’re improvisors. Let’s be creative in the ways we work and play together with this tool. We can all learn from each other; theatre owners, students, festival organizers, coaches, performers, directors and teachers.

Let’s start building some communities!


Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America.

My Experiences on the Road: My 2013 Improv Travel Diary

This weekend marked the official end of my 2013 improv travels. I wanted to share with you my experiences over the last year of meeting some amazing improvisors and show you why I love this community so much! I hope you enjoy!

The Experience: Milky Way Improv Festival:

This year marked the first improv festival ever in my hometown in the Sacramento/Roseville region in northern California. I was extremely proud to finally come home and know that not only was there a great improv community forming but a really amazing improv fest in one of the most beautiful venues. It was a classic theater in old town Roseville with an audience of 200 plus!

Why You Should Visit:

Sacramento has got a lot of history to check out, plus the Milky Way Improv Festival is a nice place to perform and a supportive audience and improv community. Also, if you are ever passing through or find yourself in Sacramento Blacktop Comedy Theater always has its doors open for out of towners.

Improv Utopia

Improv Utopia

The Experience: Improv Utopia

My next adventure was at Camp Improv Utopia. This is a camp I am the Founder and Camp Director of. Being a Boy Scout growing up and an improvisor as an adult I wanted to combine both my loves of childhood and adulthood because I figured…Yeah improvisors are like adults and kids all at the same time that would be cool! Flash-forward to 4 years later and I’ve had the amazing opportunity to meet improvisors from all over the country connecting me to them and learning about their improv, their festivals, their cities and their theaters. Also, what my campers showed me was how great the improv community really is. I might have provided the venue for this but the campers and the national improv scene have created the camaraderie there.

Why You Should Visit:

Camp is an amazing experience that brings the national improv community together for a camping retreat. Filled with workshops, camp activities and more it’s a great place to have fun and share your love of improv with a great community.

The Experiences: Spectacles Improv Engine: (Fullerton, CA)

Spectacles Improv Engine visit!

Spectacles Improv Engine visit!

My third stop was at Spectacles Improv Engine in Fullerton, CA. This is a great and growing community in southern California that has a great community of improvisors. Lead by the amazing and wonderful Josh Nicols, they have not only created some great teams and improvisors but have brought an improv festival to Orange County with such acts as The Reckoning attending. The thing I love about the scene down here is their willingness to learn and grow. Bringing great acts and workshops to their community and not being afraid to bring other local improv theaters into their community to try to expand the presence of improv behind the Orange Curtain.

Why You Should Visit:

The Orange County Improv Festival is hosted by Spectacles Improv Engine and they work hard to get great acts and workshops together for their out of town and local acts. They are also just extremely nice and fun to hang around with!

The Experience: DuoFest

DuoFest is such a cool festival. Intimate and amazing this year was headlined by Scot Adsit and Jet Eveleth and they put on a hell of a show. But the thing I got most out of this festival was how passionate their organizers were especially one of the board members Rick Andrews.

Why You Should Visit:

If you have a two person show this is the mecca for it! That’s all they do no exceptions. Also, it’s Philly! Historical and beautiful. Go visit Independence Hall and say hello to the weird tour guide there! I loved it so much here I found our East camp in Pennsylvania this same weekend!

The Experience: The Detroit Improv Festival

Razowsky and Clifford at the Detroit Fest!

Razowsky and Clifford at the Detroit Fest!

To the EAST! In August, I was off to Detroit, MI to attend my second year at The Detroit Improv Festival. When I say I love this festival, that’s an understatement. The gang here have really taken an improv fest and turned it into a rock concert! This year they had pretty much every major improv headliner there is…TJ and Dave, Craig Cackowski and Rich Talarico of (Dasariski), Razowsky and Clifford, Messing with a Friend with Susan Messing and Tj Jagadowski. I mean Detroit was the improv mecca for a week in August! Thank god a nuclear bomb didn’t go off  in Michigan or improv would have taken a huge hit! This was truly a great event bringing acts from all around. And not only do they have great acts but they have great full audiences too! And they treat their improvisors very well here. I was so full from all the free food it was crazy!

Why You Should Visit:

Hands down one of the best improv festivals in the country right now. A chance to mix and mingle with improvisors and headliners from all over the US and Canada and a ton of great opportunities to see great shows and do workshops from the best.

The Experience: Ventura Improv Festival

Performing with Kind Strangers in Ventura

Performing with Kind Strangers in Ventura

Labor Day Weekend! I went to the small beach community of Ventura, CA and stopped off at The Ventura Improv Festival. Run by the Ventura Improv Company, the festival is mostly local acts with a few acts from out of town. The theater and community is really great here and very welcoming. A mix of short-form and long-form, the audiences were packed in every night giving us improvisors a great and enthusiastic crowd. The one thing I really get from this festival is their tightness as a company. They almost seem like family there. And they should be…the company has been around since 1989 bringing improv to the Ventura region.

Why You Should Visit:

Located in a beautiful beach city, they are always willing to put up traveling improv groups or have you in one of their shows. It’s a great community that makes you feel at home!

The Experience: The Kansas City Improv Festival

The Mullaney Chain: Kansas City!

The Mullaney Chain: Kansas City!

Off to the Midwest! In September, I found myself deep in the midwest at the Kansas City Improv Festival in Kansas City, Missouri. This was a really fun fest for me. It was a dream come true to play with Kevin Mullaney, Jill Bernard, Trish Berrong and Ed Doris in Mullaney Chain. I also got to play with After School Special, which is a local troupe who invited me to play with them and we had such a fun and magical show in front of a packed house.

Why You Should Visit:

The improvisors in Kansas City are really great and welcoming and they have a few improv theaters there. A great chance to meet improv vets and see some great acts. Also, Kansas City is a great place to hang out for the weekend. And if you do pass through go see After School Special. They’re pretty rad!

The Experience: The Red Rocks Improv Festival

The Narrows - Zion National Park

The Narrows – Zion National Park

Man, I can’t say enough about this festival. I’ve been their since it’s inception four years ago and I keep going back. This is for sure the smallest fest with the biggest heart. Run by Off the Cuff Improvisation out of Cedar City, Utah it’s a weekend of not only shows and workshops but group bonding! One of the highlights of this fest was trudging through water in Zion National Park with a group of improvisors from all over. We even jumped off a rock into icy cold water!

Why You Should Visit:

The location and people! Off the Cuff Improvisation is a great company that takes care of you. Finding you places to stay, bringing in huge crowds in such a small community and even renting a huge van to commute you around to different nature hikes. This city is surrounded by beauty not only by nature but by the friendships you make here.

The Experience: Coldtowne Theater (Austin, TX)

Austin, Tx is just a fun town! I was invited out to teach and perform out here and was amazed at the family feeling I got from them! My friend Amy Carpenter, who I first met in Phoenix on one of my favorite teams Mail Order Bride, let me stay at her house for the weekend. The backyard was filled with chickens and I even had a welcome sign in my guest bedroom. Amy was also converting one of her rooms into a small theater! The Artistic Director of Coldtowne Cody Dearing has done a wonderful job in creating a great environment there and they are always welcoming in bringing in guests and troupes. Hit them up if you’re in town!

Why You Should Visit:

Austin, TX is an amazing town with tons of great food and food trucks. Coldtowne Theater puts on some great shows and their theater is a fun place to perform, you can feel the passion of the artform all over.

The Experience: The Denver Improv Festival

Who doesn’t like fall in Denver? What a beautiful city. And not only that they have such a wonderful community. The Denver Improv Festival, run by the non-profit organization Group Mind Foundation runs heck of a fest! On the first night the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse offered performing improvisors free beverages! You know they were all over that! It’s a beer town of course they would! Again this is a festival that brings in great acts and workshops too. It’s also a well established improv community that has around four major improv theaters.

Why You Should Visit:

Denver is beautiful in October, which is when the festival usually happens. The Group Mind Foundation and the participating theaters make you feel welcome and offer performers some great perks.

The Experience: GhostFest (Phoenix, AZ)

This improv marathon is one of the only ones that I know of out West. It’s a two day marathon with a ton of shows and performers. GhostFest is a fundraiser for the popular Phoenix Improv Festival. The great thing I love about this marathon is people experiment! Shows are not alway about being funny, which a ton of them are, but they are not afraid to be serious and take some risks.

Why You Should Visit:

A great opportunity to meet a ton of improvisors and do a lot of shows. You can even hop into shows. If you’re around you might just be asked to join. It’s a fest that is fun, funny and spiritual all at the same time.

The Experience: Finest City Improv (San Diego, CA)

Finest City Drink Menu

Finest City Drink Menu

My last stop was Finest City Improv who will officially open their theater in December, but has a soft opening happening now. Run by their Captain Amy Liweski, an improv warrior in my book, is really trying to grow the improv scene in San Diego. Opening this theater is one way she is doing it, the other way she will be doing it is by producing the San Diego Improv Festival that will be Valentine’s Weekend in February of next year. I love watching the thirst and passion to create a community down here. They’re not alone we even got to hang out with some of the Sidestage Improv folks too who have their own shows, but also cross pollinate between the two and will be helping put on the festival as well.

Why You Should Visit:

San Diego it seems always has great weather. And the Finest City gang always have an open door policy to any improvisor from San Diego or from out of town. The cool thing about the theater there is it’s attached to a hotel, so you can get a room, food and drink anywhere at anytime even in the theater! I got tater-tots and Lava Cake one night! YUM!

Wrap up:

It’s been a great and fun journey and I really want to say that if you get a chance to go to a festival or go to a theater if you’re visiting a town or city do it! You will always feel at home when you visit improvisors, theirs always a room or couch waiting for you, an eager improvisor to show you their city or have you perform with them. I can’t believe how far we’ve come as a community in only really the last 5 years. It’s been pretty amazing! No matter how big or small the fest or theater is, one thing is always true in all my travels. Improvisors are the most kind and amazing people on this planet!

 

 

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

 

 

 

 

 

NIN: Where We Are and Where We Are Going!

A message from Co-Founders Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder –

in-the-beginning-title-slide-message-series-950x712-1In the Beginning…

After our official launch at Camp Improv Utopia in California at the end of May it’s been a whirlwind and we can’t thank you enough for your support. When we came up with the idea of NIN a few years back we wanted a place where we could bring improvisors together under one roof and help them grow as performers and as a community. We also set out to help improv theaters and festivals grow and help Improvisors find what they wanted to find: theaters, festivals and improv content. We still to this day believe in this philosophy and will always hold NIN to this standard as long as it exists.

Where We Are…

Flash-forward to today, we have 722 members, 63 festivals listed, 353 Troupes and 60 theatres listed. Now, we will be the first to admit it hasn’t been easy. Like any new site there are some bumps and holes. The site was running extremely slow due to the former server we were on and that was frustrating. Nobody was as frustrated as we were. We fixed it and now it’s running smoothly. We want a site that is user friendly and we apologize for that little hiccup. So far NIN has helped improvisors and festival organizers, with our Instant Submission service, be able to submit to a handful of participating festivals. Some of them include: The Detroit Improv Festival, The Denver Improv Festival, Eau Claire Improv Festival, Houston Improv Festival, Twin Cities Improv Festival, Milky Way Improv Festival, Big Little Comedy FestivalOrange County Improv Festival, The Phoenix Improv Festival, The Alaska State Improv Festival, The Red Rocks Improv Festival. Most all of the festivals listed have experienced more submissions than ever and better quality of troupes. Why a better quality? Because the members on our site are amazing and put up great and complete troupe profiles. So congrats you guys for being a festivals dream!

deloreanWhere We are Going…

We aren’t just a submission service. NIN is so much more! Here are a list of things we are working on for you:

  1. Chat Feature: See someone you like online? Curious about where they’re from? What improv they do? Well we want you guys to chat!
  2. Master Teacher and Instructor pages. That’s right if you’re a Master Teacher or improv instructor you will be able to list your workshops and submit them to festivals as well! Or if you’re a festival organizer, you’ll be able to contact instructors, and read over their workshops. If you’re a teacher you will be able to upload your workshops and resume as a PDF and you’ll be able to list it on your personal profile site as well. *Our Master Teachers will be selected by a committee of Master Teachers. We will release those names when we launch the feature.
  3. Troupe Profiles will be able to upload their songs so that festivals can just download them for easy use when they are accepted and perform at that festival.
  4. Communication to our Members: We will have an area on each of our pages that will have the latest news or features introduced so you know what’s happening on a day to day basis. If we want you to know about it you’ll find it there!
  5. Communities: 722 users can be daunting. But we’ll be adding public and private communities for improvisors to share ideas in smaller forums. Oklahoma improvisors, musical improv, marketing ideas. There will be many communities to find like-minded performers.

lochness27n-1-webNIN Myths and Clarifications:

With all new things there are often times miscommunications. We have been guilty of miscommunications so we want to clarify a few things. NIN is a free site. Anyone is allowed to list their theater, festival, personal and troupe profile for free. However, if a festival uses our instant submission service there is a small fee per submission. The fee goes toward keeping the site maintained and paid for so we can continue to bring you this resource. If a festival decides not to use our submission service they can still list their site and direct their festival link to their own registration page for free. Every festival, theater and performer has different needs and we want to help all no matter what they’re need is.

Finally…Thank You!

We want to thank everyone who as joined the site, read some blogs, submitted to festivals and shared our site to their communities! We could not have done this alone. We honestly believe that we are all better together and we truly thank you for making NIN possible.

Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder

Co-Founders – National Improv Network (NIN)

A Mile High Achievement! A Review of The Denver Improv Festival

1086732_1383861295183501_1580790716_nDenver is named The Mile High City because its official elevation is exactly one mile or 5,280 feet (1,609.3 m) above sea level. And living a mile above sea level is a growing improv scene and bringing them together is The Denver Improv Festival run by the non-profit organization Group Mind Foundation. The Festival took place over one weekend in three venues The Voodoo Comedy Playhouse, Impulse Theater with workshops held at The Bovine Metropolis. The Festival Headliners were Convoy out of UCBLA, Switch Committee hailing from Chicago and MegaPowers from Los Angeles. The festival was pretty much sold out the entire time with audiences of 150 or more. It was a great and welcoming audience too! Each night ended with a party too for the public and improvisors. The one night found improvisors belting out Karaoke tunes at the Voodoo which was amazing.

One of the biggest differences I saw this year was DIF getting more sponsors. This was a goal of theirs and they made good. You never know how until you ask. And it seemed this year they were hugely successful getting donations monetarily and product-wise. Improv is a growing art in any community and festivals often times bring attention to the art form. It’s great to see that the Denver business community came together to help DIF happen this year. Also as a side note in the “Only in Denver” category a dispensary was also a sponsor. Ah Denver!

20-1up-arcade-bar-denverBeyond the parties DIF offered improvisors many great perks: Great hotel deals in an expensive hotel city, free beers and drink specials for performers and a pretty hefty gift bag filled with munchies. They really made improvisors feel welcomed. And one of the outside highlights of the festival is my annual trip to 1Up Barcade. It’s an arcade bar that houses games like Ninja Turtles four player edition, Track and Field and The Simpsons. A great place to bond with your fellow improvisors.

 

So if you enjoy community, a fun city with a great barcade and a welcoming group of improvisors I highly recommend you check out the ever growing Denver Improv Festival. Good time, great city!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups held in California and Pennsylvania every year. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want!

 

 

Spotlight On: The 13th Annual Phoenix Improv Festival

I met Bill Binder in an iO West Class over 10 years ago. He would drive from Arizona to LA to take his class each week and then drive back home the same night. He finished classes at iO and went back to Phoenix to help created the Phoenix Improv Festival and The Torch Theater.

My first ever improv festival was PIF in 2004. Among the improvisors there were such improv vets as Craig Cackowski and Jack McBrayer. I had no idea what an improv festival was or what it was even all about. But I have to say I was the luckiest improvisor alive to experience PIF. It really was a game changer for me as an improvisor and improv in general. It paved the way for a lot of things including NIN. Celebrating their 13th year as a festival I interviewed Executive Producer of PIF and Co-Founder of NIN Bill Binder about the upcoming festival:

You’re celebrating 13 years of the Phoenix Improv Festival. How does that feel and what are your goals this year?

Reflective. We have such a huge wonderful community, but some of us have been here since PIF 1. It’s interesting to see how the community and we, as people, have grown and changed in the past decade. We’ve learned so much and we’re always excited to have new people and ideas help it grow even more.

Logistically we have many internal goals that are related to growth. The last two years we played it a little safer than we had in the past because there were so many things going on in Phoenix. Dearing Studio and The Torch opened, NCT and Theater 168 both expanded. Weddings, babies. So much. But this year we can put a lot of our focus back on the festival growing again. We want to push our comfort levels a little. We’re right on the cusp of becoming a much bigger cultural event here.

Our other big goal is becoming another hub for communications between improvisors. Our first festival was designed solely to get the theatres in our town together to learn from each other. We’re really at a point where we can be doing that on a national level. If we’re all in one place, why not use that time to share ideas as theatre owners and festival organizers outside of just having shows?

What can improvisors expect at your festival outside of performances? Workshops? Conferences?

We’ll have a few workshops for sure this year. We haven’t nailed down exactly who yet. We will be bringing back the unconference this year after it’s success last year. Every festival has great discussions during after parties, but we’ve moved them into the daytime as well. Saturday afternoon will be set aside for organized discussions in the hotel on coaching, marketing, improv theory, you name it. Last year, the breakout panel was a discussion on gender issues in improv across the country. We’re really excited to be host to these conversations so that we can all grow.

We’ll also be having a photo shoot and probably a few other things to announce. Oh, and the after parties will be pretty great this year.

Talk about your venue? Where does PIF take place?

We love playing in The Herberger Theater Center. I honestly believe it’s the most beautiful venue in our state. We all love our respective theatres in town, but it’s nice once a year to dress up nicer and present our art to an audience that might not think to see improv otherwise.

What’s there to do in Phoenix?

It depends what you’re looking to do. Our venue is about 1/4 of a mile from Chase Field where the AZ Diamondbacks play. We’re also just south of The Phoenix Art Museum, Opera House and The Deck Park. There are plenty of good places to eat around Phoenix too. Visitors almost always love Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles and some folks want to go visit Pizzeria Bianco ever since Oprah named it The Best Pizza in America. (If you want to avoid the four hour wait, ask a local for the secret to get in fast). We are also in old-west territory, so we have plenty of mountains and deserts nearby for hiking and views. Of course, past festivals have shown that plenty of people just love hanging out at the pool or playing basketball at the hotel. (Did I mention we put all of our performers and instructors up in a hotel a block from the venue?)

What makes PIF different then any other festival?

Wow. That’s a great question. I think the big difference I see between PIF and other festivals which I love is that most festivals are really connected with the passionate people at a particular theatre in town. Phoenix takes more of a Green Bay Packers approach. I don’t think the people of Phoenix associate the festival with any particular group or theatre. It’s part of the cultural landscape of the city. People get excited talking about it eight months before it happens because they know it will be a celebration for everybody. As much as we use the festival to promote improv all over the city year round, people know the festival as part of this city’s traditions and they come out to see great art. We take that responsibility to heart to show them great art and that means treating our visitors like the artists they are. I know – as a traveling performer – that sometimes you feel a bit like a vagabond, but here you’re an artist. And I think that respect leads to great shows and great times. We still use one venue because if we invite you to come play, we want to see you. and we want other troupes to see you too. I was honored by the quote from Dave Hill in our local paper last year.

There are a couple of festivals that have been around for a while that have become a little more corporate, a little long in the tooth. And that’s why the PIF is so unique. It’s grown, but it feels like both a grass-roots and a big-time experience.

Submissions for The Phoenix Improv Festival are now open and you can instantly submit on NIN today! Submit HERE.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want!

We’re Moving!

That’s right. We’re moving to a new server. We’ve heard you, and believe us it’s been frustrating on our end to how the page sometimes slows to a crawl. That’s no fun. We tried to optimize our code and reduce bandwidth with our current providers, but the more people we brought in to analyze ways to speed up the site, the more we heard the same advice. Move to another server.

We didn’t want to just move from one situation to another, so we shopped around for a while and asked people we trust on the best solutions for our needs. Special thanks to Americo Pagliuca who was a great help in helping us find the right server for our new home. We’ve been running a test mirror of the site there for the last few days to work out any little kinks of moving and it’s ready to go.

So how will this all go down? Over the weekend (in the middle of the night), we will freeze the site so no new information can come in while we’re moving. The site will be offline for a few hours while we move the database, and run some tests on the new host while the nameserver moves over. Early next week, we expect a few minor hiccups and we’ll be around to hear them if anything seems off, but we’re hopeful the site will be running much faster.

And here’s the really good news. Now that all our energies aren’t being put towards fighting the server, we can get back to implementing some cool new surprises and tools in the coming weeks. Watch this space for announcements.

We’re very grateful to those of you who stuck with us during what history will remember as “The Slow Times”.

-Bill

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