“Don’t Think Twice” Puts Improv in the Spotlight


Improvisation has definitely hit the zeitgeist in the last few years. An entire episode of “The Simpsons” was dedicated to it just this year. One one hand that’s great. It’s a lot of fun to see what we love being mentioned more frequently. But on the other hand, that’s all that’s being done, mentions. A stray mention of Del or The Groundlings might work its way into the text to show that the media behind the reference “gets it”. But those jokes are only for us. Awareness of this thing called improv is rising all the time, but the perceptions of what it is and can be haven’t changed for the general public in 20 years. Improv continues to grow and mature, and the references on our television screens – while fun – tend to reflect the same world of improv that existed in 1994.

Don’t Think Twice is a film which doesn’t treat improv as a joke, or even as a lampshade to hang a story on. The film plays with the ideas and realities of improv theatre, both on and offstage from a place that is not only informed, but inviting. It welcomes audiences into the artform with a love and respect that never gets in the way of new audiences discovering it. They even got Liz Allen to coach the fictional improv troupe in the film, which goes a long way towards bringing their performances an authenticity.

Because of all of these things, Don’t Think Twice stands among a very small number of peers. But this is not a movie review. This is an invitation to all of us to use this film’s release as a chance to start dialogues in our communities; dialogues between the members of your theatres, between the different organizations in your city and between performers and the general public. This film offers, for perhaps the first time in a while, a new starting point to engage in conversations on what the artform is, and where it is going.

The film has been touring lately with advance screenings, View this site to learn how to process your visa. Many of you have likely seen it already. I was very fortunate to be able to speak with stars Chris Gethard and Mike Birbiglia (who also directed) about the film and it’s potential effect on improvisation.

You definitely have two audiences for this film, improvisors and the general public, and you’re also going around doing workshops. This has the potential to enhance, for smaller cities especially, the improv scene. How are you hoping it will help them develop or enhance their own voice?

Chris: Well, I really feel like smaller cities are really and truly important right now, as far as the history of improv, because improv in the last ten years has become more and more of a pipeline to success. You look at Saturday Night Live and it’s full of improvisors. You look at sitcoms. You look at Parks & Rec, The Office, I mean everywhere. Everywhere you look it’s people coming up from the improv world. And I think the theatre I came up at, The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, had a lot to do with that, really lead the charge on that. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s really cool. I take a step back, I look at it and it’s like, “Oh right. This art form is a valid thing. Talented people can really shine in this thing.”

But I do think it’s really hard for innovation to happen under the microscope that that brings with it. The potential success is a thing that people now show up for at places like UCB, at iO, Second City, Groundlings. People are showing up because they want to be successful and they see it as a platform to springboard, not universally, but more and more. And I think smaller cities, it’s really important and I really love that such an effort being made in this movie to show encouragement and fan the flames and invite specifically improvisors to test screenings and previews, because I think that smaller cities that aren’t under this magnifying glass, that don’t have this expectation or this potential for megastardom. I think that’s where the art form itself can still grow. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the best improvisors and some of the best improv shows in the next five to ten years aren’t happening in New York, Chicago and L.A. Because I bet that the freedom to fail doesn’t exist there as much anymore. You know I’ve been to great theatres in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Bellingham, Washington; Phoenix, Arizona; St. Louis. Cities that aren’t necessarily the places where you go to chase the Broadway dream or the Hollywood dream, and I think those are the places where the artistic dream can really shine and build.

Mike: There’s this great quote in the book that’s in the movie called “Something Wonderful Right Away.” It’s an oral history written by Jeffrey Sweet. There’s a quote in that book – I think it was Paul Sills who said – “On any given night, an improv show can be the greatest play, the most inspired, most topical, best performed play in the world on that night.” That can be in this room in front of 30 people, and that’s a profound possibility. So, it’s exciting to relish that opportunity.

So the art form’s only been around for about sixty years. There’s still not a huge public awareness of it. The entry points for a lot of people are pretty limited. When you add one new entry point, that’s significant. Certainly this is one of the few entry points for the public that addresses longform. For a lot of people this is going to be their first exposure to it, having not gone to shows. How do you think that’s going to influence general awareness of the artform as a whole and longform specifically?

Mike: There’s two things right now. There’s a great documentary called “Thank You Del.” Todd Bieber directed it. It was at South by Southwest, and there’s our film and both of them deal with the history of longform improv and I think that we have a real shot at helping explain the art form to people a little bit and what’s special about it. I feel like when you say ‘improv’, most people just think “Whose Line is it Anyway?”, improv games, freeze tag, that kind of thing. But actually, in a lot of ways, I like to think of it as these are improvised plays, happening in the moment and there’s something really special about that. As Sam (Gillian Jacobs) says in the movie, “Improv is an artform unto itself.”

Chris: I remember when I started in 2000, I signed up for classes at UCB and I’d never seen longform, and I lived in Northern New Jersey. I was as close as you could get. And it’s really spread. Now I feel like most colleges have one, if not more, longform improv troupes and it still feels like a relatively underground thing. So I do think it will be an entry point where a lot of people can find it, and a lot of people, I think, will kind of know what it looks and feels like for the first time. I also think there’s probably a lot of kids who will show their parents this movie.

Mike: This is what we do.

Chis: Yeah, this is what we’re doing.

Mike: I’ve had a lot of people say that to me at screenings. “Finally, I can explain this to my parents.”

Chris: It’s a really impactful thing. I remember my parents had what can only be described as real concern when I was like, “I want to go and do improv in New York City,” while I was living in their basement in New Jersey. It didn’t necessarily seem like a path towards anything stable. I think this movie will prove that it’s not, but also prove that, like any other type of art, it has some validity that’s worth taking a risk on.

These are great and wonderful words from very smart people. We owe great respect and love to San Francisco and Chicago in the ’60s and ’70s and to New York and L.A. in the ’80s and ’90s. But we also owe love and respect to the cities and times we live in now. We learn from the past so we can continue to build this in the future. Thank you to Mike and Chris and to all the people who made this film.

Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival.

Special thanks to Arturo Ruiz who helped with the editing of this piece.

2015 is The Year of the Teacher

logo-2015When the site launched back in 2013, a big goal of the site was to start bridging the gap between improv festivals and traveling troupes. We knew it was important to get great shows to festivals to help raise public awareness of how beautiful this thing we do can be. We spent a lot of time talking to both festivals and troupes about their difficulties communicating with each other. We’ve put in a lot of time and consumed a lot of Mt. Dew building tools that we hope are bridging that gap. We’re very proud of the small contribution we’ve made towards facilitating those conversations.

As we worked, it’s become more and more clear that there’s another gulf in the improv world, and that’s getting some great improv teachers in touch with growing theatres.

Improv companies – those that are starting out and those that have been growing for years – all of them thrive and grow only when they are pushing their performers to learn and grow. Theatres excel when they expose their performers to the best education. Access to quality education used to mean flying to Chicago or Los Angeles or New York, and the cities left behind stagnated. That’s not the world we live in anymore. Improv can flourish everywhere. It’s absolutely in our reach to have amazing education and amazing performances everywhere. It’s absolutely in our reach to have improvisors pursing their craft as a full time career. It’s all right within our reach if we come together.

So after a lot of work, and a lot of work to come, we’re very excited to announce that 2015 will be The Year of the Teacher.

Theatre owners – You have a part in this

Running a venue can be expensive. You have to pay professionals every day; A/C repair techs, web designers, marketing people, landlords. I hear too often that there just isn’t a budget to fly or drive in quality instructors. That’s like building the world’s classiest steak house and not having the budget to get good steak. Bringing out instructors to challenge your performers is the best investment you can make in your theatre. If you plan well, you will see a huge leap in both the quality of shows and tickets sales. It will absolutely spur your growth.

There are dozens of great instructors you can get to come to you with decades of experience. They want nothing more than to help you. They’ll bend over backwards to help you. But you have to treat them like the professionals they are.

Local teachers – You have a part in this

For every famous master teacher, there are countless unsung heroes. You are often the first person a new improvisor will be exposed to improv through. You will be the ones to spark that first ember of passion in them. Don’t ever take that for granted. You are a teacher. That’s the most noble thing there is. Take it seriously. Work with your fellow teachers to build a lesson plan. Throw away a one-size-fits-all curriculum and replace it with a set of teaching standards. Make sure you impart the real wisdom of the ideas of improv. It really doesn’t matter if they learn it through clams are great or hot spot. Be available to your students. Be available to other teacher’s students. Really read and respect your teacher evaluations. (You do have teacher evaluations, right?). Most importantly, always be learning yourself, both as a performer and a teacher. Talk to teachers you admire. Ask them for advise. Be a better teacher. Inspire the next generation.

Traveling teachers – You have a part in this

You have something specific you want to say. That’s awesome. Don’t wait for the phone to ring. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, act like one. Build a portfolio. Get feedback. Ask for referrals. Don’t be pushy. Don’t be a jerk. But if this workshop is something you believe in. Keep that fire burning under you. Don’t rest until it’s out there. And hey, if you don’t have something to say, wait until you do.

NIN – You have a part in this

Hey, that’s us. The truth is, nothing that’s been said above is groundbreaking or controversial. Most people would agree they’re nice ideas in theory. But in practice, it’s still very difficult. We all understand the festival submission process, but setting up a workshop with a teacher is uncharted territory. We get many questions here about “How do I approach a teacher?” “What should I charge for workshops?” “How do I ask a theatre if they’d like to have me.” We’re still very much at that seventh grade party awkwardness of asking each other to dance. We don’t need to be anymore. We don’t need to be confused to not know how to start the conversation. We don’t need to be embarrassed to talk about money.

So we’re going to spend the next year trying to facilitate those conversations. We’ve talked to a lot of you; at festivals, in bars, over email. We hope to keep talking to you in the year to come to make teaching improv something everywhere.

So where to be begin

We’re ready to start dedicating all our efforts into channeling these ideas together. We’ll have a lot of blog posts this year dedicated to the subject. A lot of venues honestly don’t know what a teacher expects when they visit. We hope to do a lot of writing to help you prepare for their visit without surprises or confusion. We’ll talk about how to make the finances work for your budget. We’ll talk about how to work together with other theatres to share workshops. We’ll talk about how local teachers can improve their skills and create great student teams. We’ll talk about the differences between a teacher, a coach and a director.

The page itself will start having more tools available for teachers and for theatres. Very soon, any NIN member who is a teacher will be able to have an extended profile in which they can list their workshops with all the contact and logistics. Teacher’s will also be able to include testimonials on their teaching profile and also include a history of the theatres and festivals they’ve visited so people can reach out to past students and learn about the workshop from those who have taken it. There will even be a trip planner for teachers hitting the road to help get them in touch with the right theatres looking for workshops. Oh, and teacher’s will be able to submit workshops directly to festivals as well. Teaching standard builders, schedulers and other tools will be available for people trying to build a training program.

And in the non cyber-world, we’ll be traveling to festivals and theatres hosting conversations and Q&As with teachers and theatre owners in hopes of raising the national dialog on how we can share information and tools with each other, on how to build a better index of teachers than any Facebook page can hold, on how we can start the process of helping theatres know which instructors are the best bang for the buck.

There is no club for improv teachers, no guild, no union, no secret handshakes. There is only word of mouth and a thousand blind emails. That’s not enough. But it’s as start. We can start working together, theatres, festivals, students and teachers to build a stronger network of instruction across the continent and beyond.

And wouldn’t that be lovely?

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

The Hideout’s International Experiment

If you’ve ever visited Austin as an improvisor, you’ve probably visited The Hideout Theatre. It’s been one of the mainstays of the Austin scene for many years. And although great shows have gone up consistently for all those years a lot has changed recently. There’s been a much larger reach from the theatre to get involved not only with the other theatres in Austin, but theatres and festivals around the world. This is not coincidental to the fact that the four members of Parallelogramophonograph have taken a more active role in the theatre. Of all the groups in the world, PGraph is one of the leaders – in my opinion – in not only innovation within their shows, but in their openness and excitement to share ideas with folks everywhere and anywhere. Although the group, and many others from The Hideout have traveled the world, they’re starting on a new journey to bring a little of the world to Austin. I was lucky enough to get a few thoughts from Roy Janik about the project and about how you, reading this article right now, can get involved.

The International Improv Experience is a very ambitious idea, but also one that is very accessible for people around the world. A lot of our readers aren’t familiar with the project. How does it work and how did the idea come about?

In the past few years, Parallelogramophonograph (PGraph, my 4 person improv group) has been lucky enough to do a lot of international traveling- to Montreal, to Vancouver, to London, to Paris, and to Australia. These trips are always bittersweet, because we make these amazing friends that we may not see again for years to come. But the trips are also amazing because you start to get a sense for just how universal improv’s growth is, and how much we all share in common with each other.

When I was planning the 2014 Hideout season, I wanted to do something that would enable me to work with all these lovely people again, and to give Austinites a small taste of what we’d found when traveling. The name “The International Improv Experience” sprang to my mind unbidden, and I slotted it in without really knowing the details. So it’s a show based on a mission statement, not a format.

We’ve tinkered with video collaboration in the past. PGraph has a sci-fi show called Eris 2035. In that, we send an open call to improvisers around the world to record “video letters” to loved ones in space, which we then incorporate into the show. So we knew that that idea worked on a small scale, at least.

The way the International Improv Experience works is this: Participating groups issue video challenges, which they send to me online ahead of time. During the show we select a country at random, play one of their videos, and then do whatever they’ve challenged us to do. After the intermission, we do a longer narrative inspired by a particular country’s storytelling tradition (explained in another video).

To make things more focused, I’ve outlined general types of challenges for groups to submit- scene challenges, guided tours, challenges related to landmarks, animals, language lessons, and so on. You can see the example page here: http://hideouttheatre.com/international-improv-experience-welcome

The Hideout has definitely been part of the international community for a while now. How has that collaboration with theatres around the world help grow The Hideout and the Austin Community?

It’s been accelerating lately, and you can see it in small ways. The most obvious way is that we get a lot more international visitors. Tim Redmond from Australia and Jonathan Monkhouse from London have both come over to be a part of our 40+ hour improv marathon. Scott Hunter just visited from Vancouver. Jules and Heather of 10,000 Million Love Stories in the UK came for The Improvised Play Festival and taught workshops. And we’ve got several more visits planned before the end of 2014.

Another HUGE way that traveling and being a part of the international community has helped has been in the direct exchange of ideas. The Fancy-Pants Mashup, one of our more popular ongoing shows, is based on a show we participated in when visiting ProjectProject in Toronto several years ago. An energetic warmup we picked up in London a month ago is now being taught to the kids in our summer camps.

Every single time we travel or reach out to a theater outside of Texas, we make friends and we learn something.

The project is obviously a lot of fun for people sending in videos. What are you hoping your audiences will take away from the project?

I want audiences to leave with a sense that by coming to our theater, they’ve tapped into something greater than just a pleasant night’s diversion. It’s something every improviser knows, but it’s hard to convey that, or to make the audience care about that. But with these videos, audience members can see for themselves just how charming, diverse, and widespread the international community is.

This isn’t the first large scale project from some of the folks creating this. As more young theatres are beginning to find their identity, what advice would you give them for trying more bold projects of their own?

The most important piece of advice I can give is to ignore the well-meaning naysayers- those people that are on your side but have a billion reasons why you shouldn’t do that dramatic/narrative/genre/weekly/experimental/cross-theater/international (take your pick) show. You know the excuses: Your city’s audiences aren’t sophisticated enough, your regular fans are expecting comedy, plot is too hard, you need to build up your own audience before reaching out to other groups, you’ll burn out, we tried that 3 years ago and it didn’t work, etc, etc… ESPECIALLY ignore that naysayer if he lives in your own head.

It’s funny. We’re trained in improv to face our fear, but fear keeps creeping in. If it can’t get a foothold in the improv itself, it’ll creep into the admin side of things. At the Hideout, I hesitated adding more shows to our schedule because I was afraid doing that would dilute our audience. But every time I do, it’s been totally fine.

On the more practical side, here’s a quick list of pointers we’ve found useful for launching larger/more ambitious projects:

  1. Do what you’re inspired to do. If no one is jazzed about an idea, even if it’s been successful before, table it.
  2. Make sure your concept has a hook you can explain on a poster that makes sense to someone who knows nothing about improv.
  3. Don’t overcomplicate the format of your show. Even if you’re doing a sprawling Dickensian epic, aim for hitting the appropriate tone and characters rather than the specific chronological beats of a story.
  4. Be willing to change everything. Once rehearsal starts the show will reveal itself, and you need to be willing to let go of your initial, perfect concept.
  5. Set the audience’s expectations as early as possible, especially if the show you’re doing is unusual for your group. If you’re doing a tragedy, don’t promise a hilarious night of laughs on your poster. Tailor your hosting to fit the tone and style of the show as well. With a lot of shows I direct, I will straight up tell the audience “The show you’re about to see is unlike anything The Hideout has done before, and here’s why.”

Of course we couldn’t have an article about a video project without a video. Here’s the project.

Kudos to Roy and all of the Hideout staff and performers for not only putting together such a large project, but reaching out to share with the rest of the improv community.

If your theatre would like to get involved, create your own videos or if you’re in Austin, head on down and catch the shows live.

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

Improv Utopia Returns in Style

improvutopia[1]It’s hard to believe I’ve been making the drive to Cambria, California four years in a row now. It’s become an annual tradition for performers from around the world to come together in the tiny California town in Camp Ocean Pines. A lot of people ask me the same question; “Is it really a camp?” It’s a fair question, I suppose. There are plenty of camps these days (computer camp, space camp, etc) that take place in some Community Center, but Camp Improv Utopia is certainly the camp experience we all remember from years gone by; trees, archery, walking up the hill to the cabins; it’s about as authentic as you can get.

But it’s not the axe throwing that makes camp a special experience, it’s the fact that when improvisors are removed from distraction they accomplish things that we try to achieve in our improv all the rest of the year. Many festivals have weekends filled with great events, shows, workshops and the like. But there’s always that downtime where people explore the city, break off with their respective troupes. There’s no such thing at camp. Many performers aren’t even their with their respective groups from home, because camp becomes a single ensemble for the weekend.

Every time people talk about what life would be like if we could quit our day jobs and do improv full time, this is what we get for three days. There’s an energy not only in the workshops, but the opportunity to create your own activities. During the hours in the afternoon between classes, a quick walk through the woods can find some spontaneous jams, Brian O’Connell doing some one-on-one coaching, practicing for cabin shows, or taking pictures for the excellent Improvisors Project. It’s aptly named Utopia – or what improvisors would imagine utopia to be; a place with no offices or restaurants (or wi-fi really). Just a place to sleep, a place to eat and acres to study your craft.

The workshops themselves were excellent, Paul Vaillancourt, Karen Graci, Jaime Moyer, Josh DuBose and Amanda Blake Davis were all at their best with their three hour workshops. It’s funny that even though campfires went late into the night, people arrived energized at the first workshop each day.

The evenings were also filled with more communal activities including an instructor show, an open panel discussion on the state of improv, Jam City and the much talked about cabin shows. Each cabin (named for an artist or scientist of note) came together as a new ensemble to perform. Many cabins took inspiration from their cabin’s namesake including The Cousteu cabin’s red knit hats worn throughout the weekend. In it’s fourth year, the cabins themselves have taken on a life to themselves, which includes the new campers who stay in them each year. It’s exciting to see.

The campfires, the excitement for the cabin shows, the jams, the workshops and just the access to performers at all levels who were happy to sit on a log and talk improv with any level 1 student. It was the truest expression of “Yes, and”, an environment that nurtures the growth of the performers. All in all, a truly reinvigorating improv experience.

Cover Photo courtesy ImprovUtopia

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

Why not IIN?

Where We Came From, Where We're Going

hIn just a couple weeks, we’ll be celebrating our first birthday. It’s an exciting time to look back at the growth we’ve had and the growth we’ll continue to see. I talk to many people all the time about what they’d like to see on the site. There are some fantastic technological ideas people have suggested. Hopefully many of them will be programmed into the site. There’s one question I hear often from folks that has less to do with technology and more to do with our scope.

“Why National Improv Network? Why not include the whole world?” It’s a very valid question. And one that deserves a real honest thorough answer.

The very short answer is, this site and the people on it aren’t trying to isolate The U.S.A. from the rest of the improv community, or only help improvisors here. Quite the opposite. The very idea of a global improv community, sharing ideas and traveling across oceans to play together is possibly the most exciting thing I can possibly imagine. I can’t wait to see the improv community of the very near future that shares a love of “yes, and” across international borders; a community that has honed it’s craft to incredible new places we can’t imagine through a global collaboration. I want to be part of that world.

But if we’re going to accurately look into the future, we should start by looking into the past. Including – if you’ll forgive me – a bit of my personal history coming to NIN.

10-12 years ago, the improv community was very different than it is today. There weren’t dozens of improv festivals around the country; certainly not major ones that brought in national acts. I would spend many nights in the bars I had performed in that night – a chalkboard behind the small makeshift stage that said “IMPROVE COMEDY TONITE!”. I had conversations with my friends about our joys and frustrations with the growing improv scene in Arizona. How could we make that next big step towards increasing our quality without access to new teachers? How could we increase our visibility in this town hungry for entertainment?

Of course, that same conversation was happening in bars across the country. Probably around the world. People in Atlanta, and Boston and Detroit and Austin were asking those same questions. We didn’t know about each other. And even if we did, we didn’t have many answers to share. But little by little, we found small answers to those questions. We experimented and learned. Many of us learning the same answers in different ways. But it was frustratingly slow. And many great performers made the choice to move to Illinois, New York or California. A choice no one can blame them for, but it was another blow to anyone trying to build improv in their towns. They were fun, but hard times.

Then sometime around 2004, things started to change. We had grown to the point where we were able to leave the nest a little and set out like explorers looking for new lands. A trip to another city was a very big deal back then, and probably only happened once or maybe twice a year. We started meeting each other for the first time and exposing each other to not only how improv had evolved in our respective cities, but how we’d started learning how to move towards making improv our livings. We were thrilled to hear new answers and perspectives on problems we’d faced individually, and also unpleasantly surprised when we found out other places hadn’t found those answers.

POMP from Canada

POMP from Canada

One of those important moments for me was at a festival in 2004. I won’t name them because they’re lovely humans who have put on amazing festivals in the years that followed. But in 2004, they hadn’t really figured out how to handle out of town guests. I had only a small number of festivals under my belt at that time, but I had started noticing that each festival was run very differently and their oversight was different. In this festival’s case, the thing they forgot was to realize that out of towners don’t know anything about their city and as a result, many performers ended up at a very nice hotel two miles away… on the other side of the river. It took close to an hour to get from the hotel to the venue because they never thought to let us know that there are no roads that connect those parts of town easily.

Being a producer of a very nascent festival myself that year, I learned two very important lessons on those very long, very expensive cab rides.

  1. Always remember that out of town performers need to be informed of things you take for granted
  2. Festival organizers need a means to share the things they’ve learned so we don’t all make the same mistakes.

That second thought ignited something in me. I saw how important it was for my festival, but also for all festivals and ensembles and theatres to start sharing their successes and their failures. If we wanted our art form to be taken seriously by the public, we’d have to start taking ourselves seriously and that meant investing the time into learning how to do it right.

I tried many ideas in the next two years, ideas using emerging technology to start raising the bar for everyone. I created HTML festival lists and calendars. I invited the festival producers I knew to a Yahoo Group (yeah, a Yahoo group). I was excited. The things I tried could at best be called “ambitious” and at worst be called “hopelessly naive”. As hard as I – and others – tried, it didn’t take hold. The simple truths of the matter were. A) The technology we needed simply didn’t exist. These were the dark days of MySpace. B) Technology alone wouldn’t solve these problems for us and we would be foolish to assume they would. At best, some of those early attempts got improvisors “talking” to each other. And with those conversations came the understanding that if we truly wanted to grow together, a Yahoo Group wouldn’t do it for us. We’d need to call each other for help. Visit each other. Ask for help, and embrace our disagreements.

We grew. We became friends rather than just names we’ heard. The improv in our cities started to grow. The students of those theatres started their own theatres. Communities started exploding. Festivals popped up everywhere with stronger starts than those of years past. The technology grew as well, and we had more and more access to each other.

In 2011, or thereabouts, the tone of the conversations at after-parties started to change. Just like those bar conversations of half a decade ago, the conversations started sounding the same. A tipping point had been reached. The ideas that many people tried to create in years past failed because we didn’t have the knowledge of each other to make them work, but that knowledge had come. It was time to reinvest in the idea of building more formal tools to help us develop as professional improvisors.

I was very excited to hang out in a hotel conference room in 2012. A festival was happening with the producers of many festivals and theaters in attendance. Why waste that opportunity? Instead of talking at the bar that night, we spent all day talking about What’s next? Where do we go from here? It was the first time I personally had been involved with a dedicated conversation of that scope. Ideas came fast and free. We talked about a platform to share ideas on grant writing and building codes and building curriculum. We talked about a central location for festival listings that allowed each festival producer to maintain their own information. We talked about these ideas on a global scale.

At best, those ideas could be called “ambitious”.

Paris Tales from France

Paris Tales from France

We realized we were about to make the same mistake we had made many years before. Without naming it, we had built a national network. We knew a lot about things that would work across the country. But as soon as we started talking about giving advice to people in Europe we realized; none of us has ever spent any real time performing in Europe. None of us has ever dealt with building codes in Japan. None of us had ever tried to market a show in Australia. For us to claim we could offer any kind of resources to the world would be arrogant and laughably uninformed. There were simply too many things we just didn’t know. From the simple things (how does PayPal work for international submissions?) to the complex (what is the artistic culture of other countries?) we realized that we were not yet ready to pretend we were in a position to know what the needs of an international improv community would be.

I am proud to be a part of this organization. I can speak with confidence about the ideas I share with people in many states. And we’re entering a new and very exciting place. Ten years ago, I was just beginning to meet amazing performers from New Orleans and Philadelphia. Now they are friends. And because of that growth I’m just starting to meet and learn from amazing performers from Ireland, Australia, Italy, Israel, France and Lebanon. Their stories are phenomenal and humbling. Their ideas are exciting and they remind me that there is a literal whole world of improv beyond my immediate line of sight.

There are many people from all over the Earth on our website. I’m excited that they’re here. I hope “some” of the tools and blog posts have something helpful for them. But I know there is so much out there. Their being here is a constant motivator that where we are is not far enough. We’ll continue to grow. We’ll continue to expand into each other. Just as those conversations in different cities were beginning to intermingle ten years ago, our national conversations are starting to be aware of the larger global community in an amazing new way. I’m starting to hear that there are versions of NIN starting to form in other countries and that is exhilarating. I want to learn more about them. I want to meet them. I want to start moving towards that day when I can travel to other continents and invite performers to come play here. I don’t know what form or what technology we’ll be using in that time. But I know without doubt that there will be an itnernational network we can all be a part of, an international community of improvisors. And everyone here working on this site will be there to help build it in any way we can.

Ten years from now, the world is going to be amazing. I feel that same excitement I felt ten years ago as I see that future. It’s a future that will take a lot of work. But it will be worth it. And I for one can’t wait to be a part of it.

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

1,000 and Growing

4923997_300[1]We’re honored that far more than 185 improvisors walked into a website.We know that numbers don’t mean a thing without an active community, but since our launch just under a year ago, we’ve reached 1,000 members talking and sharing here on the site. We’re humbled by both the support and patience folks have had with us this first year of this idea. And in that year, that idea has changed as grown as so many members have been brilliant in suggesting new ideas that have become part of the page.

This is truly a network now, not a series of passive readers, but a community building festivals, troupes and theatres. Sharing ideas, helping each other grow. We are one awesome community and I know we’ll continue to grow as we pass along our knowledge to our students and watch them build greater things that we believed possible. We all share a love of an art form that let’s us express ourselves and relate to the world around us in a startling honest and beautifully fleeting way.

I have met so many people, both online and at festivals this year. I can’t wait to meet more and continue to learn from everyone. We are truly humbled and grateful  for your  being here. Improv is the winner.

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

The Improvisors Project – A Discussion with Sam Willard

If you’ve been lucky at an improv festival or camp in the last year, you may have been lucky enough to have had your picture taken by Sam Willard. Sam is a photographer who has been capturing improvisors offstage expressing emotions and feelings through his photographs. It’s a fascinating project and Sam was kind enough to share some thoughts on the project.

Sam WIllard photographing David Razowsky back stage at the San Francisco Improv Festival in 2012.

Sam Willard photographing David Razowsky back stage at the San Francisco Improv Festival in 2012.

It’s clear from just the avatars on this page that many people on the National Improv Network have been involved with the Improvisors Project, but for everyone else. What’s the project about?

The Improvisors Project documents and celebrates the diverse pool of talent in the improv community, through portraits of its many members. As soon as I started getting involved with improv a few years ago, I saw the amazingly expressive people and knew that they had the potential to be great portrait subjects. That realization planted the seed for the project.  My first photo shoot was in 2012. Since then, I have had shoots all over the country and photographed over 200 improvisors.

Everyone here loves improv. You love photography with equal zeal. But we’re all artists who appreciate the process. What brought you to photography?

I was always an artistic kid. From early childhood, I had a passion for drawing. I spent hours drawing every day after school. In my teens, I got more into making portraits, instead of just ideas from my imagination. But creating realistic drawings of faces was difficult for me. I suppose that the camera’s ability to realistically render faces is part of the reason I shifted toward photography, as my interest in portraiture deepened.

I spent years taking pictures as an amateur, starting in college and on into my twenties. I discovered that photography was a way to engage with people, and to draw out and capture something essential about them. During the time I was learning photography, I got a business degree and worked in business and tech for several years. When that started to lose its appeal—and at the same time my photography skills were maturing—I decided to make a career switch. That was ten years ago. I have been a professional photographer ever since.

Improv and photography are two very interesting art forms to bring together. One celebrates the immediacy and intimacy of a shared moment that will never be recreated. The other is about finding the beauty of a moment and preserving it. Being part of both worlds, how do those ideas play off of each other? How do you feel the marriage of the two helps you grow as an artist.

As I mentioned, photography was a way for me to engage with people and make authentic connections. I guess improv appeals to me for the same reasons. As you say, improv is ephemeral, and photography is more permanent. But that difference is in the product. I like both art forms because of the process. And in terms of process, portraiture and improv are remarkably similar.

When I meet with a portrait client, they have hired me because they need to project an authentic image of themselves, capturing those qualities that best communicate to their intended audience. But they have never met me before. I have never met them. And usually (unless they are a celebrity) I don’t know much about them. It can be awkward. And the photo studio is an intimidating place, with bright lights and this stranger pointing a camera at you. On top of all that, the only tools I have to tell my client’s story within the rectangle of the image, is their face and body, and my simple background.

If you think about it, this scenario is almost exactly like a basic improv scene: Two people. Simple stage. Bright lights. No props. Just your body and your voice to connect with each other and tell a story. Both performers have to engage and discover some essential truth, and go from there.

Without a doubt, my experience as a portraitist informs my improv, and vice versa. And they both strip away all the bullshit. Just two human beings, creating an authentic human connection. One is ephemeral and one leaves a record, but both are awesome. Life is full of so much noise. Authentic connections are precious, even thrilling. It is why I love portraiture. It is why I love improv.

Looking at your photos, it’s clear that this isn’t The Improv Project, it’s the Improvisors Project. Most improv photography in years past has focused on performance and the ensemble, but this project captures the individual performers outside of that environment. As a photographer this probably gives you a more individual connection. What was the motivation for the focus on the performer rather than the show?

What amazes me about improv is that so much can be created with just vocal and physical expression. For me, the best way to capture expression is by isolating the individual. This strips away context and narrative, and leaves pure expression. Also, these portraits are meant to be viewed in groups. The identical composition, lighting, and backdrop, framing the individual subject, makes it easier for the viewer to see the amazing variety of expression from person to person and shot to shot.

These aren’t mug shots. The photographs in your collection are filled with incredible variations in expression and ideas. What are you hoping to get out of an individual photo shoot? What goes into the decisions you make on a performer by performer basis?

My goal with every photo shoot is to capture a wide range of improvisors, and to make photographs that capture big, authentic emotion. I usually schedule photo shoots at times and places when I am going to get a lot of people in a short period (festivals, workshops, camp, etc).  I photograph each improvisor for only about five minutes, but I schedule many people over a period of several hours on one or more days, so I end up with a lot of portraits at a single event.

When an improvisor steps in front of my camera, I don’t have any set ideas of what I want before I begin. I start with a clean slate and an open mind, like at the beginning of an improv scene. I usually let their physicality cue me toward an emotional state of mind, then I prompt them to heighten. For example, if they look uncomfortable (as people often do when first in front of a camera), I might say—as if I am their inner voice—“Timmy Jenkins, don’t you dare wet your pants, no matter how bad you have to pee! Everyone on this school bus is going to call you pissy-pants, and you will be the laughing stock of Third Grade!” Then, once he or she starts to squirm, and get into the state of mind, I might engage with them as a scene partner. “Hey guys, look! Timmy looks like he’s gonna piss himself! Pissy-pants! Pissy-pants! Hah, hah!” This heightening can go on for a few rounds. When the emotion gets dialed up as high as it can go, that’s when I start making pictures. The whole process from start to peak to done lasts just a few minutes, then it’s over and the slate is wiped clean again with each new person.

I should say that much of my work goes on after the fact, during the editing process. The photo shoot is a frenzy of activity where I try to create as much raw material as possible. Sorting through everything afterwards is where I do the precision work of finding those peak moments of authentic emotion. And, as you said, the end result from a series of portraits is incredible variation.

You’ve had the opportunity to meet many incredible performers, but specifically, you’ve had the opportunity to work with The Committee. That’s a pretty rare and special thing. What are your memories with working with that group of incredibly talented performers?

Hands down, the best part of doing this project has been the access it has provided me to people I otherwise would probably never have met. Photographing members of the Committee did indeed feel rare and special.

The 50th anniversary reunion event earlier this year had almost every living Committee member in attendance, and I jumped at the chance to participate. Many guests were in their 80s, and hadn’t performed in decades. But every individual brought incredible presence when they stepped in front of my camera. And to my pleasant surprise, many of them twinkled with incredible mischief and glee, as if they were still young actors creating live improvised theater every night.

Some of my favorite portraits from The Improvisors Project were created that night. But I have to say the highlight of the evening happened off-camera. As the event started, and the room filled up with people, arriving one by one, old friends lit up seeing each other for the first time in ages. Many of the original Committee members in attendance had lived 40+ years living elsewhere and doing other things after the Committee. But being together with dear old friends brought everyone back to 1963, and all the youthful camaraderie that time held for them. I wasn’t even alive in the 1960s, yet I was overcome by the emotion in the room. Like seeing old soldiers being reunited long after the war had ended. I was reminded of the great fraternity that improv creates, and the close bonds I have in my own group of improvisors.

I notice one important omission from the project so far. No pictures of Sam Willard. At least none that I’ve seen publicly. Do you consider yourself – as an improvisor – to be part of this collective, or do you feel yourself more the observer in this project?

Hah. I definitely consider myself to be part of the improv community. It’s just technically a bit hard to do a self-portrait, with the way these images are made. I actually did get in front of the camera on my very first Improvisors photo shoot. I wasn’t thrilled with the results. Maybe there will be a Sam Willard portrait at some point.

Just like any great improv set, this project started from a simple idea. Where it went from there was not based on invention, but discovery. What have been the discoveries you’ve made along the way? How has the project shaped you and those around you?

As an artist, this project has shown me that the old axiom is true—follow your passion. The elements of this project are things that I am passionate about, things that excite me. That got me energized, and in turn energized others whose support have been essential to the project’s success.

I also discovered that—like in an improv scene—being open to serendipity is more fruitful than having a rigid plan. At each step of the way, I was uncertain what was next for the project. The more open I have been to possibilities, the better things have worked out.

Finally, by meeting so many improvisors, I have discovered that the improv community is even more awesome than I had thought. I have been fortunate to meet a ton of people who are fantastic on and off the stage, and it motivates me to continue the project, so I can meet and photograph many more.

Along those lines, what’s next? Do you think this is a project that will ever be complete or will it keep on growing? Have your ideas on what to do with these photographs changed over time? What’s the next step for The Improvisor Project?

This year I got married and had a lot of other big events in my personal life. Time to work on The Improvisors Project was limited. Now that my schedule is opening up a bit, I am planning to dedicate more energy to the project in 2014. I hope to travel to several cities and festivals, and photograph many more awesome improvisors. I have a “bucket list” of people who I particularly admire, and hope to photograph starting next year. All the while, I hope to continue sharing the project with the improv community that it represents.

I recently set up Facebook and Twitter pages to announce photo shoots and show off new work. I share an “Improvisor of the Week” every Friday. I plan to roll out a dedicated website in early 2014 (and in the meantime, you can see portraits from the series on samwillardphoto.com). A year from now, I will probably be thinking about putting together a book and exhibition.

The project is ongoing. As long as there are improvisors expressing themselves so creatively, I don’t see why I would stop.

Improvisors_01a Improvisors_01b
Improvisors_02a Improvisors_02b
Improvisors_03a Improvisors_03b

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

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.

People Love Us on Yelp

yelp[1]In the last few months, I’ve had the great opportunity to meet many theatre owners across North America and talk about many subjects. Some of them are doing amazing and unique things. There will be many guest blogs over the winter with great ideas.

It wasn’t surprising how often social media came up in conversation, but it was a bit surprising to hear how many theatres felt a drastic impact from the reviews they were receiving on Yelp.

There are many great guides to using Yelp wisely across the internet. I recommend reading as many as you can and finding the tips that work best for your theatre. What’s gathered here isn’t unique, but it’s a collection of practices that some of the improv theatres across the country are having the best success with.

Take Ownership

Anyone can create a listing for your venue. In fact, there may be many listings for your venue, each with different and possibly inaccurate information. It spreads confusion and fragments the conversation.

Yelp doesn’t want this any more than you do. If there is a listing for your space, request ownership of that listing so you can maintain it. If there are multiple listings, reach out to Yelp. They’re usually very happy to help you consolidate those listings. And if there’s no listing at all, by all means create one.

Once you have the account, it doesn’t require nearly as much attention as your Facebook or other online presences, but make sure the information is as complete as possible. Add a few pictures. Check back periodically to make sure it’s up to date.

And be honest about what you are. Don’t paint an unrealistic portrait of what people can expect from a visit. You’ll get much better response if people are getting what they expect.


Should you pay for a promoted listing? Every situation is different. It’s certainly worth looking into. Keep in mind that the businesses that usually pay for accounts are ones in heavily competitive industries where several businesses are all equally nearby. Improv isn’t there. At least not in most cities. There usually aren’t three improv theatres on the same block. As of this writing, I have never talked to a theatre who got more visitors or better ratings with a paid account. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find creative ways to do it. Just don’t expect it to be a miracle cure.

Don’t Cheat

There’s a reason Yelp is still around, and many of its competitors are gone. Yelp is good at giving people accurate information. Yelp is smart. And it’s users are smart. Asking your friends and family to spam your account with glowing reviews is a quick way to get you account flagged or deleted, or certainly lose a few potential patrons who can smell a fake review. Even if you “get away with it”, the positive reviews from your friends and family won’t affect your score as much as you’d like it to. (More on that later)

Don’t Ask

This seems very counter-intuitive and frustrating, especially if you’re just starting to wrangle your account and counterbalance some bad reviews. It’s true that you’ll need to boost awareness of your presence on Yelp for people to leave reviews, but asking for positive reviews isn’t going to yield much net positive result.

How many times a week do you get asked to go to a website and fill out a survey? How often do you do it? Not often. If people have something to say, they’ll say it. If people aren’t self-motivated to leave a review, they aren’t going to want to take time out of their day to do so, and will more often be mildly annoyed at being pressured to do so. If they do leave a review, it’s probably going to be less enthusiastic than a review from someone who is genuinely motivated to leave one. And wouldn’t you rather have your top reviews be the most excited ones?

Pressuring people can turn people off and – at best – will result in a few filler reviews.

And here’s a familiar sentence. Even if you “get away with it”, the positive reviews from the people you ask won’t affect your score as much as you’d like it to. (Yup. More on that later)

Show the way

If you don’t ask people to leave reviews, how can you possibly start gathering reviews? Believe it or not, some people are eager to share their thoughts on Yelp. Some are very excited by your show. Some just love leaving reviews. Either way, they’re your best friend. They’re willing to do the work for you. They just need to know where to go.

Put a link to your Yelp page on your webpage. If you print a program or fliers, have the Yelp logo there. Treat it the same way you would Facebook. You don’t ask each audience member to like you on Facebook, but you make that information available for those who want to be there.

Having Yelp information at your venue and on your webpage shows that you are engaged in and respect The Yelp Community as a whole. People who are likely to write reviews are going to respond. They’re going to start building your Yelp page into something respectable.

Yelp is willing to help you out there. Yelp has it’s own Flickr page with all manner of logo that you can download and use for free.

If you build up a healthy presence on Yelp, you’ll receive a sticker. You can’t order these stickers. They’re given to you when you’re theatre has been having a postive impact. It shows people that you take Yelp seriously.

This kind of passive promotion will bring you much more thoughtful responses.

Quality over Quantity

We’re finally on that “More on that later” part of the post. Yelp scores and searches are driven by the quality of reviews, not the quantity. A raw 5-star review from a user doesn’t count for much by itself.

Many times earlier in this post, I mentioned that certain reviews won’t have a strong effect on your overall score. Your mom probably doesn’t write a lot of Yelp reviews. That’s taken into account. Any review from a user that only has one or two results is is going to have a smaller overall impact on your page than someone with 100s of reviews. Their review will also be buried at the bottom of the list. The more active a Yelp user is, the more clout their review carries. One positive review from an “Elite” member on Yelp is going to do a lot more for your Yelp presence than 10 reviews from audience members who you’ve solicited.

Taking the math out of it, you want experienced Yelp users leaving reviews because they speak the same language as the people who will be reading those reviews. Your ultimate goal is to bring more people to your theatre and your best bet is if the reviews they are reading are written by their peers.

It’s not an instant magic bullet. There are no magic bullets. Patience will pay off.

Say “Yes And”

Inevitably, you will receive a bad review. They’re never fun. Just like before, there’s no magic bullet to sweep this under the rug, but there are ways to continue to build a positive environment. It’s the same way we build positive scenes. With “Yes And”.

There are some reviews that are about one step above a YouTube comment. If they’re truly offensive or off-base, you can report them for review from Yelp, but in general they’ll just naturally go away by themselves. Not “go away” completely, but get shuffled down the obscure bowels of your reviews.

But you will also get legitimate well thought out negative reviews. Ones that did not enjoy your show or your space. Sometimes these reviews are true. Maybe you had an off night. Sometimes they’re a little unfair or inaccurate.

It’s tempting to prove them wrong. To show them how much they’re off base. But what does that accomplish? You’re engaging in a fight on their turf. If there’s any validity to their review, arguing about it makes you look like the bad guy, and it can bring a lot of negative backlash. (Instead of a simple hyperlink here, I strongly encourage you to read up on the story of Amy’s Baking Company as an example of destroying a businesses reputation in Yelp).

Instead, publicly respond and acknowledge the complaint. If possible, offer to make it right. If suggestions are offered, you don’t have to abide by them, but at least acknowledge the suggestions and promise to consider them. And do consider them. They may have a valid suggestion.

It isn’t uncommon at all for a bad review to be edited and improved if a reviewer feels that they’ve been heard and respected. A 1-Star review can be turned into a 3-star review. Even if it doesn’t, other viewers will see that you’re open to ideas and looking to engage.

Don’t freak about 4.3 Stars

If you have three reviews and they’re all 5 stars, that’s great! If you have 90 reviews and they’re all 5 stars, that’s fake. No one believes that. It’s not realistic. Yelp users are just as aware as you that not everyone is happy all the time. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. You want a good score, but a perfect score feels artificial and you will lose people.

Respect the culture

The short version of all of this is that Yelp, like any other social platform has a culture. If you advertise in Japan, you respect the culture of the Japanese people. If you want to attract people on Yelp, you have to respect the culture of Yelpers. They will respond in kind.

  • Don’t flood your profile with reviews from people who aren’t part of the Yelp culture
  • Make your venue a frienly and welcoming place for Yelp users
  • Treat all reviews with the same respect you’d expect

If you do these things, you’ll build a healthier relationship with Yelp and your reviews will more accurately reflect what you truly are.

And don’t forget that Yelp is just part of a complete balanced breakfast. Make it part of your overall social strategy. Also, make sure to check in now and again with other review sites. You don’t want to split your focus all over the place, but at least check in on those places now and again and say hello to the people who are having conversations there.

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: OC Improv Festival

2012 saw a huge freshman class of improv festivals in North America. Although not the largest, one of the more well known festivals from last year is the OC Improv Festival thanks in large part to the folks at Spectacles Improv Engine who spent the year traveling and getting engaged online with the larger improv community; looking to work together with other festivals and grow together.

I first met Josh Nicols at camp last year and was instantly impressed with his huge outgoing nature and willingness to talk about his deep love of improv. His enthusiasm is common among everyone I’ve met from OCIF and unquestionably responsible for its success. I had the opportunity to talk with Josh about the upcoming festival and what potential submitting troupes can expect.

OC is a quickly growing improv scene, but one that many folks don’t know about yet. What is the scene like? What kind of shows are really defining what OC Improv is all about?

Our community is mostly a collection of very popular short form teams with a handful of successful long form teams coming together in the last couple years.

It’s a pivotal time in our growth as we search for an identity as a community. Last year’s festival was a huge step in introducing us to the depth and variety of improv. Both players and audiences alike were blown away by the quality of improv we brought in. It’s a great time to come to Orange County and make a long term impression on a group of players and fans who are madly in love with improv.

What kind of events – outside of performances – can visitors expect at the OC Festival? Will there be any workshops or other events during the weekend?

We will be having a party every night at the theatre. Last year we had amazing workshops, which greatly impacted the quality of our scenes. We have the same goals this year. We plan on bringing in high quality training with focused and effective workshops at affordable prices. Also so Friday day excursions are in the works.

Dinner with the boys

Dinner with the boys

Where can people go during the festival’s off hours? What things are there to do and see in Fullerton?

There is plenty to do around the north Orange County area. Disneyland is just minutes away, we’re close to beaches and we’re well within walking distance of a thriving nightlife of bars and restaurants well stocked with party animals. If Disneyland isn’t your thing, we have Knott’s Berry Farm, Medieval Times and Pirate’s Dinner Adventure all just two towns over in Buena Park. Orange County is packed with good times. We are both an improv festival and a vacation destination.

Many of the organizers of the OCIF are very active in visiting other festivals and ImprovUtopia. You’ve spoken to many festival organizers and also visiting performers. What have you learned? What are you bringing back to the festival to make it a great experience? What have you seen in other festivals that you think can be improved?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from other festivals is the confidence in knowing we can have a great festival. That it’s not impossible to get great teams and workshops. Nick Armstrong was a great mentor in making sure we didn’t make a ton of rookie mistakes. We’ve also seen that it is attainable to take a non-traditional improv market and, with hard work and time, give it a national reputation. It’s clear to us as well, that it’s not built in a day. It’s a commitment to getting better each year, building a quality reputation, and maintaining the relationships a festival affords you.

Anything else you’d like to share about the festival?

Our first year as a fest was a huge success, it really set the bar high for future OC festivals. Visiting teams consistently remarked how surprised they were that this was our first year because everything ran so smoothly and the quality of teams we brought in was so good. Our focus remains the same this year, celebrating the art of improv by bringing in great shows to full houses, all while elevating our own community through inspiration and education.

Submissions for The OC Festival are open now, but they’re closing soon. You can submit your troupe right now on the submission page. If you’d like more information on The Festival, you can visit the website or drop a message to Josh directly here on the site.

The Orange County Improv Festival started in 2013. It is a product of the growing and diverse improv community of Orange County, California. The festival is committed to the celebration and elevation of improv behind the orange curtain.

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