A Tribute to Amy Louise Sebelius

Amy Lou

Amy Lou

There is no euphemism suitable for the end of Amy Louise Sebelius’ life. Early in the morning on November 24th, our Amy Lou died. While filled with love, her death was the only somber part of her life. The rest was technicolor.

Amy Louise Sebelius, Amy Lou, was a goddamned firefly wrapped in a rainbow riding a unicorn while reciting Henry the 4th. She was moonbeams and fireworks screaming across a perfectly blue-black star studded sky. And standing next to her, on-stage and off, I always felt like I could fly.

At its very best, improv is about vulnerability. We stand up in front of people and invite them to watch us swan dive into a trust fall again and again and again and again. And because of the incredible faith in each other it takes to do that in tandem, the people we stand up on that stage with often become closer than the closest of friends. Amy Louise Sebelius was that for so many of us, and for me.

I met her at the inaugural Camp Improv Utopia Yosemite. But before I met her, I heard her voice. Raspy and yet lilting, laughing and yet poignant. Her energy was like a red carpet unrolled into Oz. “Heyyyy, come in!” she said excitedly. “Oh my god, do you believe in ghosts? You have to hear this story.” I was immediately wrapped up and carried away by her energy.

We spent that weekend in Yosemite learning a new improv form, which itself is a gift. But the greatest gift for me, was that I got to learn about her. I watched her initiate with rapturous excitement. When I perform, I often feel uncomfortable with situations or initiations that skew toward the absurd. And then there’s Amy Lou. She was so beautifully comfortable with the fanciful. She would initiate something that on face value seemed so unattainably absurd, but then would instantaneously become grounded and filled with delight. I learned from her joy. I gravitated to her passion. I basked in her shine.

I remember a day, toward the end of her life, where I was sitting at the foot of her hospital bed working on my laptop as she slept. It was late in the afternoon. I heard that raspy voice say, “Would you look at how beautiful this is. We are so lucky.” I looked at her and saw a blissful smile across her face. I followed the light in her eyes to the window where the sky was filled with the most beautiful early sunset. We sat there for a moment taking it in. The moment was ended by her hedgehog finger puppet telling me that he wanted some chocolate. The perfect mixture of tenderness and hilarity, that was Amy Lou. Beauty and bits, always and forever.

To say that I will miss her doesn’t feel like it even comes close to describing the grief left in her absence. I just know that I want to be the kind of performer that lifts others up and carries them along on a skyrocket of delight. And I know that I want to live a life filled with the love and joy and technicolor that she carried and flung into the atmosphere everywhere Amy Lou went.

If you want to honor her there are lots of tangible things you could do. You could put on some red horn-rimmed glasses, you could do a Harold, you could eat pizza, you could pet your favorite kitty. But the best way to honor her is simply to stop now and then, take a deep breath and honor the beauty in front of you, because that’s what she did every day of her life. And after you take that deep breath and acknowledge the moment, take off your shoe, make a puppet out of your sock, and do some bits for the person standing next to you. And laugh. Beyond it all, laugh. She’ll hear you and if you listen close enough, you will be able to hear that inimitable raspy voice laugh back and say, “Oh my god! I love you!”

How lucky I was, we all were, to love and be loved by our Amy Lou.

Improv Is My Therapy (Part 2)

**This piece is an editorial, and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Improv Network or any of its members or staff.  It is also not an endorsement of any political candidate for office.**

Several months ago, I wrote an article entitled “Improv Is My Therapy” which detailed how some of the philosophies that we are taught in improvisation are similar to those that one might experience during the course of therapy.  A few days ago, Donald Trump, was nominated to be the 45th President of the United States.  Many people in the community have felt very upset by this, and I too have felt a roller coaster of feelings since the announcement.  Regardless of where you stand on the election, we can agree that this election has been extremely divisive.  But, in the end, we’re all on the same team.  So once again, I call upon the great wisdom of the improv philosophers who have come before us to guide us in this difficult time along with ketamine bipolar therapy.

Rule #1: Don’t Deny

Our two-party system is essentially a two-person show in which instead of building something together, we just wait until we have a chance to initiate and dominate the scene.  There are also some people sitting on the back line, wanting to contribute, but they are largely ignored (we should probably also listen to what they have to say).  One of the first things we learn in improv is to never say no.  It’s safer to say no, it’s easier, it means that we get to be in complete control of a situation that nobody has the answers to.  (Improv and real life are oddly similar, no one really knows what is going to happen next – and some people claim that they definitely know what should happen next).

And this isn’t to teeter into moral relativism.  There are times when one side is wrong, when something is clearly going in one direction and someone throws in an upsetting curveball.  But in many cases, we have something to learn from the other side.  If you want to play the game of a scene, but your partner wants to play with patient narrative work, you both bring something valuable to the stage and you can build something amazing if you work together to integrate both of your respective strengths.  But before you build, you must accept what is given to you.  The reflex to outright deny someone else’s perspective because they aren’t like you is dangerous and unproductive. On other news, checkout https://www.emergencyhomesolutionsoc.com/mold-removal-orange-county-eco-friendly-options/.

Rule #2: Yes, And

Accepting isn’t the only step.  Once we’ve come to a place where we have acknowledged each other, we should then build.  Both parties come in with an idea of what will be, but somewhere in between those two perspectives is the actuality of what should be.  America is a wonderful mix of diverse viewpoints and perspectives; consequently, there will be many views on what is right for our nation to do.  There is no answer or decision that will be universally loved by everyone.  People are going to walk away from the stage feeling like the initiation that they had wasn’t listened to, that their scene was edited too quickly, or that people didn’t get the game that they were trying to set up.  And it sucks, but we are building something together.

Rule #3: Treating Your Partner Like a Genius

are a bunch of ! Every, last one of them!  They’re irrational, selfish, and worst of all, they don’t care about American values.  Anything that they say is completely farfetched and not worth the air molecules that were vibrated to transmit the sound wave carrying their message.  Look, there are definitely people from either party that are dumb as hell.  But there are also sane, educated people who are going to make decisions that you disagree with.  Why did my teammate initiate a Harold opening in which everyone had to do a handstand?  Why is that a good idea?  Ugh, those Groundlings-trained people are ridiculous!  (Ridiculously funny, such great shows!)  If we don’t’ take the time to understand the other side, we’ll just build more animosity.  And yes, there’s a chance that it won’t always be reciprocated, but when it is it’ll be worth it!

Rule #4: Don’t Be An Asshole

All of what I’ve said assumes that the other person is acting in a relatively civil manner.  In the same way that we should have respect for each other on stage (not grabbing, kissing, choking, etc… without consent), we should also be respectful to each other in this discourse.  I have many friends who are legitimately scared for their lives because of what they feel a Trump Presidency may enable people to do (and the events in the past few days have corroborated those fears).  Using your views or the success of your chosen candidate to terrorize others is just as bad as the person who always initiates honeymoon scenes to try and kiss their fellow teammates.  It may feel like we are in different countries, but we all pledge allegiance to the same flag (there are some people who pledge allegiance to a slightly outdated American flag – I don’t know what to say in response to them).

Last Thoughts

Part of what fueled the fervor of this election was a group of Americans who felt that they were not listened to, and supported the first person to tell them “I hear you.  Your concerns are valid.  And let’s take those concerns and let’s make your country be as great as you want it to be.”  And yes, we might not agree 100% with all their concerns, but if we don’t ever listen, if we never assume that they might have valid concerns, and if we don’t try to build something together with them, then we can never grow as a team.  In that regard, Donald Trump is a helluva good improviser and I sincerely hope that he will be a good President (even though I personally, have many concerns about his recent and past actions).  As artists, it is important to use our voices to build bridges and support the voices of those who feel unheard, but also to stand up for what is right in the world.  Striking that balance between the two in the upcoming years might be difficult, but I believe in our ability to do it.  You all look like geniuses to me.

Consider Teacher Workshops at Your Theater or Festivals

NIN’s year of the teacher was amazing. We created the Teacher Tool which will allow you to submit yourself, for free, as a teacher to a festival and let theaters know when you’re in town so they can hire you if you in the neighborhood…NEATO!  With that said, I’d like to chat with our readers about hiring veteran teachers to come to your festival and/or theater to do teaching or coaching workshops. There is huge value in this. I think we have a responsibility as theaters and festivals to start training the next generation of improvisors to become great teachers and have the tools and knowledge they need to succeed.

A lot of theaters, festivals and communities are still young. I’d say about 80 percent of the theaters and festivals I go to  fit in this category. For theaters, a lot of communities are growing pretty fast and we are basically making teachers out of students or recent alums. I get it, the demand is there from incoming students and you want your business to push forward, but what about the teachers? Teaching is a different art all together. Especially teaching something like improv. Just like improvisors who need training, so do teachers. Sure, you may have to shell out a few dollars to get a master teacher to come out, but your return on investment is going to be huge. The better the teacher, the better the business, and the more chance to have returning students. The better the student, the better the performer, the better your audiences will get because of the quality of work – Trickle-down Improv-nomics. You may not see the money right away, but invest in your theater it will be worth it in the long run. I know some theaters are doing this already and to you guys! YAY! You’re ahead of the game and I’d be interested to hear about the experience. You have to think big picture. I know it’s hard to think that as we try to figure out how to pay our rent for next month or buy more paper towels for the bathroom, but the long game is where it is at and it’s worth it.

For festivals, what a great opportunity to offer this course to your community and improvisors coming into town. We are so focused on the teaching of improv skills and forms, we are forgetting that a lot of these improvisors are going to become coaches or teachers eventually. If you’re inviting a master teacher to come to your festival, have them do an improv workshop, but also have them add an instructor workshop. Why not? You have them there. Again, may cost more, but I feel this is something that would do really well. After all these people are the best in the business and have years of experience in teaching. They know what works with students and what doesn’t.

I want to take a second to thank all the teachers and coaches out there for doing the work and committing to our art form. You’re paving the way for the future of improv. Right now we may not get paid as much as we deserve but I do see a day where that will change and it’s all because of the blood, sweat and tears coming from your passion. So, thank you!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California, Yosemite and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West and The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops at theaters and festivals around the world.

Let’s Be Alpacas Together

For a group of people who pride themselves on never going on a script, we fall back into a lot of the same sayings over and over again; “Support Your Partner”, “Heighten the Game”, “Play to the Top of Your Intelligence”. We sometimes get into such vain repetition that we kind of forget what those words really mean, and also assume that those we’re saying it to will somehow understand exactly what we mean.

Around NIN circles, one of those sayings is “A rising tide lifts all boats”. Now, if you know me, you know I believe that to the core of my soul. But just because we say those words a lot doesn’t mean we can always back them up. We’ve become so confident that it is true, that we never really talk about that idea in a real clinical or analytical sense. Maybe we should.

Well, it turns out there is some math to support it. Some 18th Century Math to be specific. That kind of thing was all the rage among the prominent nerds of the 1760s. But I don’t think we want to go that far back today.

Instead let’s go back to 2008 and Dan Gilbert’s excellent Ted Talk.

If you haven’t watched his videos or read his book, they are absolutely filled with very straightforward ideas which are great tools for marketing your theatre or your festival. In fact, you should really watch his whole video here when you can. Each of his points could be the topic of a blog post (and if there’s interest, perhaps there will be.) But today, let’s just talk about one of them.(slightly altered to fit this post)

Thought Experiment

If you’re reading this you may live in a major city, or at least near one. I want you to think about that city and answer the following question. You can’t Google or research this answer. Simply answer.

Are there more dogs or alpacas within the city limits of the city you’re thinking of?

It’s not a trick question. You know the answer. It’s obviously dogs. You don’t need statistics to know that’s correct. But why do you know that?

You know that because you see dogs. There are dog parks. There are dog grooming centers. There are magazines about dogs. There are clearly lots of dogs in the city. That doesn’t mean there are no alpacas around. There probably are. Maybe in a zoo or in a farm somewhere. There just aren’t nearly the same number of dogs, or you’d know.

The brain is pretty smart. That kind of reasoning is how humans cope day to day with making informed decisions without firm hard statistics at every moment. It helps us make good decisions. But that part of the brain can also be hacked.

As few alpacas as there are in your city, there are probably even fewer Powerball millionaire winners. But it doesn’t feel like it, does it? Every week on the news, they show the newest winner. Every jackpot billboard has a picture of a winner. A different winner on every billboard. You start seeing Powerball winners. They must be real, because you see them. And the more Powerball winners you see, the more likely you are to get a Powerball ticket. Even if you’ve never bought a lottery ticket. I’ll bet you thought about it more than you thought about getting an alpaca. Tell me I’m wrong.

The truth is, people make decisions based on familiar things. When I am hanging with my troupe and we think about grabbing a bite, pizza is an option. Because pizza places are everywhere. When I visited Vancouver last month and we talked about where to eat, people suggested grabbing donairs because there are donair joints everywhere in Vancouver. You know why we don’t consider that in Phoenix? Because no one I know has ever heard of a donair. There is actually a Canadian donair places within short driving distance of me. I just never saw it. And even if I saw it before, I probably wouldn’t have gone in because it wasn’t familiar. Pizza must be good or there wouldn’t be pizza places everywhere.

We’re Alpacas

If you own an improv theatre, if you run a festival, if you have a troupe: You, my friend, are an alpaca in your town. Improv is growing faster than it ever has. People know it beyond just a TV show now. Some day we’ll be ferrets. Some day we’ll be goldfish. And I know someday, we’ll be adorable puppies. But today? We’re alpacas. It’s OK. Own it.

When the people in your town think of getting a pet. They think about getting a dog. When they think about going out. They think about going to a movie. Advertising your shows, fliering the local record store, putting a poster up on that community board? It’s not enough. The people who see those fliers know that you have it in your mind to do improv. Big whoop. It doesn’t mean it’s worth their time. That attitude is not going to change as long as you’re the only improv flier they ever see.

There are more improvisors in your town than there are alpapacas. There are way more improvisors in your town than there are Powerball winners. There are probably more troupes and theatres in your town than there are Powerball winners. So act like it. Put that face out to the people of your city. Let them see a different improv troupe when they turn the corner. Let them know about what the guys across town are doing. Put up a poster for the festival being put on by the people you only talk to three times a year.

There are still so few of us out there, people don’t know we’re here. Why in God’s name would you hide that fact by not promoting shows around town that are not your own? Show your city that improv is worth doing. Show your city that improv is worth seeing. Invite those people to join a real true improv community. Because if you do, they will. It’s not just a warm fuzzy thought, it’s solid business sense.

So yeah, a rising tide lift all boats. But that tide doesn’t just appear from nowhere. That tide is the people of your city and they will lift you up. But you have to let them see the boats.


Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. And he wants to give a special shout out to Jeter’Z, NCT Phoenix, Chaos Comedy and ImprovMania who make the greater Phoenix area an place of improv.

Why Your Theater Should Have a Sexual Harassment Policy

Recently, in Los Angeles there was an increased awareness of sexual harassment. A few people in the community were accused of sexually harassing women to the point that they didn’t want to take classes at certain theaters because their instructor was harassing them and creating an unsafe experience for the students. It got crazy and the LA improv community was damaged by it. This harassment affected many major theaters in the LA market. The harassment had been going on for a few years but no one came forward until recently. Why did this happen? Partially, the victims didn’t feel that they had a safe place to come forward and talk about it. They didn’t know who to talk to. There was no policy or the policy wasn’t enforced and the victims felt they would be ridiculed and possibly shunned from the community. It sounds crazy, but it’s completely understandable. This happens in other industries all the time. So, how do we help solve this? How do we protect our improvisors from this horrible and gross thing? Your theater needs a Sexual Harassment Policy and procedures on how to report them.

There should be a NO TOLERANCE Sexual Harassment Policy that any member of the theater who teaches or performs there should have to read, agree and sign. It should also be made clear how someone, male or female, can seek help if something like this comes up. They need to know that they are safe and that they can report this stuff so it doesn’t spiral out of hand as it had in LA.

It’s beyond me that we aren’t thinking of this and it hurts that we even have to, but we do and we need to protect our improvisors from people who may want to hurt them. So if you don’t have one, get one quick and implement it immediately. Set up a system of reporting and let them know that they will be safe in reporting it. You may want to consult a legal entity if you have one and you may want that person to handle any reports that are being submitted. If you have the money to take it one step further, recently one of the theaters I belong to, iO West,  hired a Human Resources Manager to oversee all policies of the theater including  sexual misconduct. It’s a step in the right direction and great job iO for taking this seriously. I know some other major theaters have policies as well. For those larger theaters that can afford something like this, if you haven’t already…you should, there’s no excuse. For you smaller markets, it doesn’t matter how small you are you have to at least have a policy and implement it and make sure your company understands it. Your improvisors are your family and you should do anything to protect them and make them feel safe. Let’s have each others backs!

 

Bill Binder and Nick Armstrong

C0-Founders

National Improv Network

Spotlight on San Diego Improv Festival 2015

The San Diego Improv Festival launches into its second year in February. I was able to interview Kevin Dolan one or the Producers of the festival. Check out what wonderful things this city and the festival have to offer.

This is your 2nd year of the SDIF. Tell us how the SDIF came about.

Amy Lisewski, the Artistic Director of Finest City Improv (FCI), has always believed in bringing the top improvisers to perform and teach workshops in San Diego. Even before FCI had its own space, she would have the best people she knew down from LA to teach workshops during the day and perform on the same bill with local teams at night. Once FCI had its own theater – and one that is attached to a hotel no less – having multi-day festival was a natural step.

It is unique to have a festival where the theater and hotel are connected. Tell us about that and what the hotel has to offer for improvisers.

FCI has a great location, attached to The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows. The place has a retro feel reminiscent of a Hollywood-style property you would see in a 1940s movie. The hotel restaurants have tasty food, the lobby is a great place to relax, and the rooms have been recently remodeled. And of course there is a swimming pool which we use for the festival’s big social event: the pool party on Saturday afternoon.

The biggest advantage to being attached to the hotel is that it’s great for connecting with other improvisers. We want the San Diego Improv Festival to be a social event as much as it is an improv event. We want people to make friends and come back every year to see those people again.

The neighborhood surrounding FCI is also “uber-hip,” or so I’m told. I can definitely tell you it has some good restaurants that don’t cost a fortune.

What can improvisors expect?

Our goal is to make SDIF the perfect weekend vacation for the improviser.

Even if your team isn’t performing at the festival, you can participate in our open jam on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights before the shows start. This is an opportunity to get on stage and play with the people you’ve been partying with all week.

We also have a full workshop program, with four already scheduled and four more in the works. Improvisers will be able to take up to two workshops on Saturday (10am and 3pm) and two on Sunday (11;30am and 3pm). Workshops will be two and a half hours long to facilitate getting adequate stage time for all attendees. Nick Armstrong and Karen Graci from LA, and Colleen Doyle and Jason Shotts from Chicago, are the confirmed workshop instructors.

Then there are the parties. I already talked about the Pool Party on Saturday afternoon – it’s scheduled between the morning and afternoon workshops – and that’s the social highlight of the festival. There will also be parties either on site or very close by on Friday and Saturday nights after the shows. With the hotel so close by, the parties were very popular last year and I expect it to be the same this year.

And of course we’re going to have a great lineup headlined by King Ten from Los Angeles and Dummy from Chicago; as well as other great teams from Chicago, New York, and other places closer to home.

The San Diego Improv Festival is the perfect improv vacation: take great improv workshops, see world class improv teams, party with fun improvisers, and participate in an improv jam (or two).

If accepted to the festival what do improvisers have to look forward to? Discounts? Workshops?

Performers will receive a wristband which will allow them to get into shows free of charge when there are seats available (at start of show). Performers can guarantee a seat by buying tickets or a festival pass in advance and are given a 50% discount. Performers will also receive a welcome package upon arrival.

Tell us about your great city…What can improvisers from out of town do while they’re there?

Of course, San Diego has some of the nicest weather anywhere in the world. Also, FCI is not too far from Balboa Park, home of the San Diego Zoo as well as a number of popular museums. San Diego has a number of micro-breweries, for those who like beer. And of course the beach isn’t far away. Surf’s up!

What have been some of the biggest challenges putting a festival on?

There are a so many details involved in staging a festival. We are fortunate to have people like Kat Brown, Erin Hanehan, and a great team of volunteers to make everything go smoothly.

 

Instantly submit to SDIF today.


Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

Welcome Ryan Nallen to the NIN Team

We are happy to announce that Improvisor Ryan Nallen will be joining the NIN team. Ryan has been contributing very resourceful blogs for the last year and will now join our NIN team helping spread the word and making the site even better. I had a chance to interview Ryan:

Tell us about your improv background…What schools have you gone to?

I’ve been improvising now for around 7 years. I originally went to college to wrestle at the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana. I had taken a theater class because I was told it was a blow off (easy) class by my student advisor. For the final exam we had to do a student written play and half way through I forgot my lines. I just started rambling and making things up to justify what was happening. The class laughed at the nonsense coming out of my mouth and afterward my teacher pulled me aside and said, “You should look into doing this. You have a natural talent.” After the season finished, I decided to take that teacher’s advice and quit the team. I have been acting and improvising ever since. As for my training, I am a graduate of iO Chicago, the Second City Conservatory, and the Annoyance Theatre.

Who are you favorite improv instructors?

Thats a tough question for me because I feel like every teacher I have had has taught me something valuable or has provided me with great insight based on their own experiences. You can always learn something from somebody and I try to maintain that belief with every class or workshop I take.

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Switch Committee

Tell us about Switch Committee and how you guys formed? Why do you travel to festivals?

Switch Committee had originally formed out of iO. Dave Karasik and I were in level 1 together and enjoyed playing together so we decided to form a group inviting other people we’d played with who we felt we had good playing chemistry with. Since the group has formed, we have had 2 runs at iO, performed at almost every venue in Chicago, and have traveled to and taught at over 10 festivals around the country. I really love traveling to festivals because I enjoy meeting new people who love doing the same thing I love to do. It’s something very special to get people from all over the country together to sit and watch each other do make believe. Traveling to new places to meet and see how other people are improvising is very exciting to me. Also, it’s like a vacation and who doesn’t love a vacation?

You’re becoming a part of the NIN team. What has NIN meant to you?

First of all. Thank you! This is awesome and I’m honored! I think NIN is an invaluable resource to the improv community. The purpose of it and how the people involved work so hard to bring performers and teachers from all over the country together speak volumes about the kind of support and collaboration that exists in our small world. Through NIN I have been able to connect with people and festivals that I might not have been able to connect with otherwise. It’s given me a central place to go to find festivals and more importantly groups and people with shared interests. It is because of NIN that I can say I have improv friends in almost every state in the country.

Where do you see improv heading?

We are in a weird, but GOOD, growth phase right now. A lot of theaters are growing, moving, and getting larger, which is fantastic for the performing arts community in which we belong. For example, in Chicago, iO and the Annoyance recently moved to new locations, Second City is expanding, and multiple other theaters like The Playground and M.C.L. (Music Comedy Live – formerly Studio Be) are rebranding and establishing new programs. Then you’ve got other shows popping up in attics and garages (the S%$& hole) generating the entire support of the community simply because they’ve created a judgement-free environment inviting pretty much anyone (sketch, stand-up, improv, musicians, etc.) to come and play free of charge.

With that, there will always be a show to see. I’ve seen it first hand here in Chicago. You don’t need thousands of dollars or a theater license. All you need is a space to play in and people who want to play in it.

How do you feel about the national improv scene?

I think its great. I absolutely love traveling to festivals and seeing what other people are doing in terms of their form and playing style. It’s also great to see the support that everyone has for one another. Rather than “oh I don’t know you you’re from another state” its “hey we love doing the same thing tell me more about you and your group.” It’s like a family and everyone is eager to watch each other play. Nationally its continuing to grow as well with more theaters and festivals popping up and existing theaters moving/expanding. I see it continuing to grow and people continuing to try new things. I see it getting bigger with more opportunities for people to perform both locally and nationally. It’s very exciting!


Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

Spotlight On: The 14th Annual Phoenix Improv Festival

The Phoenix Improv Festival celebrates it’s 14th year in 2015! I had a chance to interview Executive Director and NIN Co-Founder Bill Binder to chat with him about what we can expect this year.

What makes PIF 14 different than other improv festivals?

Last year we shared the building with another event. I’m sure the other event was great and I heard good things about it, but I overheard a conversation between two of the ushers. The first usher was concerned about sending people to the correct event and the head usher said “If they’re here to see art, send them to the Improv Festival.”

That’s something I didn’t ever think I’d hear. Your question was how we’re different than other festivals, and certainly we’re not unique at all in celebrating the art of improv. But what is unique here is how much our city celebrates it as art. We play in a beautiful venue that seats about 400 people and – of course – there are performers in the audience. But there are also hundreds of people who may or may not see improv throughout the year, but they come to the festival to celebrate the cultural landscape of their city. Our audience members see improv in rotation with the opera and the ballet in town. And let me tell you, you know that old saying, “Treat your audience like poets…” it works the other way. This audience will treats us like professionals and artists and the work we get to do in response lives up to that. It feels great to play in that kind of environment.

What can we expect from PIF 14 this year?

Kind of tagging onto the last question, this is our 14th year and our audiences are coming to a grown-up event, so we are going to act like grown-ups. There will defiitely be some parties, but the performances themselves, we’re going to try to treat the festival and performers like we’re there on purpose, not some kids who stumbled into a theatre. I think this year we’re going to go even further in treating our visitors like the professionals they deserve to be treated as.

What can an improvisor get if they are accepted into PIF 14?

All performers play the mainstage. There is no sidestage or second smaller venue. Each group gets put up for one night at the Holiday Inn across the street from the venue. Each group gets a den mother who is available 24 hours for them to give them rides, get them food, show them around town, get them to the festival, etc. There are two parties with transportation to and from. There will be a photoshoot on Saturday. All groups get a video of their performance for submitting to other festivals. We have workshops on Saturday as well as our third unconference to discuss the art and business of improv. We will have panels and possibly a return of Jam City.

Besides the Improv Festival, why else should a troupe take a trip out to Phoenix. What’s the Valley of the Sun have to offer?

Well, Oprah’s favorite pizza place for one. people always ask about that. But if you really want good pizza, there are plenty of other places we can get you. Downtown Phoenix has plenty of museums, and many of them are great, but I won’t list them all because the names mean nothing. But the Musical Instrument Museum and Butterfly Wonderland are pretty self-explanitory. There are no baseball games in town that weekend, but there are plenty of places nearby to watch games. The Roosevelt Row area is a more Bohemian neighborhood right next to the hotel where many small local bands, galleries and restaraunts are within walking distance. If you really want to experience “the old west”, there are plenty of scenic parks and fairly inauthentic ghost towns your den mother can get you to. And of course, the hotel has a pool.

You’ve been at it for 14 years. What have you seen change in improv from year 1 to year 14 in your community?

In 2002, the love of improv was huge, but in a very small circle of people who didn’t have the knowledge or the skill to share that love. Only seven years ago, I ran a listing for classes and the person running the mailing list kept insisting that I put the words “zany” and “wacky” in the listings. When I refused she said “OK, but you’ll be yelling into the wind.” We’re not yelling in the wind anymore. There are six great improv theatres in the area and many smaller groups. The community knows what improv is and there are hundreds, not dozens, of people meeting each week to practice, or just discuss the craft. There are a dozen great shows every week somewhere in Phoenix, and those folks come together to put on an amazing event each April.


Nick Armstrong

Nick Armstrong is Founder and Camp Director of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

Announcement: The NIN Sister Festival Project Launches

The National Improv Network (NIN) is launching a project that puts improv festivals together to help them grow, share and become known nationally.

How does it work?

Preferably a festival from one side of the country pairs with a festival from the other side of the country. For instance our first pairing is The Phoenix Improv Festival and The Detroit Improv Festival. The great thing about this pairing is they are on opposite sides of the country and their festivals fall at different parts of the year. Heck if you know festivals in other countries you should do that too. We have some listed on NIN.

Why?

Our goal is to get festivals together so they can help each other cross promote, help each other out and share information. What works at a fest, what doesn’t etc. Also, it’s likely The Detroit Improv Festival doesn’t have the same contacts and submissions as the Phoenix Improv Festival so during the off season of PIF they will help DIF promote their submissions and vice-versa.

So what do you do next?

Go to the Festival page on NIN and look up a festival you may want  to parnter with. We will be sending an e-mail to our festival members with this blog too so they know what’s going on. If you feel more comfortable having us introduce you to a festival please e-mail me at nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. I’d be happy to get you in touch.

If you’ve partnered with a festival let us know! We will promote it on our site and spread the word as well. So join the movement and help our community grow even more. Yes and!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

 

Performing and Coaching Improv Online – The Pros and Cons

Last Tuesday I was asked to be a part of a google hangout  improv show for a website called e-improv. e-improv is a website that streams live improv shows via Google Hangout. The show I was in was called Let’s Get Serious Guys! Hosted by the lovely Juliette Everhart from the Kansas City Improv Community and The Recess Players. We were also joined by Founder and Artistic Director and old student/friend of mine Dylan Rhode from Backline Improv Theater and The Omaha Improv Festival in Nebraska. Like anything in improv I always like to do new things and I saw this as an opportunity to give it a try. I’ve also coached online improv with a Kansas City group that Juliette is on and I’ll go into detail about that experience as well.

The Show: e-improv

For the show on Tuesday, I was exciting and nervous all at the same time. Playing with people you haven’t played with, but also it’s online! Will I be able to hear them? Will I miss some moments? How will it go? The first part of Juliette’s show was an interview session which she asks Dylan and I to come up with a theme in improv that we enjoy…

For Dylan and I it was easy, “Community” since we are both in the building community game we felt compelled to talk about it. Then after that we go into an improv jam for 10 minutes. We get a suggestion from a book and then here we go. I will say this, I had a fun time…Was the improv great? Not the best, I’m sure all three of us would agree, but still a fun time.

Technology still needs to catch up I think. Sometimes the delays in technology slowed the timing down and it was hard to hear. Talking over each other is nearly impossible to do online because of the way it is set up…Maybe that’s a good thing! 🙂

My overall view of it is that online improv will never replace a brick and mortar establishment, but what I do love about online improv is the fact that you can do it with anyone in the world at anytime and that is the best takeaway from this experience. What a way to build a worldwide improv community. I don’t think the founders of the site, which I intend to do a follow up blog with and interview with them, are intending to do.

When you spend so much time in front of a screen that it causes a tired, strained feeling in your eyes, you may be suffering from a condition known as computer vision syndrome. This problem is so common that is it said to affect somewhere between 64 and 90 per cent of office workers.

I think they are trying to just build community and you know what…I’m on board with that. It never hurts to do something that brings improvisors together. Hey if you have fun and it makes you laugh, then follow that.

PROS – Meeting and playing with people from all over the improv community that you would never get the opportunity to play with.

CONS – Technology makes improv connections hard and there is limitation in physicality. You are pretty much doing talking head scenes.

Coaching Online:

I was really hesitant to do this. Call me old school. I coached a team in Kansas City, MO. So in the spirit of yes, and… I did it and I don’t regret it. Yes, you are limited in what you can do as a coach.

It’s hard to get physical or get up there with them to demonstrate and there are certain exercises you can’t do. But I coached them for almost a year, off and on, and I saw an improvement in them and they felt an improvement in their play. My motto is this, if they feel they’re getting something out of it and I see improvement then it’s worth doing.

PROS – Getting coaches from around the country to teach you their style and philosophies along with some of their exercises. Coaching online can help improvisors grow.

CONS: Limited in what you can do with teams and technology can some time crap out on you. Also, it can be hard to hear or see things depending on visibility of the camera and mic set up.

 

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

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