What started as a 24 hour marathon in 1999 has grown every year in Manhattan. This year the festival featured over 400 groups from around the world on seven stages across the 56 hour span.
In some ways DCM hasn’t changed in years, but this year brought a few nice surprises. Old-timers will remember the street rituals of years gone by involving performers getting a suggestion miles from the UCB mainstage and performing a walking opening on their way, picking up more performers and confusing pedestrians as the blocks passed. The city of New York put a stop to the ritual a few years back, but word passed on hushed mouths that the ritual would take place this year to coincide with the documentary being filmed on the history of the marathon. The ritual is one of the purest forms of yes, and still floating out there and this year included a special treat when the 185 improvisors literally walked into a bar (McManus to be precise). But this time the bartender didn’t say he couldn’t serve 185 improvisors, he just kept pouring shots of some basement firewater as fast as he could.
The ritual did not end up on stage this year, but the press conference kicked off without a hitch. Amy, Matt and Ian greeted and bribed the press while sharing stories of Del and the 15 years of the marathon, including a nice history of one of the most notorious shows, Drunken Sonic Assualt). The conference ended with an unveiling of the UCB’s long promised Improv Manual.
The history of clumping theatres together has waned in the last couple of years since the opening of UCBeast. More east side venues were added this year making it easier for folks to stay on that side of town, even if the promotion for the east side shows was pretty non-existent.
A few scattered workshops popped up over the weekend, but one of the most unique events was the monthly UCB Diversity Program’s meetup. The diversity program – started by Caitlin Steitzer – is a fantastic program designed around building a better dialog around race, gender, age and sexual preference issues. More cities and festivals should strive to create programs like this.
If you’ve never been to DCM, keep in mind that this isn’t your traditional festival environment. You’re not going to have a lot of good conversations about the state of the craft or see a lot of shows from a comfortable seat. This is a party. This is a Las Vegas buffet of improv. Hundreds of groups doing 15-20 minutes and getting off stage. There are drunk shows and half-awake shows and phoned in shows to be found. But in the midst of that, there are also dozens of great shows you’ve never seen before trying new and exciting things. It can be a challenge to find them at Del Close each year, but each year they are there.
It was great to meet so many NIN members for the first time on the streets of Manhattan. We’ll be coming back again next year for sure. Look forward to a book review of the UCB Manual coming soon.
Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America.