My Experiences on the Road: My 2013 Improv Travel Diary

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

The Experience: Milky Way Improv Festival:

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

Why You Should Visit:

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

Improv Utopia

Improv Utopia

The Experience: Improv Utopia

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

Why You Should Visit:

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

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

Spectacles Improv Engine visit!

Spectacles Improv Engine visit!

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

Why You Should Visit:

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

The Experience: DuoFest

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

Why You Should Visit:

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

The Experience: The Detroit Improv Festival

Razowsky and Clifford at the Detroit Fest!

Razowsky and Clifford at the Detroit Fest!

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

Why You Should Visit:

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

The Experience: Ventura Improv Festival

Performing with Kind Strangers in Ventura

Performing with Kind Strangers in Ventura

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

Why You Should Visit:

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

The Experience: The Kansas City Improv Festival

The Mullaney Chain: Kansas City!

The Mullaney Chain: Kansas City!

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

Why You Should Visit:

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

The Experience: The Red Rocks Improv Festival

The Narrows - Zion National Park

The Narrows – Zion National Park

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

Why You Should Visit:

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

The Experience: Coldtowne Theater (Austin, TX)

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

Why You Should Visit:

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

The Experience: The Denver Improv Festival

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

Why You Should Visit:

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

The Experience: GhostFest (Phoenix, AZ)

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

Why You Should Visit:

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

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

Finest City Drink Menu

Finest City Drink Menu

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

Why You Should Visit:

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

Wrap up:

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

 

 

Nick Armstrong

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

 

 

 

 

 

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