San Diego’s Freshman Outing

Improv This Way

Improv This Way

San Diego has had improv for a long time, but the last couple of years has seen a huge growth in performers, quality and involvement in the national community. Several theatres have grown, at least one new one has started, and this past weekend they put on a proper festival.

I was lucky enough to be in San Diego for the event, and even perform with Galapagos on Saturday evening. The whole festival was well organized and the shows were great all around. And while there were a fair amount of performers in the audience, there were plenty of audience members seeing improv for perhaps the first time. I can’t imagine a better introduction.

One of the important things traveling performers always want to know is “How close to the venue is the hotel?”. San Diego may be #1 in the game on this one. The distance from my room to the stage was probably about 200 feet. Finest City Improv has a lovely venue attached to The Lafayette Hotel and graciously provided their stage to the festival. The closeness was nice of course, but having that close of a relationship between a festival and a hotel meant many other conveniences throughout the weekend, inducing a pool party hosted by local troupe Swim Team and one after party at the hotel bar across the hallway.

The Venue itself was great for a first year festival; not as huge as some festivals, but a great size to welcome the public and introduce them to new improv. The Finest City folks were among the most generous of their time and energy of any festival I’ve visited and their volunteers could not be more involved and motivated. A lot of that is unquestionably rooted in the energy of Amy Lisewski and Chris George. They weren’t by any stretch of the imagination the only people working hard, but it was apparent that their love and passion for improv were the inspiration for many people. Everyone at the festival clearly believes in their vision.

Nyarlathotep

Nyarlathotep

And that vision goes to working together with all the artists and performers in San Diego. It was great to catch up with Mike McFarland from Sidestage Improv and other performers from around the theatres in town both performing and coming to share together in the excitement of the weekend. It was the performers of San Diego all working together to celebrate. It was in fact sad that one improv company decided to isolate themselves and not involve themselves at all with the festival. It’s always disheartening to see companies like this think that working together to educate the public is somehow hurting their business model. It’s an outdated idea and one that I hope dissolves in San Diego in the next few years.

The programming for the weekend was solid and consistent, pulling a slightly regionalized set of performers, but also shows and instructors from farther away providing exposure to different styles. Workshops from Bill Arnett, Cook County Social Club and The Reckoning were not only an incredible collection of ideas, but a great investment in the future of San Diego performers. The shows were not only solid from start to finish, but well balanced and ordered to give each block’s audience an good variety of shows – something that many festivals overlook. Also, on a personal note, it has been fun this last year visiting festivals where I knew at least a little bit about every troupe performing through NIN. I won’t call out every show, but the highlight had to be Cook County Social Club sitting in with The Reckoning. That’s the kind of show you don’t get to see that often. The Laser Improv Show was another show that got people talking if only because it was nice to see someone trying something new and unique.

Overall, if this is indicative of how San Diego runs festivals, they’re off to a great start. I have no doubt they’ll continue to grow. The festival was great and will continue to be great because of the hard work and enthusiasm of people like Vanessa, Gary, Emily, Kevin and especially Kat who was working and organizing practically every minute of that festival. To each of these people and to all the other volunteers and organizers, a sincere thank you from all the performers and audience members who enjoyed themselves this last weekend.


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


Photos Courtesy Finest City Improv

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