Spotlight On Alaska

The Alaska State Improv Festival is back and you have one more day to submit. A lot of you know about the great festival, but if you’re on the fence. Here’s a little sneak peek as I interview Eric Caldwell, the festival’s producer.

ASIF continues to get some of the best word of mouth out there. Why do you think that is? What can first time performers expect if they come on up?

The production created the festival that we would want to attend. Every performer is offered a ride from the airport, and we always divert to the Mendenhall Glacier before going to the hotel. Once everyone has a chance to recover from the scenery, they experience McPhetres Hall – our performance venue. McPhetres Hall is a modern facility designed for theater with quality sound and lighting capacity in a beautiful natural cedar facility. It is clear to any performer walking into the facility that we are taking their presence seriously and giving them a gorgeous space in which to do their work.

Juneau has a very supportive audience that is open to all kinds of improv. What kinds of new shows are you hoping to bring up this year that might not have been in past festivals?

The production team always looks for quality and diversity. Any time we review a submission and say, “We’ve never seen that before!” we get excited. AS IF has enough of a history of binging in acts that expand our audience’s definition of what improv can be that our audiences expect they’ll see something different. This year, we invited Parallellogramophonograph from Austin, Texas because they have a chameleon-like ability to stage many forms of narrative improv. There are some groups in the pool right now that approach improv from interesting directions, and we hope there will be a few more troupes that sneak in at the deadline that blow us away.

Lots of whale pictures up on Facebook. Can you talk a little about the whale watching tours?

The past two years, we have contracted with Dolphin Jet Boat Tours to provide a whale watching charter at a discount rate. So many people who submit to AS IF are looking for The Alaskan Adventure and this is one way we can make that happen. Because AS IF happens a week before the tourist season, we have the jet boat all to ourselves and we get extra crew to help spot for whales,seals, and other creatures. This past year, they even sent out a scout boat for us so that we’d get to the whales that much quicker. The operators are huge fans of the festival as well and can be seen near the front wearing their vendor passes throughout much of the festival.

You travel to festivals pretty frequently, but many Alaska performers don’t get that chance. What are you hoping to expose local performers to at the festival this year. And what part of the local scene are you looking forward to showing the rest of the world?

More Alaskan performers are going to festivals now. Urban Yeti (from Anchorage) performed at both the Del Close Marathon and at Out of Bounds Comedy Festival in Austin. I was in the audience for the Out of Bounds set, and had a lot of joy watching them absolutely kill it in front of a full house at one of the largest festivals in the country. With our group, we have three self-described “dirty old ladies” who are performing as Seriously Obnoxious. Once they have their feet under them, they fully expect to be going to Outside festivals. Morally Improv-erished has some new cast members and are exploring different styles. We’ll see which one wins out by the time April rolls around.

ASIF is definitely a special festival in many ways. What makes this year’s special for those who have been there before?

Well, they probably learned that I make seafood dinners for the performers who come early or stay late. Maybe they stay an extra day or two this time. For those interested in Northwest coast art and culture, the Walter Sobeloff Center has opened and is available for tours. The building features a Tlingit longhouse and some exceptional art and history displays. Beyond that, they can expect more of our Alaskan hospitality, maybe seeing some sights they missed last time, and a festival that continues to improve every year.

Submissions are still open, but only for a few more hours. Be sure to submit today.


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

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