There are lots of big festivals in the state of California. But a new festival is happening up in Lancaster and it’s producer has a lot of excitement to put Antelope Valley on the improv map. I had a chance to talk to Chris Calvin Murphy about the fest.
A lot of people aren’t familiar with Antelope Valley. Where exactly is it? What’s the area like, and what’s the improv like?
The Antelope Valley is located in the high desert of LA County, about 45 Minutes to an hour northeast of Los Angeles. It is made up of two main cities, Palmdale and Lancaster (Our festival is taking place in downtown Lancaster this year.), and has a a few smaller surrounding cities. The AV is a great change of pace from LA. A lot of actors and artists live in the Antelope Valley but, commute to LA each day. After working, auditioning, or rehearsing in the city all day coming back to the AV is a nice change of pace and stress reliever.
The improv scene is definitely starting to grow. There are a couple troupes that actively perform throughout the AV, my troupe the Comedy Illuminati being one of them, and we have been offering training programs to people interested. Antelope Valley College has a popular improv class, but, it is a bare bones beginners class. Our audiences grow every show we put on and there is a general consensus that the residents of the Antelope Valley want a larger thriving comedy and entertainment scene so they do not have to drive all the way to Los Angeles each weekend.
There are many improv festivals and theatres within driving distance of you. What have you learned from those scenes? What do you hope to bring of the greater California community to your area?
One festival in particular, the Coachella Valley Improv Festival ran by Jeannette Knight, gave us a lot of advice on how to run our festival, which because of our similar city’s and demographics has helped out quite a bit. One thing that keeps being ingrained into us is too treat the troupes and comics that are coming to our festival like Rock Stars. We want to give all of these talented, generous, and adventurous people the best weekend of their lives. We also hope that this paves the way to give our city what they have been craving: a strong and active comedy scene.
In contrast, what do you think Antelope Valley has that’s unique that you hope to show off to the rest of the state and the country? What should visiting performers take away from the festival?
The Antelope Valley is home to a LOT of incredible talent. While several of our members have trained at some of the notable training grounds in Los Angeles, like Groundlings, Second City, UCB, etc… a lot of the actors, comics, and improvisers out here have not had the luxury to. Often times the AV is looked down upon by people in Los Angeles because it is often thought of as a lower income area, which is for the most part true – – but that does not diminish the crazy scrappy talent that exists among these artists that are doing anything they can to get their voices heard. I would like visiting performers to take away the knowledge that they can accomplish whatever they put their minds to if they work hard enough. This festival was an extreme challenge, but, we have enjoyed every moment of it thus far.
What’s the venue like?
Our venue is the top floor of an art house cinema called the BLVD Cinemas. It does not have a traditional stage or feel to it, but, it plays host to several comedy shows every month. It is full of comfy leather couches and ottomans, and seats a little over 100 people. It also over looks the arts district of Downtown Lancaster. I think it is the perfect venue for our first year, it really has a great atmosphere and feel.
For visitors from out of town – both performers and audience members – what is there to do in Antelope Valley outside of the festival?
The AV is a great place to unwind and get away from the hubbub and stress of the city, that is not to say the AV is a small town. The AV is a great place to get connected to nature again. We would recommend a hike at the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve. The real treasure of the AV is The Blvd, the downtown arts district of Lancaster, there you will find some great art galleries and museums, delicious restaurants, cafes, and coffee shoppes, an array of unique and cool boutique shops, the Lancaster Performing Arts Center, and the BLVD Cinemas where our festival is taking place.
Being your first year, what do you hope to showcase to local audiences and performers? What do you hope will happen in Antelope Valley in the next year?
We would like to show local audiences how broad and unique the improv world is, and also how endearing and accepting the community is. We hope that this festival paves the way for a larger comedy scene and opens the door for other unique artistic opportunities locally.
If you had one word to describe what makes this festival unique, what would it be?
Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America.