Spotlight On: Denver Improv Festival

DIF_LogoThere are plenty of festivals going on this year. Sometimes it can be tough to decide on which festivals to submit to without knowing much about the city or its festival. This is the first of hopefully many interviews with festival producers around the country to provide a little peek into what visiting their festival might be like.

David Schultz is one of the many members of The GroupMind Foundation, the non-profit organization which produces the festival. I was fortunate to get in a little time with him between producing shows and planning the festival along with the other members of GroupMind.

The Denver Improv Festival kind of disappeared a few years ago and then re-emerged. What motivated the re-launch of the festival? What were the hopes for what the new festival would become?

Well, I guess there are two answers to that first question. First, the improv scene in Denver really began to mature 3-4 years ago, which brought a renewed interest in doing a festival. It seemed like a great time to bring it back. There were new theaters opening, new training centers picking up steam, and the scene was really taking off. Secondly, the Denver Improv Festival is organized by the GroupMind Foundation, which is a non-profit organization. Because of the lapse in doing a festival, we needed to bring it back to maintain our non-profit status. That may have been the last nudge we needed, but it was a nudge precisely when the scene was ready for it. Our hopes were pretty simple – bring the festival back and try to get better every year.

What are your goals for the 2013 festival?

Above all else, our goal is to bring the whole Denver improv community together to celebrate how far we’ve come, and enjoy each others company. Of course, there are some goals that we have every year – put on great shows, show the best of Denver improv, bring in talent from other cities to expose locals to other styles, and have as much fun as possible. GroupMind also has some boring goals this year like better utilizing corporate sponsorship, keeping our headliners as happy as possible, and filling all of our workshops. Everyone seemed to have such a blast last year – so my general goal this year is to not screw things up too much.

There are a lot of great theatres in Denver with very different philosophies. How does that variety shape the Denver Improv Scene?

A lot of the theaters and training centers are relatively new and their viewpoints are so different. Because of that, a lot of improvisers have gone through the curriculum of two or three different theaters. That exposes them to different points of view and let’s them find a style/technique/form that they really connect with, and they can take ideas from all of the programs. As a result, we’re seeing a lot of good teams that aren’t house teams tied to one theater. I’d like to see more of that. A new venture called “Red Rover” was organized by Justin Franzen at the Voodoo, and quarterly they put on a show where several of the training centers bring on a current class to perform and represent their style, and the night wraps up with instructors from all centers performing together. It’s neat to see, and shows the diversity between training centers.

Outside of a performance, what else can performers expect? Will you have any master workshops? Or unique workshops? Will there be any other organized activities?

We are finalizing our workshop lineup over the next couple weeks, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself in terms of content. One thing I will say is that we are doing fewer workshops this year, and limiting them to the headliners. In years past, we also included local workshops. In retrospect, that diluted the training pool a bit and made it hard to fill up classes. This year headliners get better numbers, and we can teach local workshops at a time when they aren’t competing with headliners. In terms of organized activities, we’ll be doing after parties – these were a TON of fun last year. Look for karaoke too. One of my favorite memories last year was walking into an 80 seat theater at 1am and seeing every seat full as karaoke was going on.

For those who haven’t been to Denver, what are some of the things people can check out in the city during the day? Where’s the best place to get breakfast near the festival?

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Pineapple pancakes

All the venues under consideration are located downtown, and downtown Denver is very walkable. If you are a fan of craft beer, you couldn’t be in a better spot. Also, one of the favorite destinations was a bar called the 1-Up. It’s great because it is jam packed with old school video games and pinball machines. It’s a blast, and for .25 it can be pretty cheap. I think Nick Armstrong got severe forearm cramps playing Track & Field last year. If you have transportation, Denver is only a quick drive to amazing outdoorsy stuff like Red Rocks, the turning of the Aspen, and Casa Bonita. As far as breakfast, the big hits last year were Hi Rise Bakery and Snooze – home of the delicious Pineapple Upside Down Pancakes. I pride myself on recommending places to go, so anyone who makes it out this year can hit me up and I’ll point them in the right direction.

You’ve been to many festivals and experience the good and bad. What are you bringing to DIF that you’ve discovered at other festivals? What are you hoping to provide at DIF that people haven’t experienced before?

I actually haven’t been to too many myself, but I did just return from the Detroit Improv Festival and boy do those folks know how to organize. I was taking lots of notes, although I don’t even dream to match their scale this year. What I would like to provide is a real sense of community, and allow troupes from other scenes to mingle and share ideas. We aren’t a huge festival, and I see that as a good thing and allows for more intimacy. Last year people really mingled at the after parties and it was an absolute blast. I want to bring everybody together, display great improv, and leave everyone with a smile on the face. Hopefully that word of mouth spreads, and more people want to come next year.

Submissions for The Denver Improv Festival are open now, but they’re closing soon. You can submit your troupe right now on the submission page. If you’d like more information on The Festival or The GroupMind Foundation, you can visit the festival website or drop a message to David directly here on the site.

The GroupMind Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3)organization whose purpose is to enrich, educate and entertain our community in the art of improv. It will work toward this mission through educational outreach programs for local schools, the Denver Improv Festival, and various performance and skill workshops.

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