Spotlight on Grand Rapids

A few years back, Big Little Comedy hosted an event in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That was the first chance a lot of improvisors got to experience improv in that city. Now Grand Rapids is hosting it’s own festival. I know from experience that Grand Rapids is a great place to visit, so I’m terribly excited about an improv festival and scene happening there. I got a chance to talk online with the festival’s producer Katie Fahey about the festival and what she hopes it will become.

Most people outside of the area don’t realize how big of a city Grand Rapids is? What’s the improv scene like out there. What gives it a unique voice?

One thing I love about GR’s improv scene is that it isn’t afraid to be experimental. There is a weekly event called Comedy Outlet Monday’s. It’s basically a big comedy experiment lab where people come to try out new ideas in front of an audience, and it has lead to some fantastic comedy! Everything from lights-off improv, comedic juggling, and nerdy ‘ted talks’ – there is so much talent, all ready to jump in and collaborate all of the time. We’ve got a really supportive improv community,ready to ‘yes and’ the heck out of anything you give them.

GR also has a lot of cool troupes that give back, and work towards bettering the community, we have an event planned that we’re very excited about called ‘Comedy- Beyond the Laughter’. It’s a panel highlighting 3 different groups in the community that use improv for healing, raising awareness, and giving back to the community.

Along the same lines, your audiences are going to be exposed to new things at the festival. What kinds of shows are you hoping to attract to showcase new kinds of improv to your audiences?

The Grand Rapids Improv Scene is rapidly developing, but it’s still finding its footing with all of the great things happening in Grand Rapids. The festival committee is hoping to attract some experienced long-form troupes, niche troupes, and really troupes from outside of GR to show our audiences what else, and other varieties of comedy are out there.

Why start a festival now? How do you think it will shape the future of Grand Rapids, both for performers and audiences?

Last year was our inaugural year, and it was a catalyst for the local improv scene, so many wonderful things and collaborations have formed in just a year since and we hope the festival keeps collaborations strong and the community working together.

We hope to expose our audiences to the many variations of improv, and hope they leave with a greater appreciation for the art of improvisation!

Michigan has a great history of improv; Detroit, Ferndale, Novi, Ann Arbor, Hamtramck, even Houghton. And of course, you’re not too far from great improv in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois (except for that pesky lake between you all). What are some of the things you admire from other festivals and shows that you hope to bring to Grand Rapids. And what are some of the things you feel are missing that you hope to bring to the scene?

Grand Rapids is a great place for improv. Our audiences have come to love and expect great things from all the acts in this area. But they may not yet be aware just how much variety there really is out there, and just how vast the scope of what “improv” really encompasses. We’re excited to bring the excitement and community love of improv to Grand Rapids that other festivals bring. We’re really focused on helping improvisors connect with other troupes, and work with new people while they’re here! We have several events that focus on this, especially our ‘Improv Chaos’ event, it’s a fantastic night of strangers becoming troupe members.

We’re also very lucky to have a Commedia de’ll Arte (one of or the oldest form of sketch improv, involves masks, many theatrical elements, and is just a super unique interesting art form) presence in GR, which we’re proud to highlight as part of the festival.

For performers visiting for the first time, what kinds of things are there to do around town when they’re not performing? Where are the best places to visit and eat?

Our performance venue is within walking distance of a thriving downtown, full of great art venues, theaters, ballet, museums, markets, restaurants, a zoo, and of course BEER! Grand Rapids is Beer City USA, after all, and you can’t leave here without sampling some of the finest suds our town has to offer!

Downtown, Eastown, Gaslight Village, and the Center of the Universe are all absolutely fabulous and unique neighborhoods to eat at in Grand Rapids.

We highly recomend: http://www.experiencegr.com/
to find exactly what you’re looking for.

What’s the venue like?

The Dog Story Theater, in downtown Grand Rapids, is a thrust stage with great sightlines and an intimate feel that allows for easy audience interaction. It has become an improv hub in Grand Rapids, and has some of the most welcoming staff/volunteers in town, perfect for improv!

Are there going to be activities outside of the shows for imporvisors to do? Workshops? Panels? Parties?

Yes all of the above!

Jams and Parties on the bookends of the festival 10/12 & 10/19 – along with some in-between that those accepted into the festival will know about!

Thursday is our night on the town-think Improv Bar Crawl, where you get entertainment at every bar

We’re having our awesome “Comedy- Beyond the laughter” panel on Saturday 10/17 at 4:00 pm highlighting how you can use Improv for healing, raising awareness, and creating community.

Workshops! Will be throughout the festival, but pretty heavy during the day on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the festival.

A festival can have a huge impact on the relationship between theatres in town and between performers and audiences. What would you like to see happen between this year’s festival and a year from now?

We’re hoping that the festival planning committee, can become a permanent entity going into next year. No Outlet Improv Troupe financially backed the last, and this years festival, but they’re planning on donating revenue raised this year to a festival committee that can make the festival self-sustaining into the future. Our ultimate goal is to be able to pay every troupe that performs!

One of the biggest draws for submissions for festivals is word of mouth. Of course, in your first year, there won’t be any past performers to spread the good word of your festival. People don’t know you yet. But if the festival goes as planned. What do you hope visitors will say about your festival?

We do have a certain amount of word of mouth from our small but successful first outing last year. The success of that has certainly led to many more local improvisers submitting and getting involved this year. Our hope for next year is that this year’s visiting troupes from Ferndale and Chicago and St Louis and all over, will return home and tell their communities about how great it is in our little corner of the globe, how supportive our community is, and how excited our audiences are to see everything they have to offer!

Submissions are only open until Midnight tonight (Eastern). Get on that and submit.


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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