I met Bill Binder in an iO West Class over 10 years ago. He would drive from Arizona to LA to take his class each week and then drive back home the same night. He finished classes at iO and went back to Phoenix to help created the Phoenix Improv Festival and The Torch Theater.
My first ever improv festival was PIF in 2004. Among the improvisors there were such improv vets as Craig Cackowski and Jack McBrayer. I had no idea what an improv festival was or what it was even all about. But I have to say I was the luckiest improvisor alive to experience PIF. It really was a game changer for me as an improvisor and improv in general. It paved the way for a lot of things including NIN. Celebrating their 13th year as a festival I interviewed Executive Producer of PIF and Co-Founder of NIN Bill Binder about the upcoming festival:
You’re celebrating 13 years of the Phoenix Improv Festival. How does that feel and what are your goals this year?
Reflective. We have such a huge wonderful community, but some of us have been here since PIF 1. It’s interesting to see how the community and we, as people, have grown and changed in the past decade. We’ve learned so much and we’re always excited to have new people and ideas help it grow even more.
Logistically we have many internal goals that are related to growth. The last two years we played it a little safer than we had in the past because there were so many things going on in Phoenix. Dearing Studio and The Torch opened, NCT and Theater 168 both expanded. Weddings, babies. So much. But this year we can put a lot of our focus back on the festival growing again. We want to push our comfort levels a little. We’re right on the cusp of becoming a much bigger cultural event here.
Our other big goal is becoming another hub for communications between improvisors. Our first festival was designed solely to get the theatres in our town together to learn from each other. We’re really at a point where we can be doing that on a national level. If we’re all in one place, why not use that time to share ideas as theatre owners and festival organizers outside of just having shows?
What can improvisors expect at your festival outside of performances? Workshops? Conferences?
We’ll have a few workshops for sure this year. We haven’t nailed down exactly who yet. We will be bringing back the unconference this year after it’s success last year. Every festival has great discussions during after parties, but we’ve moved them into the daytime as well. Saturday afternoon will be set aside for organized discussions in the hotel on coaching, marketing, improv theory, you name it. Last year, the breakout panel was a discussion on gender issues in improv across the country. We’re really excited to be host to these conversations so that we can all grow.
We’ll also be having a photo shoot and probably a few other things to announce. Oh, and the after parties will be pretty great this year.
Talk about your venue? Where does PIF take place?
We love playing in The Herberger Theater Center. I honestly believe it’s the most beautiful venue in our state. We all love our respective theatres in town, but it’s nice once a year to dress up nicer and present our art to an audience that might not think to see improv otherwise.
What’s there to do in Phoenix?
It depends what you’re looking to do. Our venue is about 1/4 of a mile from Chase Field where the AZ Diamondbacks play. We’re also just south of The Phoenix Art Museum, Opera House and The Deck Park. There are plenty of good places to eat around Phoenix too. Visitors almost always love Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles and some folks want to go visit Pizzeria Bianco ever since Oprah named it The Best Pizza in America. (If you want to avoid the four hour wait, ask a local for the secret to get in fast). We are also in old-west territory, so we have plenty of mountains and deserts nearby for hiking and views. Of course, past festivals have shown that plenty of people just love hanging out at the pool or playing basketball at the hotel. (Did I mention we put all of our performers and instructors up in a hotel a block from the venue?)
What makes PIF different then any other festival?
Wow. That’s a great question. I think the big difference I see between PIF and other festivals which I love is that most festivals are really connected with the passionate people at a particular theatre in town. Phoenix takes more of a Green Bay Packers approach. I don’t think the people of Phoenix associate the festival with any particular group or theatre. It’s part of the cultural landscape of the city. People get excited talking about it eight months before it happens because they know it will be a celebration for everybody. As much as we use the festival to promote improv all over the city year round, people know the festival as part of this city’s traditions and they come out to see great art. We take that responsibility to heart to show them great art and that means treating our visitors like the artists they are. I know – as a traveling performer – that sometimes you feel a bit like a vagabond, but here you’re an artist. And I think that respect leads to great shows and great times. We still use one venue because if we invite you to come play, we want to see you. and we want other troupes to see you too. I was honored by the quote from Dave Hill in our local paper last year.
There are a couple of festivals that have been around for a while that have become a little more corporate, a little long in the tooth. And that’s why the PIF is so unique. It’s grown, but it feels like both a grass-roots and a big-time experience.
Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want!