Spotlight on The Omaha Improv Festival

The Omaha Improv Festival celebrates its third year. I love watching a small town improv community attract great teams and great instructors. Omaha has done that very successfully. It just goes to show that improv can be anywhere and can be successful anywhere. I was able to interview Dylan Rohde who is the Executive Producer of the festival and Backline Improv.

You’ve created quite a scene in a somewhat small community. What’s your secret? What are the challenges?

There have been many challenges. Whether it was people wanting short-form more at first, to people rejecting Game, to dealing with people who feel like outcasts within our community. Moving downtown was also a struggle as we were almost kicked out of our first location by the health inspector and had to move with no money, at the same time that improv and standup had split ways in the community (lately we have mostly gotten back together though.)

My top 3 secrets are, it’s 1. Community- I try really hard to create a scene that people want to be a part of, and I encourage everyone to hang out as often as I can. For most of the people at our theatre, we are all our best friends. I’ve always believed you can get higher by helping others up rather than stepping on them. 2. I try and be a great teacher. That sounds too broad, but I’ve always felt the best teachers are able to make their material easy to understand to their students. I also think it’s important to work with each student on their strengths and weaknesses. While I was the only teacher for a while, I didn’t want everyone to have the same sense of humor and style. I also believe anyone can be good at improv and refuse to give up on anyone. 3. 3-Line Openers. I don’t know why more schools don’t do these, but they are done every single week in class through our 6 levels except for a few weeks in one level. I also have a different thing to focus on each week, which allows me to cover more ground and link all exercises together on one focus. One week, each line has to be 1 word, then the next week, the first line has to be a vague statement, then the 2nd line gives the specific. This has helped immensely, everyone should do these. I did less 3-line openers in 4 years at 2 schools in LA than my students do by Level 3 here in Omaha.

What’s new to the festival this year?

We have 2 new great venues, and got rid of the worst venue from last year. They are all still very close and within walking distance. We also have the best lineup of shows that we’ve ever had. This is the first year that we have a lineup at Backline that is just straight up solid. It’s the first year that I went out of my way to specifically invite teams I wanted, and got them from the 3 surrounding large improv communities (KC, Denver, and Minneapolis.) Plus, our theatre is cooler, and our part of downtown has improved quite a bit.

What do you look for in a team that’s submitted?

My two biggest values in improv are Trust & Listening. I look for teams that are able to do these well if they want to play the main stage. If I hear over-talking, or someone not taking in information from their partner, then I know they won’t be a good fit. However, we do accept most teams and I try and give everyone the slot accordingly. This year has a much higher rate of quality teams submitting, though, so you should not be butt-hurt if you do not make the main stage. Especially specialty shows and one or two-person teams.

What can improvisors expect at your festival?

They should expect great workshops and shows, as well as a fun time hanging out and getting to know improvisers from all over the nation, especially our neighboring communities. This festival is for improvisers far more than it is for the general public. We want you to land from the airport and start having fun immediately, then not stop having fun till you board to leave again.

What’s some fun stuff to do in town?

Besides the Henry Doorly Zoo (possibly the best in the nation,) and the Old Market (which is right next to most of our events and is basically a large outdoor vintage mall,) we also have Taste of Omaha going on just 9 blocks away. It’s a Food & Music Festival that cost nothing to get in and listen to music, and the food is pretty cheap. This takes place right next to the Missouri River. This is also typically the best week in Nebraska, so the weather should be great for it.

Submissions are due by Sunday the 22nd. To submit instantly to this festival click HERE.


Nick Armstrong

Nick  is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also teaches improv throughout the country.

National Improv Network Partners with E-MPROV

The National Improv Network (NIN), a free online resource by improvisors for improvisors is partnering with E-MPROV, a website that puts on live improv shows with participants from all over the world via Google Hangout. The two online resources for improvisors are getting together to help promote and support the improv community even more.

The partnership will have NIN put E-MPROV’s live shows on their front page where there is currently older improv shows, NIN will still keep taped shows as a resource, but will be featured below the live E-MPROV shows. E-MPROV has daily shows from teams and performers from all around the world. In addition, Co-Founders Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder will be doing a live show “NIN’S Talkin’ Shop” every month. The show will have guests from improv leaders to business leaders and have a range of topics covering festivals, coaching, business and more. The community will have a chance to get their questions answered.

“Our mission has always been to bring our community together from day one,” said Nick Armstrong Co-Founder of National Improv Network. “E-MPROV has similar goals so we saw it as a natural fit.”

“We are very excited To Be Joining Forces With NIN To Promote Cross Pollination Between Improv Communities Worldwide,” said Amey Goerlich Artistic Director of E-MPROV. ” Since one of the purposes of NIN is to offer the opportunity to network with other improvisers and the primary purpose of E-MPROV is to have people improvise together over great distances, the collaboration seems obvious and we are thrilled.”

NIN continues to grow, and with the success of the instant submission service, which allows troupes to submit to improv festivals with the click of a button, they are going even further by sharing with improvisors even more resources like E-MPROV and also allowing teachers of improv the ability to submit their workshops to festivals all over the country.

About National Improv Network

National Improv Network is an online community and non-profit endeavor that brings improvisors together from all over the country and offers Theatre Owners, Festival Organizers, Improvisors and Instructors a wide array of services and resources.  Currently NIN has over 1600 members, over 80 festivals and over 70 theaters listed on the site.

About E-MPROV

E-MPROV is dedicated to embody and celebrate the principals of long form improv as an equal opportunity performance option to all. We are devoted to the widespread promotion of long form improv nationally and internationally. Combining electricity and improv to create a new way to universally connect to others through the power of Improvisation.

 

 

 

The Improv Movement is Upon Us!

On my way back to California from Camp Improv Utopia East over Labor Day weekend it all finally came together for me: The improv movement is here and is not going to stop. Recently, the bigger improv theaters, iO, Second City, The Annoyance and UCB have all embarked on getting bigger and better spaces. That tells you something about the state of improv when the big theaters are looking to grow. There are tons more improvisors than ever before. But guess what? It’s not just in the big cities.

Mostly overlooked is the improv movement that’s happening in our country and beyond. Pretty much every state has an improv theater or festival now. On our site alone we have 74 theaters listed, 80 festivals, over 700 improv troupes and over 1,300 members. Sure we have tons more work ahead of us, but we accept the challenge.

During camp I met, for the first time, many theaters and festivals I’ve never come in contact with like The Baltimore Improv Group, The Providence Improv Festival, District Improv Festival, Arcade Comedy Theater, Figment Theater, Philly Improv Theater (PHIT) and so many more. What makes me smile the most is that these improvisors, who work their 9 to 5 jobs accounting, administrating and waiting tables, have this inner passion that is screaming inside of them to go forth and make improv. Getting a space, in a pizza parlor, a bar, on the street…Wherever they can! They don’t see this as a financial endeavor but an improv endeavor. You see it radiating in their eyes when they talk to you about what they’re doing in their towns and how important it is, not to them, but to their cities and communities. They’ve discovered this great thing that makes them happy and they want to give it back.

That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the National Improv Network was founded on. That’s why we do all this. It isn’t for fame or money. It’s for us as a community. We want to be heard, we want everyone to know about this art-form and we will scream it to anyone that will listen. NIN is happy to do our small part in all of this, but we are here and improv is here throughout the country because of you! YES YOU! reading this right now! It’s for real now and it can’t be denied. And we want to get better at it, we want to do more with it and we want to connect like never before. The pieces of the improv puzzle are coming together. We still have work to do, there are still some bumps in the road but we have the passion, the numbers and the strength!

I’ll leave you with this. And this is what I say to my campers at the end of camp. Take what you’ve learned and go back to your communities. Help them grow. Share with everyone you can, help anyone you can and work together.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught improv workshops around the country.

Embrace Your Community

One of the biggest pieces of advice we can give about starting an improv theatre in a small town is you have to love your city. That may sound pretty simple or naïve, but stick with us here. What we mean is, you need to embrace everything about your town for good or bad. We live in a small rural town in Southern Utah called Cedar City. At first glance it might not seem like the kind of place an improv theatre would do well in. It’s the kind of town where nothing is open on Sunday or after 10pm on the weekdays. However, it’s home to a University and has a small but thriving arts community. We used all this to our advantage. We took all the negatives and turned them into positives. For example, one of the biggest negatives about our small town is the fact that choices are limited. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard people say, “there’s nothing to do in Cedar City.” The advantage this gave us is we created something to do that quickly became a staple of entertainment, especially for the University students. Now when we hear someone say there’s nothing to do, we say, “have you ever seen Off the Cuff?” Another negative of our small town is they tend to fear change. This is where patience paid off big time for us. While the University students were quick to welcome us the town itself was a little reluctant. We realized that this feeling all came from a fierce loyalty to Cedar and we needed to prove ourselves. We accomplished this in two ways. We stuck around and continued to grow and we got involved in our community. Getting involved was huge. We do workshops with the local high schools, we volunteer at city events, we participate in the parades, and we get our name out there. It took a while, but we’ve been able to form connections and friendships that have helped us out more than we say. The more involved in your community you can be and the more you support local businesses the more they will, in turn, support you.

Go outside your town and network.

The great advantage to living when we do is how easily we can access information. It’s so easy to see amazing improv and find a lot of great information on the web that can help you stay current and fresh with your improv and always keep you moving forward. Off the Cuff has benefited so much from taking opportunities like the National Improv Network and Camp Improv Utopia. As a small community these types of things allow us to get connected and make our community better. Nick’s post about a rising tide raises all ships is very true for us. The more the word about improv gets out and the success of improvisors gets more mainstream smaller communities will grow and larger communities will prosper.  This is a huge. It’s really easy for your troupe to fall into patterns that limit growth, especially when the only improv you see is each other. OTC makes it a point to go outside our community as much as we can. We love to travel to festivals and theatres to see other shows so we can broaden our horizon. This is crucial, it’s so easy to get stuck in a rut and become complacent when you’re the only gig in town. In order for you to remain current you need to see what else is out there, take every opportunity to go to a festival, watch shows in person, meet other improvisers, take workshops so you can bring back to your theatre the best information out there. Through this you’ll also meet the most incredibly talented and giving people in the world who are so eager to help you in anyway they can. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and take advantage of the knowledge of those who have been through professional training and love improv as much as you do, they are so happy and willing to help. Off the Cuff would not be where it is today if it wasn’t for some amazing people that have helped us in so many ways and those people accepting us with open arms into their communities thus making our community bigger and better.

Strive to be better and be proud of who you are.

As a small community, NEVER become complacent. You have to drive yourself to want to improve and practice. Just because you might be the only improv group and the area doesn’t mean you are the best. Keep your ego in check, which sometimes in a smaller community might be harder because the audience only sees you perform and doesn’t have all the options a larger community might have. At the same time, don’t let your ego tell you the opposite that your group doesn’t know what they are doing and improv in larger communities is better just because it’s from a bigger city. Be proud of your work. There is a term called “farm-prov” thrown around in larger communities that refers to improv groups from smaller communities. “Oh great, here’s another farm-prov group from nowhere.” Embrace that term! WE ARE FARM-PROV! Watch us take that suggestion, help it grow into characters, relationships, themes and scenework and harvest the laughter! (By the way does anyone want to go to festivals as a group called farm-prov and dress up like hillbillies and totally kill a show with us?) Small communities rock! That being said, we are all part of a larger community and the more we as improvisors, theatres, festivals, friend’s, and foes embrace this it’ll do nothing but grow.

Make goals that are realistic and be ready to go beyond them.

We always have a clear vision of what we want to accomplish and what we think we can accomplish. We budget our money wisely and think business decisions through thoroughly. When we set goals for OTC we make two lists: what we want to accomplish and what we know we can accomplish. Both remain on the table at all times. We first try to accomplish the goals we know we can. We make it a point to not put the cart before the horse. That being said, in a small town you have to create opportunity for yourself and this requires doing some things before you’re ready. If we tried to accomplish only what we thought we could, we would never be as far as we are now. For example, when we decided we wanted to host a festival, we had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t live in a big town where there are already improv festivals or even festivals close by. We had never run a festival before and had only participated in one. We asked for advice from people we knew who went to festivals often and we went for it. We had no clue how to accomplish that goal but had we waited until we were ready, there wouldn’t be a Red Rocks Improv Festival at all. We always think ahead to next year, we never close ourselves off to the option of changing the festival, and this mentality has helped us improve. Each year our festival gets bigger and we learn more about what we can do to make it the best it can be. We remain flexible and ready to change but always have a vision and a concrete idea. Remember that there are amazing opportunities out there. You might have to look a little harder for them and work a little harder to make them happen but it’ll pay off.  In a small town where improv is not established, you’re going to be the first to do a lot of the things. Being the first at anything requires a huge leap that takes quite a bit of courage and faith. You have to take the leap and learn how to fall as you’re falling. Creating an amazing strong improv community in a small town is a lot like doing improv, first you say yes then you figure it out as you go.

Guest Bloggers: TJ and Wendy Penrod

Tj and Wendy are the Founders and Artistic Directors of Off The Cuff Improvisation in Cedar City, Utah. In January of 2014 they will be celebrating 10 years as a company and this year marked their 4th Annual Red Rocks Improv Festival which has attracted troupes from all over the country to their small town.

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Bottle Us Up…You Could Make a Fortune!

HappinessinabottleI’m blown away! That’s right blown the freak away! The third year of Camp Improv Utopia happened over Memorial Weekend and I still have a smile on my face that seems to be tattooed there forever. Why? Because of the campers and the community that has been built.

I mostly perform at iO West in Los Angeles which has one of the best improv communities and still does. But what camp does is it brings people from all over the country, sometimes even other countries, and brings them all together for one weekend to share the same passion, philosophies and yes and attitude. Chef Rick, who makes amazing food there said it best, “If I could bottle up the joy and happiness you guys bring to this place I’d be rich.” He will be selling these bottles on Amazon.

When Del and the Committee brought long-form into reality back in the 60’s I’m sure they never thought how big it would grow and how it would build such a huge and awesome group of positive people. A group of people that say yes. What a concept. A group of people who accept you with open arms even if they’ve never met you and will support you, what other industry does this happen in? Certainly not at my old corporate job.

One of the campers who came from Florida said, “I flew to California on Friday morning knowing one person that would be at this camp and left Monday feeling as if I’d just had a reunion with 100 good friends.”

I wish this event could be televised on every channel in the world, so people could watch people getting along, being positive and supporting each other. I think the world could learn a thing or two from Improvisors.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Improvisor and Writer living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick is currently on AMC’s Story Notes and has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Parks and Recreation. Recently, Nick received a development deal for a TV Show he created for A&E.

Onstage Nick has trained at The Groundlings and iO West. You can catch him performing regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA on the famed genre-based group Kind Strangers and LA’s Longest and Critically Acclaimed Harold Team King Ten. Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community

Improv is Spreading Like a Wildfire

boise-wildfire_91_600x450Gone are the days of major cities owning all of improv. Those days are gone just like rotary telephones and one dollar gas. The improv community in the United States reaches far and wide now. Last year alone, I was able to visit improv communities in Phoenix, AZ (The Torch Theatre/NCT Phoenix), San Francisco (SF Improv Festival), Roseville, CA (Blacktop Comedy Theatre), Detroit, MI (Detroit Improv Festival/Go Theatre, Denver, CO (Voodoo Comedy Lounge, Group Mind Foundation, Bovine Metropolis Theatre), Cedar City, UT (Off The Cuff Improvisation) Los Angeles, CA (iO/LA Improv Festival) and last but not least Camp Improv Utopia in California. These are just some of the ones that are out there now there are a ton more.

 

It was mind blowing to see the great work being done in other cities that aren’t Chicago, LA or NYC. I was almost envious at some of the stuff that these groups were doing. Taking it to the next level, experimenting and taking huge risks. Sure sometimes it fell flat on its face but other times it was brilliant. Such is improv. We are wrong to think that the best improv can only be done in the bigger improv cities. That’s just naïve. There is great work being done outside the walls of those great cities and I’ve seen it and am continually impressed by it.

 

I think there is a lot we can learn from these thirsty improv communities too. Passion, commitment to the art form and taking risks. It seems that improv in Chicago, LA and NYC are more focused on industry vetting then experimenting and growing. And it’s not their fault. Improv has become and industry standard in the casting and TV world. They come and take players and writers from these institutions all the time so it’s going to attract that kind of student, writer and performer. And they should because there is some amazing talent there. But it also makes it extra hard to have time to rehearse, experiment and do something new because the focus is elsewhere.

 

I leave you with this, Del Close said to treat your audience like poets and scholars. Shouldn’t we still honor that no matter what? Improv means it’s all about taking risks and making bold choices, so shouldn’t we live that way too? If people didn’t grow their art we would have only been introduced to Picasso’s Blue Period, The Beatles cover songs and the Harold. We would have never had the chance to see Picasso’s Cubism Period, The Beatles own material or forms like the JTS Brown and the Deconstruction.

 

Be bold, follow your fear and see improv everywhere!

Written by: Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Writer, Improviser and Director living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office, Parks and Recreation and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made regular appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Onstage you can catch Nick performing and teaching regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA with LA’s Best Harold Team King Ten and The touring Genre-Improvised Show Kind Strangers. Nick has also trained at the famed Groundlings Theater. He is the Founder and Camp Director of Improv Utopia an annual camp for improvisers. For more information visit www.nickarmstrong.com orwww.improvutopia.com

Welcome to the National Improv Network!

62116_451764218228461_1211590182_nHi there! Thanks for being a part of National Improv Network. If this is your first introduction, welcome! If it’s your tenth, thank you for stopping by again. The site was created by improvisers for improvisers with the idea that we want you to succeed in every aspect of your theatre from performances to the business end.

We recognize that the improv community is growing. There is now a troupe or theatre in every major city in the United States. Several wonderful, new improv festivals have popped up across the country in the past few years.

We want to connect you to them. We want the improv community not to be defined by state lines, but by one community linked together, expanding the art form and growing it into a national scene.

For those already in the improv community, whether as a performer or as an avid audience member, we know that improv is great and a true art. We at National Improv Network want the general public to see it the same way. Right now, improv is not widely recognized as competing with stand-up, sketch or theatre. We want to help raise the visibility of improv to the general public. We feel that if we can get a national effort and raise the awareness of improv that in turn provide more opportunities to perform, bring more customers to our venues and help your local improv theatre grow.

Please consider us a resource for you. To help you grow, to connect you to the greater improv community. Everything we roll out is designed to help you grow internally and externally. We believe that together we are better, just like an improv ensemble but on a national level.

Nick Armstrong, Bill Binder and Kate Anderson

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