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 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.