Spotlight on Denver

I’ve been to the Denver Improv Festival a few times now and it never disappoints. Not only is the festival amazing the city is pretty awesome to visit too. I had a chance to talk to Emily Coates, one of the producers of the festival about the upcoming Denver Improv Festival.

What are you most excited for in this years DIF?

I am super stoked about our headliners this year, and about one of the new festival venues that we’re using. 2015 should be the biggest DIF yet. The new venue and the headliners will be a big step forward for us and I’m really excited about what this step could do in terms of continuing to put Denver on the map as a great improv city. I’m also really excited about our sponsors. We have a new ticket sponsor – TicketsWest – and it feels very official to have a ticketing company come on board and give us their support. Sexpot Comedy and Denver Relief are also supporting us again this and they’re doing crazy fantastic work for comedy. All of these sponsors are serious about this festival and they believe in us. They inspire us to work even harder and to stay motivated.

I’ve been to this festival twice and loved it. The city is amazing. I’m addicted to One-Up Barcade. But I’m sure Denver has a lot more to offer, what can improvisors do in the city?

Denver is an awesome city. Besides hanging out with really cool and nice people, we have a lot to offer in terms of great weather, great breweries, cool music, unique art, and, of course, really killer comedy. You can see great comedy here any night of the week now pretty much and I think that’s amazing. There’s a lot of heart in our comedy scene.

What do you look for in a troupe submission?

Great energy and chemistry are big elements we look for in submission videos. Those are often, in my opinion, the elements that tend to make an improve set great. We also just look for solid sets in video submissions or buy views in YouTube with the help from https://themarketingheaven.com/. It could be that we know a team, and we know they’re capable of doing great work, but if the video they submitted isn’t as great, then they might not score as high. We also look for a strong opening and getting to the good moments right away. I personally am happy to see a set really pick up and do well toward the end, but, in general, we look for a strong start and consistency throughout.

What kind of workshops will DIF be offering this year?

I am really looking forward to our workshops this year. Plus, they’re going to be held at another new venue and I think that will add to the festival tremendously. We haven’t finalized everything just yet, but two of the workshops, that for sure are happening, are going to focus on forms and on characters. I’m so thrilled about our headliners teaching, and I’m really looking forward to having them share their experience and insight with us.

What is the current improv scene like in Denver these days?

The improv scene in Denver is rockin’ awesome right now. It’s growing and more and more people are getting into improv. You can see an improv show here almost any night of the week in Denver. That’s amazing! And many of our shows are definitely on par with what’s going up in places like New York and LA. This is also a loving community. I personally feel really supported here and I couldn’t ask for more as an artist.

If an improv troupe gets accepted what can they expect?

If a team is accepted to the DIF, and if they commit to coming out here, they can expect to have an awesome time. Denver truly has one of the best, if not the best, comedy scenes right now. They can expect to hang out with other awesome improvisers and comedians and to have a killer weekend. All of our performers and volunteers will get super cool stuff – like a DIF t-shirt, free beer and free pizza during and after shows, discounts and support from our sponsors, free breakfast burritos on workshop day, and more. They can also expect to feel a whole lot of love! We really care about this festival and about making everyone feel welcome. I personally feel very grateful for anyone who takes the time to come, so we want to do everything we can to make it worth it for them.

The festival takes place November 6-7, 2015. To submit 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 and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

A Mile High Achievement! A Review of The Denver Improv Festival

1086732_1383861295183501_1580790716_nDenver is named The Mile High City because its official elevation is exactly one mile or 5,280 feet (1,609.3 m) above sea level. And living a mile above sea level is a growing improv scene and bringing them together is The Denver Improv Festival run by the non-profit organization Group Mind Foundation. The Festival took place over one weekend in three venues The Voodoo Comedy Playhouse, Impulse Theater with workshops held at The Bovine Metropolis. The Festival Headliners were Convoy out of UCBLA, Switch Committee hailing from Chicago and MegaPowers from Los Angeles. The festival was pretty much sold out the entire time with audiences of 150 or more. It was a great and welcoming audience too! Each night ended with a party too for the public and improvisors. The one night found improvisors belting out Karaoke tunes at the Voodoo which was amazing.

One of the biggest differences I saw this year was DIF getting more sponsors. This was a goal of theirs and they made good. You never know how until you ask. And it seemed this year they were hugely successful getting donations monetarily and product-wise. Improv is a growing art in any community and festivals often times bring attention to the art form. It’s great to see that the Denver business community came together to help DIF happen this year. Also as a side note in the “Only in Denver” category a dispensary was also a sponsor. Ah Denver!

20-1up-arcade-bar-denverBeyond the parties DIF offered improvisors many great perks: Great hotel deals in an expensive hotel city, free beers and drink specials for performers and a pretty hefty gift bag filled with munchies. They really made improvisors feel welcomed. And one of the outside highlights of the festival is my annual trip to 1Up Barcade. It’s an arcade bar that houses games like Ninja Turtles four player edition, Track and Field and The Simpsons. A great place to bond with your fellow improvisors.

 

So if you enjoy community, a fun city with a great barcade and a welcoming group of improvisors I highly recommend you check out the ever growing Denver Improv Festival. Good time, great city!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups held in California and Pennsylvania every year. 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!

 

 

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.

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

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