The Rubric

Looking Into a Festival Producer’s Mind, or How Do They Decide Who to Choose?

THE RUBRIC: Looking Into a Festival Producer’s Mind, or How Do They Decide Who to Choose?

In the years I’ve produced the Alaska State Improv Festival (AS IF), I’ve heard performers ask “What can I do to improve my submission?” I’ve also heard my fellow producers bemoan that their 1 to 5 judging scale leads to a massive swath of “3” scores from their reviewers, making it impossible to figure out whether an ensemble is in the 25th percentile or the 75th percentile of the submission pool. More rarely, I hear of a rubric that takes a background in advanced statistics to comprehend where even the person creating it can only hope that it reflects more than a mathematical curiosity.

We do things a little differently in Alaska. The way we review submissions has made it much easier for our production team to determine where in the pool each ensemble fits. By describing the AS IF way, I hope that it helps performers understand what goes on in the mind of a producer. I also hope it helps other producers create a meaningful rubric for their own submission review processes.

Our Rubric:

The AS IF production team has always valued variety as well as skill. This became central to our scoring rubric which is divided into four parts, each scored on a 1 to 5 scale (minimum score of 4; maximum score of 20).

Originality – Does the show contain original elements? If we read the description of your show and say, “We’ve never seen that before. This sounds great!” then you’ve done well on originality.

Execution of Concept – Does the show deliver on its intended premise? If the show is described as an improvised detective show in the style of Columbo but the video contains a montage of disconnected scenes, then you probably lost almost all of these points.

Marketability – Can we describe your show to a lay person in one or two sentences and get them excited to see it? Think of a show like Jill Bernard’s Drum Machine – It’s a one-woman improvised musical based on a historical event. Her accompanist is the Zoomtronic 123 drum machine. Two sentences, you know the gist of the show, and you want to buy a ticket.

Skill – Regardless of whether the show was original or delivered on its promise, was it skillfully performed?

What’s The Reasoning Behind the Rubric?

We decided early that we wanted to provide not only quality shows, but to a broad spectrum of shows to introduce our audience to what improv can be.

Instead of asking “On a scale of 1 to 5, how were they?” the four parts of the rubric force the reviewers to consider more deeply what the show’s strengths and weaknesses, and whether the show is a fit for AS IF.

How Does It Work in the Real World?

Our results have been remarkably consistent. Groups that have received scores above 15 have proven to be exceptional additions to the festival. Groups in the 13 to 15 range have mostly been either placed on the waitlist or accepted as “last group in.” A couple of these groups have underwhelmed, but several have flashed brilliance that was not seen on the submission video. Groups who score under 13 are generally not considered for inclusion

Most importantly, we have been able to retain a consistently high bar for the festival. The sets at the festival are of high quality, yet are quite varied in style, composition, geography, etc., and the whole package reflects the overall vision of AS IF.

Anything Else?

The numbers don’t tell the whole tale. There are times when a producer makes a choice that goes against the numbers. This can happen based on personal knowledge of the performers, a reference from a trusted insider, a desire to not have too many of a particular type of show, or just a gut instinct regarding whether the submission video reflects the ensemble’s ceiling or their floor. If you are a producer, you have a right and a responsibility to look beyond the numbers to include the acts that best represent the festival’s vision.

If you are a performer who is caught on the wrong end of a producer’s decision, please understand that the number of submissions often greatly exceeds the number of available slots and that in a different pool of submissions you may have made the cut. If there is a festival you have targeted and you have not been accepted, don’t presume that’s the end of the story. Submit with another video, submit with a different ensemble, ask the producer where the submission fell short – and be ready to take the hard note.

So that’s a look inside the head of a producer heading into the submission period. Alaska State Improv Festival is in its open submission period through the end of September, and we hope to see many of you join us in Alaska next April!


Eric Caldwell is the Producer of the Alaska State Improv Festival, entering its fifth year in 2017.

Spotlight on Improv Fest Oklahoma

The Improv Festival Oklahoma is celebrating its 8th year. I was able to interview them about what their festival is all about.

You’re celebrating your 8th Improv Festival Oklahoma this year. Tell us a little about the history of your festival.

Red Dirt Improv created Improv Festival Oklahoma in the summer of 2009. A handful of improv troupes were active in the Oklahoma City area, and we all decided to put on a coordinated weekend of shows with great improvisors visiting from out of town. We really wanted to raise awareness of improv in Oklahoma as well as meet other cool improvisers.

Over the course of eight years, Improv Festival Oklahoma has grown. Last year, OKC Improv began co-producing the festival with Red Dirt Improv. This partnership has infused a lot of passion and momentum into Improv Festival Oklahoma.

What do you look for in submissions?

Quality improv is number one. Everything about an improv act doesn’t translate perfectly into submission forms and videos, but that may be all we have to review! Ideally, troupe submission forms and videos will give us a good idea of what would be performed at IFO. Usually, a complete submission will give us what we need to decide.

We are also looking to showcase improv that is new to OKC audiences. Short form, long form, musical, duos, solos, ensemble groups, we like to see it all!

What will a team get if accepted?

Each accepted group will get 25 minutes of stage time and a week of early access to sign up for workshops. If seats are available, performers will be able to watch performances for free.

Improv Festival Oklahoma will host an after party each night of the festival. These after parties will be very close to the venue. These will be a great opportunity to eat, drink, and socialize. We love to show visiting improvisors a great time.

Tell us about what it’s like to visit Oklahoma City. What are some great highlights from the city?

Oklahoma City has a lot of great restaurants in Bricktown (very close to the venue), a nice zoo, casinos, and a variety of museums. We’d love to set up some early arrival / late departure group outings to some cool spots.

Will you be doing workshops at this festival and if so who can improvisors look forward to taking?

This year we have a number of great improv instructors including Rob Belushi and Jon Barinholtz.

Tell us about the venue that IFO has

IFO workshops and performances and will be held at the Paramount Theatre in Oklahoma City. This is a nice 50-seat theater near downtown OKC, so there is plenty to do before and after shows. OKC Improv has had great success hosting its recent shows in the venue and has been developing regular improv crowds.

For someone who has never heard or seen the OK improv scene. Tell us what you’re all about

The improv scene around Oklahoma City is full of fun, friendly, and passionate improvisors. On IFO weekend, that is amplified. It’s always fun seeing IFO’s regular return visitors and new faces. With IFO’s single venue and workshop space, we are certain participants will make lifelong improv friends over the course of the weekend.

Submissions are open until July 31st. Instantly submit HERE today!


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 a teacher an alum of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

ASIF – Review of The Alaska State Improv Festival

The Del Close Marathon. The Chicago Improv Festival. The Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival. The New York Improv Festival. The Boston Comedy Arts Festival.
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Chances are very likely that you’ve heard of these festivals, and probably attended at least two of them. I’m sure that you were exposed to an insane amount of improv troupes from around North America, and possibly Europe, and were blown away by the level of talent and variety featured at each of these festivals. I mean, how could you not be? There’s so much to see and experience. But here’s the thing about some of these mega-festivals: they’re so big and so intense that it becomes difficult to establish any sense of community amongst the improvisers that the typical performer’s e
xperience is to simply show up, get your performer’s pass, see a few shows, perform in your assigned time slot, and maybe see/do something in that city before it’s time to go home the next day.
Plus, one of the evils perpetuated in these types of mega-festivals is the illusion of status. Sure, some people/teams have achieved various levels of recognition be it through television, film, writing, talk shows, magazines, YouTube, or what-have-you, but there’s no opportunity to humanize them in any real way that matters because of the sheer amount of people attending these festivals. Sure, you might be able to go back to North Carolina and tell all of your friends that you got to tal13187866_10157629804150206_1747861823_nk with Jack McBrayer for five minutes, or that Amy Pohler accidentally spilled a drink on you in the Green Room. But where’s the humanity in that? Where’s the real life connection with another human being that matters? The answer is a simple one: The Alaska State Improv Festival!
Here’s one of the things that I love most about ASIF: Eric Caldwell, the festival producer, has been to so many festivals over the years that he knows exactly what to offer in terms of organization, variety, and community. Let me break it down for you.
Organization:
Once accepted to perform in the festival, Eric automatically adds you to the ASIF Facebook group where you receive updates and alerts in real time. I can’t stress enough how fantastic this is because it accomplishes a few things right off the bat: the ability to connect with other performers (both past and present), immediate and direct contact with the festival producer (what other festival can you say that about???), and pertinent information regarding the festival itself as questions arise.
Before the festival has even started, accommodations, rides to and from the airport, workshops, sight seeing tours, after parties, discounted performer “eats and drinks” hotspots, and other individual points of interest have all been worked out well in advance that you genuinely feel taken care of. This isn’t one of those festivals where you hope you are able to find a place to stay within budget that is within an Über ride of the venue. Nope. It’s all been taken care of for you!
13187872_10157629804100206_776965086_nAND on the back of your performer’s pass there is a schedule of all of the shows for the weekend so you can plan accordingly. Quite thoughtful.
And AND…for anyone performing in the festival, Eric has provided a webpage on the ASIF site specifically for improvisers providing information about all sorts of local grocery stores, restaurants, points of interest, workshop schedules, performance schedules, directions, phone numbers, maps, etc. It’s an amazing resource!
Variety:
There is so much about ASIF that I find outstanding that it becomes challenging where to start first. Let’s begin with the fact that you’re in Alaska’s capital performing improvised comedy! The landscapes are breathtaking, and are some of the most beautiful vistas I’ve ever seen (and I literally travel the world for a living)!
Then there’s the incredible talent that Eric is able to bring in from all over: Susan Messing, Amber Nash, Parallelogramophonograph, Pinque Pony, Scared Scriptless, Ranger Danger and the Danger Ranger, Nick Armstrong & Bill Binder, Pawn Takes Queen, and 1 Deep just to name a few off the top of my head. (There’s so many more that are going unmentioned that have absolutely blown me away! Seriously, everyone is just so, so talented!)
And that’s what is so great about this festival: A) the range of performances that you’d rarely get the opportunity to see again, and B) that you actually get to know the people behind the ensemble. What a rare blessing it is to actually have time to sit down to lunch with Susan Messing and talk about life! Which leads me into my last point about ASIF…
Community:
We, as improvisers, know the importance of community. It’s what strengthens us and brings us together both on stage and off. It’s what allows us to brainstorm new ideas and collaborate on projects. If it weren’t for these basic ideals there wouldn’t even be improvised comedy as we know it. We’d be fighting against each other constantly in the latest version of “The ME Show.” So why do we naturally gravitate towards perpetuating this idea that “my way is better”, or “I was taught the real way of improvising”? It’s silly and its destructive. But thankfully ASIF breaks those barriers down by creating a lot of community-building activities in which we get to really spend time together and appreciate other’s way of operation.
Exhibit A: The Whale Watching Boat Tour
When are you ever going to get this opportunity again in your life?! It’s incredible, it’s amazing, and it’s 100% worth it! I mean, come on?! It’s a boat full of rowdy improvisers! How could you not?! So much fun!
Exhibit B: The Mixer Jams
You know what’s even more fun than performing with your team? Performing with a group of extremely talented improvisers from all over everywhere in a completely bonkers show where literally anything can happen! So much fun!
Exhibit C: The Afterparties
Each night after the last run of shows, Eric has made arrangements for everyone to gather together at some of the local bars, restaurants, and local Juneau hotspots just for the sake of hanging out and getting to know each other better. Seriously, what mega-festival does that? Ok, ok…the Del Close Marathon does that. But it’s not open to all performers, AND it’s not an environment conducive to connecting with performers that you’ve never met before. ASIF is the very definition of bringing people together to celebrate this most amazing art form that we all love more than life. So much fun!
Exhibit D: Workshops
I’ve had the pleasure of learning from some of the improv “greats” in my time, and the workshops offered during ASIF are no exception. These master artists (and I refer to them as such) have taught me more about improv, the love of the art form, the creative nature of performing, and small technical approaches that I can apply in my own way than any other workshop I’ve ever taken in the past.
Plus, you’re learning/honing your craft amongst a mixed group of your peers, of whom you may never get the opportunity to perform with ever again. I’ve made so many special bonds with many of Juneau’s local improvisers that will stay with me forever! And I’m genuine in saying that I love these people. I love the connection that we created together. I love the pure joy of discovering things together while being directed and steered towards positivity, emotion, story, and humanity. These are some of my most cherished memories only available to me through ASIF’s magical ability to bring people together.
Special shout outs to Susan Messing, Parallelogramophonograph, and Rich Baker. So much fun!
The long and the short of it is that attending ASIF is like summer camp for adults. You make new friends, you experience new highs, you get to see some of the best performers in the world at the height of their game, and you get to experience Juneau, Alaska in a way that you truly will never be able to experience outside of the festival. It’s magical. It’s personal. It’s beautiful.
The Alaska State Improv Festival – the best festival I’ve ever attended! There, I said it.
Mike Brown
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Festival Spotlight – West Coast Musical Festival

The West Coast has it’s first dedicated festival to the musical improv arts and it’s in San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I had a chance to interview the Executive Producer of the festival Gemma Bulos here is what she had to say:

Tell what inspired you to create The West Coast Musical Improv Festival

As far as the Bay Area community, in recent years, musical improv started to get more popular and we just hit that tipping point and all of a sudden it exploded! Where only a few improv troupes were doing musical improv, now every Bay Area improv dojo is offering their own unique voice to the genre.

As far as Un-Scripted Theater Company, musical improv has always been part of the fabric of Un-Scripted. Every year we would have at least 2 musical shows and they were often the most popular. We’ve even done an all-musical season, and have created many original styles of musical improv, focusing on full-length improvised musicals in a variety of genres. Some favorites included A Tale of Two Genres (improvised Dickens genre mashup), Shakespeare: The Musical, and The Great Puppet Bollywood Musical. We’d performed at musical festivals in NY with the Magnet, at the SF Improv Festival, and it felt like the time was ripe to start celebrating our rich musical improv community in the Bay Area and around the country!

What can improvisors who submit expect from the festival?

It’s our first year, so we’ll have lots of local talent, since this may be the first time we all come together as a Bay Area community to celebrate musical improv. And of course we’ll invite musical improv pioneers and welcome national talent so we can share the love!

Will there be any workshops?

Yes, all the workshops will be musical improv. We’ll have national and local talent! Stay tuned! Also, we’re accepting submissions for workshop leaders.

What are you looking for in a musical improv group that submits?

Again, this is our first year, it’s been exciting to start exploring what we want our festival to feel like. We’ve been getting great advice from other festival producers who have been so generous with their wisdom. We’re looking for variety, uniqueness, playfulness, innovation, and fun fun fun! (Not in that order and not all at the same time!)

Tell us about the venue you’re performing in.

The venue is the Un-Scripted Theater just blocks from Union Square! For out of towners, it’s just minutes from the BART, right on the trolley line, and easy access to all the wonderful things our City by the Bay has to offer.

San Francisco is such a wonderful city. What are some things you recommend improvisors do while they’re there?

They should absolutely check out the active improv scene in SF, like our sister theaters BATS, Leela, and Endgames. There are tons of fun touristy things to do, like taking a cable car (leaving from Market St. near the theater and heading to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39), riding a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, and learning about S.F. history via free walking tours all over the city! Some local websites that can help you find offbeat activities include Broke-Ass Stuart, FunCheap SF, 7×7, and The Bold Italic.

If you’re a musical improv troupe you can submit HERE.


Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California, Yosemite and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West and The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops at theaters and festivals around the world.

Review of the Improvamonium in Rochester, NY

We reached out to our community to get some feedback on festivals. Here is a review of Improvamonium in Rochester, NY by attendee Ron Williams:

This festival was awesome! First, it was free to register. All you had to do was find a way to get to RIT. They put you on the poster for the event, so it makes your team feel super official. After arriving and finding the building (it started to snow on the way up), we were very happy to get 26 minutes to perform a set. A lot of the talent was local, and we were the only team from NYC. The college crowds are very receptive, and it was easily one of the best shows we’ve ever done.

Where to Stay: There is a hotel right next to RIT.

Where to eat: Plenty of bars right next to campus with burgers.

Overall, I’d do it again if the rest of my team wanted to. It was well run and the auditorium was huge (had to be over 200 seats).

 

Spotlight On Alaska

The Alaska State Improv Festival is back and you have one more day to submit. A lot of you know about the great festival, but if you’re on the fence. Here’s a little sneak peek as I interview Eric Caldwell, the festival’s producer.

ASIF continues to get some of the best word of mouth out there. Why do you think that is? What can first time performers expect if they come on up?

The production created the festival that we would want to attend. Every performer is offered a ride from the airport, and we always divert to the Mendenhall Glacier before going to the hotel. Once everyone has a chance to recover from the scenery, they experience McPhetres Hall – our performance venue. McPhetres Hall is a modern facility designed for theater with quality sound and lighting capacity in a beautiful natural cedar facility. It is clear to any performer walking into the facility that we are taking their presence seriously and giving them a gorgeous space in which to do their work.

Juneau has a very supportive audience that is open to all kinds of improv. What kinds of new shows are you hoping to bring up this year that might not have been in past festivals?

The production team always looks for quality and diversity. Any time we review a submission and say, “We’ve never seen that before!” we get excited. AS IF has enough of a history of binging in acts that expand our audience’s definition of what improv can be that our audiences expect they’ll see something different. This year, we invited Parallellogramophonograph from Austin, Texas because they have a chameleon-like ability to stage many forms of narrative improv. There are some groups in the pool right now that approach improv from interesting directions, and we hope there will be a few more troupes that sneak in at the deadline that blow us away.

Lots of whale pictures up on Facebook. Can you talk a little about the whale watching tours?

The past two years, we have contracted with Dolphin Jet Boat Tours to provide a whale watching charter at a discount rate. So many people who submit to AS IF are looking for The Alaskan Adventure and this is one way we can make that happen. Because AS IF happens a week before the tourist season, we have the jet boat all to ourselves and we get extra crew to help spot for whales,seals, and other creatures. This past year, they even sent out a scout boat for us so that we’d get to the whales that much quicker. The operators are huge fans of the festival as well and can be seen near the front wearing their vendor passes throughout much of the festival.

You travel to festivals pretty frequently, but many Alaska performers don’t get that chance. What are you hoping to expose local performers to at the festival this year. And what part of the local scene are you looking forward to showing the rest of the world?

More Alaskan performers are going to festivals now. Urban Yeti (from Anchorage) performed at both the Del Close Marathon and at Out of Bounds Comedy Festival in Austin. I was in the audience for the Out of Bounds set, and had a lot of joy watching them absolutely kill it in front of a full house at one of the largest festivals in the country. With our group, we have three self-described “dirty old ladies” who are performing as Seriously Obnoxious. Once they have their feet under them, they fully expect to be going to Outside festivals. Morally Improv-erished has some new cast members and are exploring different styles. We’ll see which one wins out by the time April rolls around.

ASIF is definitely a special festival in many ways. What makes this year’s special for those who have been there before?

Well, they probably learned that I make seafood dinners for the performers who come early or stay late. Maybe they stay an extra day or two this time. For those interested in Northwest coast art and culture, the Walter Sobeloff Center has opened and is available for tours. The building features a Tlingit longhouse and some exceptional art and history displays. Beyond that, they can expect more of our Alaskan hospitality, maybe seeing some sights they missed last time, and a festival that continues to improve every year.

Submissions are still open, but only for a few more hours. Be sure to submit today.


Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America.

Spotlight on Tampa

The Florida improv scene is growing faster and faster everyday partially due to the work of Nicholas Riggs and the Tampa improv scene. Their festival is coming up and I was able to interview Nicholas and get a little insiders look into the Tampa Improv Festival.

What do you look for when selecting a troupe?

We’re really big on stagecraft, but nothing gets us excited like innovative forms and radical ways to things that you see being done everywhere. Some of the best stuff we’ve all learned as performers involve breaking away from Harolds and Asssscats and pushing the boundaries of improv traditions. Since our local scene is relatively new, we pride ourselves in the originality and novelty of the teams we put on stage. That said, nothing can trump group dynamics. When the chemistry of your team comes through on video, you know it’s got to be something special to see live.

How did the festival come about?

In 2013 we were invited to a city-wide jam hosted by The Box, another local improv company. It was the first time we realized the tremendous potential of the Tampa improv scene. My roommate and I went home and riffed until 4am. We’d just got back from Gainesville Improv Festival and had a sense of the logistics, so the next day I woke up, built the website and put out a call for teams. We didn’t have a space or funding, we just knew we had to do. We produced the first one in a month and somehow drew folks from Boston, New York, Orlando and Miami, all now good friends of ours. The community spirit was so energizing we knew we had to do it annually, so last year, added workshops and more shows and brought in UCB TourCo to headline. This year, we’re working with SAK Comedy Lab, bringing down Jimmy Carrane to headliner, and we’ve been getting international submissions. We’re realizing that it’s grown into something way bigger than we thought it could and that people everywhere want to be part of it. We’re a big city with a small scene and the festival is our time every year to get all the Tampa improvisers together in one spot. None of us have any illusions about getting famous – we work regular jobs that we love and we do improv. There’s something about the tampa scene they stays connected to the roots of the art form. We all really just want an excuse to party and play together once a year, and that party is open to anyone from anywhere. That kind of wholehearted mentality rubs off on people.

What can an improvisor expect when they are accepted to your festival?

We learn a lot from every festival we attend and we have to give props to Atlanta Improv Festival and DuoFest because they do so many awesome things we’ve adopted. This year we’re driving folks back and forth from the airport, giving everyone TIF shirts, and doing post-performance podcast interviews. They’ll also get Bags ‘o’ Crap with fun stuff and FestPasses. In between shows they get to mingle and have drinks on our “improv beach” outside the theater. If any show gets sold out, they can also watch it live streamed on the porch. Finally, Saturday night will feature a live recording of Improv Nerd not to be missed and our afterparty spot at market on 7th will have cheap drinks, delicious pizza and live music. The theater, hotel and after party will all be in downtown Ybor, so they can walk to everything in minutes or take the TECO Line trolley.

What’s there to do in Tampa?

So…yeah. Ybor City is a strange and wonderful place. It’s where Fidel Castro got his start, the Cuban Sandwich was mastered, and the Church of Scientology took over the old Cigar factory that supplied the mob in the 20’s and 30’s. It’s also a hotspot for city festivals and street fairs, bars, pubs, and clubs at night, and great place for restaurants, farmer’s markets and coffee shops during the day. The best beaches in the world are 40 minutes away, and Busch Gardens, The Dali and The Chihuly Museumsare all up the road. To paraphrase Susan Messing, if you’re not having fun while you’re here, you’re the…

What workshop do you have to offer?

We are the luckiest people on the planet when it comes to workshops. Seriously, the badassery of our lineup this year is hard to explain. We had over instructor submissions from all over the world and we only had room for 3 workshops. Picking who and what was tough. What was easy was deciding to make the workshops cheap enough so you could take them all for under $100. On Saturday, John Windmueller from Washington Improv Theater will be teaching the Pretty Flower form, Magnet Theater alums Justin Peters and Kelly Buttermore will be teaching how to make choices based on love and appreciation, and Kevin Miller from Austin’s Merlin Works will be giving folks ways to play from the wings. And of course, Sunday morning ImprovNerd Jimmy Carrane will be teaching his award-winning Art of Slow Comedy workshop to a full room.

The Festival is November 5 – 8 so  submit today you only have a few days left!

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 and teacher at iO West as well as a teacher an alum of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

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.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Getting In and Attending Improv Festivals

So, it’s festival season, there are a lot to submit to now so I thought I’d write some do’s and don’ts about trying to get into a festival and what to do when you get into one.

Do –

1. Have a great unedited video! A lot of festivals want to see what they’re getting and they want to see your show. Tape a bunch of your shows and take one that you think represents your show the best. It’s better to have a few to choose from. Taping just one rarely works out. Also, if you do a festival and they tape your show get it from them.

2. Fill out all the information. Whether your a member on NIN or a Non-Member filling out their application. Fill it all in! They are asking for all the information for a reason. Don’t make them work harder to find it, because they have 100 other teams submitting that have it all filled out and you will get passed up.

3. Put some effort into your submission – Have a professional group photo, a team logo, make it look sexy. You want to make it easy for a festival to promote you. Remember they have to fill your seats so anything you can do to make that easier is amazing to a festival producer. Do you have press clippings? Give that to them too. This shows you care and that you mean business and a festival producer will see that.

4. Network – Have fun, go to the parties at a festival, thank the volunteers, the producers, the bartender. Go support other improvisors shows. It’s a great way to meet people and I can guarantee you, you will find someone there that does another festival or has been to one and can help you get into more.

5. Take Workshops – What a great way to get teachers you would not necessarily have in your community. Most of the time the festival is putting up good money to bring some master teachers out and not making a profit off of it. They do it more for you. So take them up on it and trust me you’ll come out a better improvisor. Plus you get to play with people from all over the country and it’s also a great way to network. I’ve met some great people taking workshops in the past

6. Send a thank you e-mail to the producers after the festival. And if they send out a survey, do it. It helps them tremendously to hear your input.

7. Wear appropriate clothing – Sometimes you should ask what the attire is at a festival, but really what it comes down to is professionalism. Probably not the best ideas to wear shorts and a t-shirt.

8. Ask for feedback – Did you not get accepted. It’s okay to e-mail and ask for advice on your submission. Also, reach out to us at NIN and we can always help give you advice on it.

Don’t –

1. Back out of a festival once you’ve said yes. Recently, there has been a string of this and I’ve heard gripings. If you say yes then you’re in. You have committed and the festival has already put you on the bill, promoting, made posters, programs etc. By quitting you have cost them money and now time to fill your spot. I can guarantee you will not be invited back and the community is a small one it gets around.

2. Submit your team of 7 people and show up with 3 or 4 or different improvisors. When you submit your team and they watch the video with those improvisors that’s who they are saying yes to. If you bring a different team of less then what you’ve promised that becomes a huge issue. Festival Producers go through a lot to try and promote a festival, pick teams and fill seats. Your job is to give them what was promised.

3. Be unprofessional – You’re representing your team and your theater. Show a little pride and make sure you show up to your calltime on time, do the show you promised and respect everyone that worked to get the festival going, don’t be drunk during your show. I know this sounds like common sense but I’ve seen it all.

So if you want to get into a festival, be invited back or go to more festivals these do’s and don’ts should help guide you on your way through the festival circuit. Just keep in mind, once you’re in a festival you are representing that festival to their audience and community. Happy traveling and submit away!

To submit to a festival instantly become a member at www.nationalimprovnetwork.com it’s free to join!

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 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.

 

Spotlight on Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival

The Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival enters its 13th year. The festival is held at iO West in Hollywood and is going to have a mix of celebrity shows and improv troupes from around the country even a 7 day improv show trying to break the world record! I was able to interview iO West Artistic Director James Grace about the fest:

NICK: It’s amazing to think it’s the 13th year of the festival. What are some of your favorite memories from the past 13 years of the fest.

JAMES: Each Festival we’ve had, there’s been such a joyful mix of beginners to comedy legends, performing, watching and celebrating the art form that has changed each of our lives, so it’s hard to choose only a few memories but I’ll try.

I loved the SNL vs MadTV shows from the first few years of the Fest, with cast members from each show “competing against each other” in one big montage; they were the ultimate example of collaboration.

I also love seeing the performers from outside of LA as they make connections and friendships during the course of Fest week and then seeing them return year after year. There are also some amazing local groups (who who seem to be at the Fest annually) which are some of the best improv groups of all time like; Beer Shark Mice, Opening Night! The Improvised Musical, Weirdass. The various casts from TV and film coming to improvise is always a thrill like, Community, The Office, Reno 911, Broken Lizard, The Sarah Silverman Program just to name a few. But I have to say, seeing Monty Python’s Eric Idle on our stage was like having the Beetles stop by, it was awesome!

NICK: What do you look for in a submission?

JAMES: With a submission, we are looking for the quality/experience of the group or person submitting and we are always looking for original and unique content to add to the Festival. Try to shoot and edit your submission videos as professionally as possible, so we can focus on your talent and not be distracted by sound or picture problems.

NICK: What can a troupe expect when getting into the festival?

JAMES: Troupes that get into the Festival, not only have the opportunity to perform for peers, comedy heroes and industry; they also have the opportunity to learn in workshops and panels from top instructors, comedy heroes and industry. On top of that they will get to see some of the best improv groups in the world, be a part of history, performing in the 7 Day Improv Show and make new connections and friends that will be with them for life. So I guess they can only expect a life changing experience!

NICK: What kind of workshops will you be offering at the fest?

JAMES: We will have a wide range of comedy workshops and focuses, from individual to group improv to casting to marketing your group and much more. There will be the chance to study with the top improv teachers in the country as well as workshops taught by special celebrity instructors. We will also have several panels at the Festival with topics beneficial for brand new improvisers to veteran performers as well as some special panels with casts of your favorite comedies giving a behind the scenes look into their show.

NICK: This year you’re having 4 competitions. Can you explain that and what do they win?

JAMES: The four competitions are a HAROLD COMPETITION, a DUO COMPETITION, a CAGE MATCH COMPETITION and a STAND UP COMPETITION.
For the HAROLD COMPETITION, two teams are given 25 minutes to perform their take on the classic improv form the Harold. Winning prizes include a showcase at the famous Comedy Central Stage at The Hudson Theater, a 4-week run on the iOWest Main Stage and more.

For the DUO COMPETITION, each two person team is given 25 minutes to improvise, battling against another two person team for the funniest set. The winning prizes include $200 and the opportunity to host a monthly Duo show on the iOWest Main Stage. For the CAGE MATCH COMPETITION two teams are given 20 minutes each to do whatever kind of improv they want. The lights will be cut at 20 minutes. Winning prizes include a showcase at the famous Comedy Central Stage at The Hudson Theater, a 4-week run on the iOWest Main Stage and more. For the STAND UP COMPETITION ten comics per each first round competition, 5 minutes each, and the top two comics chosen by audience vote each night go to the finals. Our Stand Up Competition finalists will get the opportunity to perform another 5 minutes with special guest headliners on the championship night. The winning prizes include $200 and the opportunity to host a monthly Stand Up show on the iOWest Main Stage.

All competition details are listed at http://ioimprov.com/west/festivals/annual-improv-comedy-festival/

NICK: There’s a 7-Day Improv Show! You guys are trying to break a world record. How did this all come about?

JAMES: This year as we looking to set the Guinness Book of World Records for Longest Continuous Improv Show (150 hours straight, starting 7pm Sun Aug 2nd -and ending 1am Sun Aug 9th) with our 7 Day Improv Show. This show will allow for more stage time opportunity for our Festival groups, in addition to their Festival showcase show.

This show was pitched to me by two performers from the iOWest Theater, Keith Saltojanes and Rob O’Connor and I loved the idea of so many improv groups getting to be a part of history, so we sat down and figured out the logistics of doing a show like this. We will be live streaming the whole show and I expect some extremely interesting improv to take place in those early morning slots. I can’t wait to see this show!

If you’d like to instantly submit to the LA Comedy Festival you can do so 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.

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