Spotlight on Improv Fest Ireland

NIN has welcomed our first ever international festival to use our instant submission service, that festival is the Improv Fest Ireland. We were able to interview Neil Curran, who runs the festival in Dublin. Here is what he had to say:

What is the biggest difference you see between the US an Ireland when it comes to improv.

The improv scene in Ireland has been growing rapidly in recent years and long form is becoming more and more popular.  While the long form scene is still in its infancy, there are wonderfully talented performers and troupes emerging around the country.  I’m quite passionate about community in improv and its a joy to see other troupes embrace this notion as we witness more and more jam nights and shared stage events.  We don’t have a dedicated improv theatre in Dublin yet but more and more venues are opening their doors and embracing the art form.  While our excellent stand up scene dominates the comedy circuit, the improv community is working hard to forge our own personality in the arts and comedy community.  And this makes it a great time to be part of the improv scene here.  Improvisers are learning their art from many improv instructors, locally and also through visiting international instructors.  This is empowering performers to create their own style of improv, taking elements of what works for them from each instructor rather than abiding the style of one instructor or theatre.  For example, troupes are creating their own formats or personalising established formats and also blend game work with narrative.

For folks coming out of the country will you have hotel room blocks or how will you help them with housing?

We will have an accommodation partner for the festival where discounted hostel rooms will be available for performers.  There is no short supply of accommodation options in Dublin.

What workshops can improvisors look forward to?

We haven’t confirmed the instructors yet for the festival as the application window is still open, but we have been overwhelmed by the call for instructor applications.  As with previous years, we will be offering a diverse range of workshops catering for improvisers at all levels.  There will also be coaching opportunities where troupes can work with an instructor.  For example, last year we had instructors from Second City teaching character workshops through real people, an instructor from Sicily teaching about being physical in improv, to name but a few.

What venue is the festival at?

Since the festival’s inception, the festival’s home has been Dublin’s iconic Theatre @ 36 in the heart of the city.  However with the growth of the festival last year we are also in discussion with additional spaces that can cater for the prime time shows and the audience sizes they attract.  I can’t say the venue names yet but needless to say its another iconic space in the heart of the city.  Dublin is a small city by international standards with a population of less than 2 million, but what we don’t have in size we make up for in our rich culture and history

What are some fun things to do in Dublin?

There is no shortage of things to do in Dublin and the best part is everything can be either walked to or travelled to on a short bus/Luas (tram) journey.  Famous for Guinness, Dublin is home to many great pubs and bars.
The Guinness Storehouse tour is a fun way to find out the magic behind how they make a pint of the ‘black stuff’.Trinity College is our most famous college and is home to the Book of Kells which was found in an Irish monastery in the 6th century.  The book is housed in the “Old Library’ which is a sight to behold in itself.
The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl is very popular, and has storytelling guides take you on a tour of some of Dublin’s best pubs where you can stop off for a pint in each one while they recite famous stories and tales, some written by Ireland’s finest writers.The Leprechaun Museum might sound like something for the kids but at night, her interactive story telling tours bring us to the dark side of Irish folklore.We’re only scratching the surface here but its just a small insight into all the great things the city has to offer.

If a troupe gets into your fest? What can they expect?

A troupe can expect to be part of a festival in one of World’s most friendliest and fun cities.  The festival runs for a week and we will have shows and jams from all over the world.  There will be learning opportunities from world class instructor,  jams and mixer shows with talented performers from other troupes.  Last year we had performers from 13 different countries!  Troupes also receive a strong box office split for their professional performances.  But probably most important of all, is the highly coveting Improv Fest Ireland goodie bag.

What do you look for in a submission?

Programming the festival line up is a very difficult process and we really want all troupes to submit the best application they can.  Things for troupes to think about:
* What separates your application from the rest?
* What makes your show special?
* Do you have a unique genre show?
* Does your troupe have a particular strength?
* Is your show unusual or unique in format and setting?
* Does your application give a good sense of your troupe’s personality?
* Have you video footage you can share?

As someone who has been to Dublin, I can say Neil is right, it’s one of the friendliest and fun cities to go to. If you get a chance go! To instantly submit to the Improv Fest Ireland click HERE.

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv camp 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 Improvaganza

Improvaganza is celebrating a decade of putting on a festival in Honolulu, Hawaii. In addition to being in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, it’s also one of the most well organized and welcoming festivals in the Western Hemisphere. I was fortunate to attend the festival five times and I highly recommend visiting. It’s a bit of a larger trip than many festivals, but it’s one that will almost certainly spur your growth as a performer and a troupe and introduce you to some lovely improv. I had a chance to talk to Producer Garrick Paikai this week and talk about the festival.

I’ve spoken up the festival many times and the response is almost always, “Well sure, Hawaii is beautiful.” But the festival is about so much more than that. Could you talk a bit about the philosophy of the improv scene in Oahu and the goals of the festival?

“Aloha” and “Ohana” if you hear those words you immediately think of “Disney’s Lilo and Stitch.” or words on a post card from Hawaii. But to the people who live in Hawaii they mean so much more. Roughly translated Ohana Means “Family” and Aloha means…. well it means Aloha… We say it as a greeting and in departing, we say it describe how we feel we about one another, but more so it’s a word of affection and warmth. “Aloha” and “Ohana” is two words that describe our culture here and our im[prov scene. We improvise with aloha (Love and Affection) and we believe all improvisers from all over the world are our Ohana (Family.) That’s what we want every single persons who participates in our festival to feel. From those who apply to our festival this year, to those who have been a part of our festival in the past, to every audience member who comes out to watch the festival; Improvaganza strives to make people feel like family.

A couple years back, you focused on forms other than Harold. Almost every year, you try to showcase certain kinds of shows to your audiences. What kinds of shows are you looking for in 2015?

Part of our mission statement is show case a diversity of improv shows and formats. We want to see what people can create with improv as an art form. in the past we had an improvised rock band, an improvised puppet show, even contact improv dance. This years we are looking to feature improvised plays and genre-prov groups. There are so many up and coming groups around the country whose focus is creating full on improvised narrative plays with costumes and small set pieces and other groups who specializes in creating and performing a particular genre of work. we would like to feature those groups this year. Don’t get me wrong.. if you have a kick-ass Harold or short form show we want you to apply too. again its all about diversity of improv shows.

DSC_0321A lot of people’s idea of Honolulu is limited to pictures of Waikiki, but there’s a lot going on all over the city, and right in the area where the festival is. What are some of the things visiting performers could see and do during their stay?

Oahu has a lot to offer other than Waikiki, First of all its no joke Oahu is beautiful. During the days I highly recommend checking out our beaches and hiking trails. Most times our local improvisers will offer to take visiting improvisers to there favorite beaches or hiking trails. Then there is the Food. if you haven’t tried local and Hawaiian food you are missing out. Again our local improvisers have no problem taking you to some of there favorite food joints. We have these great adventure tours like the pirate ship tour where you travel along the diamond head cost in pirate ship. its a lot of fun. then there’s Red Light District tour which offers to take you around some of The Chinatown infamous landmarks with storys of its history The Red Light District tours are quite popular and has even been featured in the Huffington post.. The Aloha Festival is usually going on at the same time so there is usually a parade in Honolulu as well.

One reason people are sometimes hesitant to submit to Improvaganza is that airfare is steeper than for many other cities. What are realistic expectations for the expense of visiting?

Yeah that’s a big expense and finding a good place to stay is a challenge too. its true for us leaving the state to be a part of another festival as well. traveling to and from Hawaii is expensive. Depending where you are traveling from the cost differs. You can find round trip flight s for under $500 and and you can find places to stay like for $80 a night. Other than that I want to say that the average flight down here is between $500 and $600. We try to help folks out, by researching good hotel rate for them. We also suggest that groups check out air bnb or similar sites because often renting a vacation rental house is cheaper than the hotels (especially if you have a large group).

DSC_0332What are some of the best places to eat around the festival? Also, please explain Haupia pie.

JJ Dolan’s has great pizza and is always a favorite of our festival patrons. Lucky Belly has great ramen and their new sister restaurant Livestock Tavern has unique dishes like zucchini bread pudding, beef tongue sandwiches and persimmon salads. Downbeat Diner has great diner food but also has vegetarian options for almost everything on their menu. One of the newest places people like to eat, drink, and hangout is Bethel Street Tap Room which has great hoagies, salads served in mason jars, and some of the best cupcakes in town. Wing Ice Cream has some of the best home made ice cream I’ve ever tasted. Each week they come up with special flavors like lavender and basil, mango haupia, etc. You must try it. Oh and we’re in Chinatown so there are a number of Chinese restaurants near by. These are just a few of the great places to eat near by. Ask any of our local improvisers and you’ll get tons of suggestions of places to eat based on whatever you happen to feel like eating that day.

Haupia Pie is basically a coconut cream pie. Haupia is a traditional Hawaiian desert. A creamy coconut pudding with a gelatin consistency made with coconut milk. Creamy coconut goodness.

What activities outside of shows will be part of the festival this year?

After Party! There nothing like a good after party after each run of shows. We do have an Aloha Friday after party, where we invite folks to where aloha shirts and dresses, We have a pot luck on Saturday night. and there is a Karaoke schedule party schedule this year too. One of the highlight for me is the annual Mash Up on our closing night of shows. the Mash up is a jam session where all our performers are put into random teams and asked to create a show together in 15 minutes. then they perform it in 15 minutes. its so much fun.

Kumu Kahua

Kumu Kahua

One of your venues, The Arts at Marks just got a facelift. What are the venues like this year?

That’s true, The ARTS at Marks Garage just finished their first round of renovations. we expended our 60 seat theatre to about to 100 seats and we now have a proper dressing and green room. I’m quite happy with our renovations because we can hold more people in our venue. the second locations is Kumu Kahua theatre.

A visitor to Improvaganza can’t leave without hearing about Ohana. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Like I said earlier Ohana means family. and if anything we want everyone to feel like they are a part of our improv family here in Hawaii. and to expand on what I said earlier Improvaganza offer more than a chance to perform in one of the most beautiful places on earth and workshop with some the best improv teachers, Improvaganza treats you like your coming back home even if its your first time coming to Hawaii. No Matter who you are, where you come from, the type of improv you like to perform, if its your first time to Hawaii or if you live here your whole life. We welcome everyone as if they are a part of our family. If its one thing that our festival is known for its local hospitality. We hope that we can share that with all of you this year.

Think about it. It’s a chance to visit Hawaii and actually perform improv. There’s nothing better than that. Submissions are only open for a few more days. 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.

Spotlight on Baltimore Improv Festival

Baltimore has gone through a lot lately, but the show must go on and the 9th year of The Baltimore Improv Festival is showing no sign of slowing down. It’s just what the community needs so please check it out and submit if you can. I had a chance to interview BIF Executive Producer Mike Harris about this years festival.

9 Years is amazing run for an improv festival. What has been the biggest challenges of running a festival?

Thanks Nick. We’ve been really fortunate to have so many great troupes come visit. They’ve really allowed us to build a loyal audience for the festival. Every festival has to figure out what makes it unique, and for us, it has been the enthusiasm of the Baltimore audience. We’ve chosen to keep our festival at one venue to keep the audience concentrated. Which is great for giving performers a chance to get in front of large audiences, but also means we have less slots to offer and have to turn down some really good troupes. That’s probably the biggest challenge right now, saying no to folks we want to invite.

What do you look for in a submission?

Subjective though it may be, we do put funny first. Always like to see troupes that are having fun playing with each other, and showing solid grounding in improv fundamentals. Nothing wrong with breaking the rules as long as it comes from a deliberate choice to do so. Beyond that, we look for troupes that have uniquely marketable formats and increase the diversity of the festival lineup. Any chance we get to offer something Baltimore hasn’t seen before, we’ll take it.

What are some fun things to do in Baltimore?

Best thing about Baltimore is that you won’t mistake it for being anywhere else. We’re a funky, friendly city-sized small town. Baltimore is made up of a borderline absurd numbers of small neighborhoods. Great thing about that is that each one has its own flavor. So in a matter of blocks you can come across entirely different food, music, shops. So, I’d say hit Fells Point, Little Italy, Canton or Mount Vernon and just walk around and see what grabs your interest. And the Inner Harbor is fine. A little touristy and the one place that probably seems least like Baltimore, but tons to do.

With the riots that are happening in Baltimore. What can you say to an improvisor who is hesitant to submit to your festival.

Baltimore has a reputation that predates the recent demonstrations, and we, like a lot of American cities, have deeply rooted, systemic issues and injustices. The problems that came to a head these past few weeks will still be here for the 9th Baltimore Improv Festival and, sadly, probably the 99th Baltimore Improv Festival. That said, the amount of violence was greatly overstated. The overwhelming majority of the demonstrators were completely peaceful. The vast majority of the city is safe, and that includes the area where the Festival will be held.

Will there be workshops at the festival?

Absolutely. We will have two sessions of workshops on Saturday and two on Sunday. Hopefully we will be able to offer around 10-12 workshops over the course of the weekend, and we absolutely encourage members of accepted troupes to propose workshops they would like to teach.

To submit to the Baltimore Improv 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 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 The San Francisco Improv Festival.

I’ve been to the SF Improv Festival about 5 times since its beginning 11 years ago.  I can say it’s one of the premier festivals in the West and one of my favorite cities to visit. I was able to interview Executive Producer of the SF Improv Festival, Jamie Wright about this years festivities.

The SF Improv Festival is one of the premier festivals of the West Coast. What can improvisors expect this year?

It’s still early in our planning for this year’s festival, but some of what we’re cooking up for 2015 is 10 days of fantastic improv and sketch shows, master-level workshop instructors, a professional 200-seat venue to perform in, an opening night party for the festival as well as post-show cool downs in the lobby bar, parties, Friday night jams, and the festival’s traditional close out of Game Island with Ron West where you can throw down with other performers under the watchful eye of Whose Line’s former games director. All this *and* a staff that is committed to making you feel welcome, and an improv scene in town that is beginning to burst at the seams.

What does a troupe get if accepted?

Troupes accepted to the fest get one 35-minute performance slot in a double-bill. Troupe-members get a performer bracelet which entitles you to any empty seat in a show after the audience is seated, performer pricing on drinks at our (full!) bar, and early signup opportunities for workshops.

What do you look for in a submission?

Really in the end it just comes down to looking for great work by people who love what they do. If you broke it down specifically, we look at: the strength of ensembles, improv basics (accepting & building on offers, support, team play, etc.), character work, overall quality and professionalism, and throw in a little consideration for accessibility to the general public and uniqueness of format. We also look for a diversity of performance groups and of forms. If there’s anything that tips the scales for us in the decision, it’s definitely seeing joy in the work.

Where in SF do you hold the festival?

The festival is held at the Eureka Theater, which is sandwiched between the Downtown, the Embarcadero waterfront area and North Beach. The theater is a 200-seater with a raised stage and a pretty enormous green room. The Eureka’s history includes mounting the premiere of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and more recently, for being the home of the SF Sketchfest and the SF Improv Festival. The location is great for enjoying SF; it is walking distance to the major lines of public transportation, has a ton of restaurants and bars within a 10 minute walk, and pretty unbelievable views of the Bay just around the corner.

SF is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. What do you recommend improvisors do in your city?

There’s the usual run of amazing things to check out; the Embarcadero waterfront & the Golden Gate, some of the best food on the planet, fantastic bars & night life, stupid-beautiful views of the Bay Area and pacific coast, and then you have places like the Mission (which is a cross between the birthplace of the Mission burrito and a ready-made location set for Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley), and the other famous cultural-epicenter neighborhoods like the Haight and North Beach. And these are just a few of the things within city limits.

Oh yeah – then there’s a couple hundred improvisors hanging out looking for something to do after taking in each other’s shows. And you’re in San Francisco. Pretty sure you can figure out some way to occupy your time…!

To instantly submit to the San Francisco Improv 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 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 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.

Spotlight on San Diego Improv Festival 2015

The San Diego Improv Festival launches into its second year in February. I was able to interview Kevin Dolan one or the Producers of the festival. Check out what wonderful things this city and the festival have to offer.

This is your 2nd year of the SDIF. Tell us how the SDIF came about.

Amy Lisewski, the Artistic Director of Finest City Improv (FCI), has always believed in bringing the top improvisers to perform and teach workshops in San Diego. Even before FCI had its own space, she would have the best people she knew down from LA to teach workshops during the day and perform on the same bill with local teams at night. Once FCI had its own theater – and one that is attached to a hotel no less – having multi-day festival was a natural step.

It is unique to have a festival where the theater and hotel are connected. Tell us about that and what the hotel has to offer for improvisers.

FCI has a great location, attached to The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows. The place has a retro feel reminiscent of a Hollywood-style property you would see in a 1940s movie. The hotel restaurants have tasty food, the lobby is a great place to relax, and the rooms have been recently remodeled. And of course there is a swimming pool which we use for the festival’s big social event: the pool party on Saturday afternoon.

The biggest advantage to being attached to the hotel is that it’s great for connecting with other improvisers. We want the San Diego Improv Festival to be a social event as much as it is an improv event. We want people to make friends and come back every year to see those people again.

The neighborhood surrounding FCI is also “uber-hip,” or so I’m told. I can definitely tell you it has some good restaurants that don’t cost a fortune.

What can improvisors expect?

Our goal is to make SDIF the perfect weekend vacation for the improviser.

Even if your team isn’t performing at the festival, you can participate in our open jam on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights before the shows start. This is an opportunity to get on stage and play with the people you’ve been partying with all week.

We also have a full workshop program, with four already scheduled and four more in the works. Improvisers will be able to take up to two workshops on Saturday (10am and 3pm) and two on Sunday (11;30am and 3pm). Workshops will be two and a half hours long to facilitate getting adequate stage time for all attendees. Nick Armstrong and Karen Graci from LA, and Colleen Doyle and Jason Shotts from Chicago, are the confirmed workshop instructors.

Then there are the parties. I already talked about the Pool Party on Saturday afternoon – it’s scheduled between the morning and afternoon workshops – and that’s the social highlight of the festival. There will also be parties either on site or very close by on Friday and Saturday nights after the shows. With the hotel so close by, the parties were very popular last year and I expect it to be the same this year.

And of course we’re going to have a great lineup headlined by King Ten from Los Angeles and Dummy from Chicago; as well as other great teams from Chicago, New York, and other places closer to home.

The San Diego Improv Festival is the perfect improv vacation: take great improv workshops, see world class improv teams, party with fun improvisers, and participate in an improv jam (or two).

If accepted to the festival what do improvisers have to look forward to? Discounts? Workshops?

Performers will receive a wristband which will allow them to get into shows free of charge when there are seats available (at start of show). Performers can guarantee a seat by buying tickets or a festival pass in advance and are given a 50% discount. Performers will also receive a welcome package upon arrival.

Tell us about your great city…What can improvisers from out of town do while they’re there?

Of course, San Diego has some of the nicest weather anywhere in the world. Also, FCI is not too far from Balboa Park, home of the San Diego Zoo as well as a number of popular museums. San Diego has a number of micro-breweries, for those who like beer. And of course the beach isn’t far away. Surf’s up!

What have been some of the biggest challenges putting a festival on?

There are a so many details involved in staging a festival. We are fortunate to have people like Kat Brown, Erin Hanehan, and a great team of volunteers to make everything go smoothly.


Instantly submit to SDIF 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 member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

10 Years of Funny

A review of the San Francisco Improv Festival

I had the honor of being a part of the 10th annual San Francisco Improv Festival this September with my team Glassworks. This festival was huge! Well, compared to most festivals that is. The SFIF hosted over thirty teams from across the country, featuring performers like Adsit & Eveleth, Razowsky & Hamilton, Susan Messing, Armando Diaz and more. Plus workshops! And it all happened over the span of two weeks. Yep, two weekends jam packed with top-notch performers guaranteed to make you feel some sort of way (and hopefully a bit of laughter).

The festival made its home at the Eureka Theater in the heart of San Francisco. It is an excellent theater with a capacity of over 200 people. All of the seats are fixed in place, lined with red velvet. The stage is pretty large, allowing scenes to grow with the environment whether it is a dance studio, farmstead, or food court. Though I must mention that a larger space calls for an intense focus on projection from the performers. Soft-spoken scenes were often too easy for the audience to miss.

Check out this rad poster design! Now that’s some smart advertising right there. An attractive poster is always a plus at festivals.

Our team received several preparatory emails leading up to the festival, including individual board representatives to answer any and all of our questions beforehand. The fest made sure to tackle technical details a month ahead of time, which is extremely comforting for both the performers and the folks running the festival. You don’t want to be scrambling to make everything work on the night of the show. Kudos to you all at SFIF! It was our responsibility to figure out the rest of the details once we arrived in the city. Things like finding the theater, figuring out if there was anything we needed as a performer (e.g. badges, wristbands) and finding a place to sleep. I’m happy to say that we were able to complete all of these tasks on our own.

I was only there for a few nights during the second week of the festival and am sorry to say that I did not have much of a chance to meet other performers from the festival, but did have a chance to meet two of the producers, Jamie Wright and Chris Hayes. Both of them were incredibly friendly and had open arms when we needed help. The entire SFIF staff was always ecstatic, willing to help in any way they could.

Guys, the bay area is absolutely beautiful! During the day we were able to swim in the Pacific Ocean! I’m from Wisconsin, so that’s pretty special. We explored the city, ranging everywhere from the cliffs on the western shores to Haight & Ashbury to the cities surrounding the bay. Parks dotted the landscape, trees grew high into the sky and the water was clean. There’s definitely a reason that improv is deeply rooted in San Francisco. The 60’s brought The Committee and now the city has improv theaters and training grounds like Leela, EndGames, BATS, and Un-Scripted Theater.

Overall I really enjoyed my time in San Francisco! The performer wristband granted me access to EVERY SHOW, the variety of talent was incredible to watch, and the city is truly special. Do yourself a favor and check out this festival when it comes back for its 11th year! Also be sure to schedule in plenty of time to explore the area. You won’t regret it.

Elliot currently resides in Eau Claire, performing with Glassworks and helps run the festival there. He also used to operate an underground venue called “The Playhouse” in Eau Claire, running shows nearly every weekend with both musicians and improv.

Spotlight On ASIF


The Alaska State Improv Festival had been on my “to do” list for quite some time. Partially, of course, because of the opportunity to visit the beautiful state of Alaska. But also because I had come to know the producers at festivals around North America and I’d always appreciated their take on the art. I was very fortunate to be invited last year and it was one of the highlights of 2014. Now submissions are open again and I had a chance to talk with Eric Caldwell about the 2015 fest and the things to come.

One of the first things many performers do when thinking about festivals is to Google the venue, but photos don’t really to your space justice. It’s a very conducive place to play. Can you talk a little bit about the venue folks will be playing in and the audience?

One of the most fun moments for me is when performers walk into McPhetres Hall for the first time. It’s a beautiful space with cedar walls, intricate accents, modern technical specs, and a full proscenium stage. The venue has flexible seating and, depending on the arrangement, will handle between 70 and 110 in the audience.

As to the audience itself, it is a theater-going crowd – smart and attentive. You can go to some really neat places with our audiences, and they will let you know at the end that you’ve done a great job.

It might surprise people that Juneau is a very walkable town. Aside from the big planned events, there are plenty of great little places to visit during the day. Any recommendations for people to check out in their free time?

I definitely recommend going to the galleries. The ones in the Senate Building are cooperatively owned, including a native cooperative where you can walk in and watch the artists at work. The Juneau City Museum is within walking distance and, for those with endurance (or a car), the Last Chance Mining Museum offers an authentic look into what was once the largest, most sophisticated gold mining operation in the world.

There are several good restaurants around town that cater to a variety of budgets. The Rookery is my favorite – any time of day. Silverbow Bakery is known for its authentic bagels. Rainbow Foods has a weekday health food buffet. The Sandpiper does a great breakfast and has exotic burgers on their lunch menu. Sandovar has authentic Russian cuisine. The view from the Hangar on the Wharf is world-class.

Some performers rent cars, many also like to rent elektroroller unu scooters and that opens up some other options. Visits to the Alaskan Brewing Company, the Shrine of St. Therese, Sandy Beach, and some of the sea-level trails are very rewarding. Even if you don’t rent a car, there are often opportunities to catch rides with us locals or with other improvisors.

NilsLast year, visitors got to see a glacier and whales. That’s pretty unique to your festival. Will there be some exciting trips planned this year?

A drive to the Mendenhall Glacier is our longstanding tradition, and we try to make that happen right after you grab your bags at the airport. If you don’t see the glacier, in our minds you haven’t visited Juneau.

We were thrilled to be able to offer the whale watching trip at cost last year, since the area looks completely different from the water. We were the first tour out and saw six whales, several seals, and a ridiculous number of sea lions. We’d love to do that again if the interest is there,

Any other tours would be based on what kind of interest the performers have and what their cost might be. A few performers independently went on a flightseeing excursion and said it was the highlight of their trip. There are zip line operations that are happy to do a charter. When enough people ask me “Can we do this?” I tend to start researching.

Festivals are typically a chance for the host city to see performers from other places, but with a few exceptions the groups from Juneau and other parts of Alaska aren’t seen by people in the lower 48. What kind of local performances will people get exposed to?

It’s a mix. Our first festival show was an improvised one-act play, based on the first page of a regionally written script. Rorschach Pattern 9, which we’ve toured for the last couple years, is a wild mixture of montage, Dada, clown, slam poetry, and Jungian psychology. We have nobody to tell us “You can’t do that!” so there tends to be a lot of variety of styles, especially given the size of the improv community.

The past two years, Scared Scriptless has come down from Anchorage. They are the “granddaddies” of Alaskan improv, having started in 2000. Their forte is in shortform, and they are damned good at it. This year, Urban Yeti, a group out of Anchorage in its third season, is going to be coming to the festival for the first time. Urban Yeti performs longform improv, focusing on a specific in-house format each season. They’ve had very good reviews so far, and we’re excited to see them in person.

[Update: After posting this article, the Juneau Empire posted an entire article dedicated to The Juneau improv scene. You can read it here. ED]

Last year’s festival was tight and had great acts. What are you hoping to bring this year that will go even further?

Each festival experience spreads word of mouth for the next festival. Being in a world-class destination does no good unless people are glad they came. Our job, as producers, is to make the performers glad that they not only experienced Alaska but also experienced AS IF. Developing and maintaining those relationships and friendships means that even people who can’t go to Alaska every year have been excited about encouraging others to go.

As to specifics of AS IF 2015, all I can say right now is that the wheels are in motion and there are going to be very inspiring shows and workshops at this year’s festival. Some incredible performers have reached out to say that they’re working out whether they can submit to this year’s AS IF, and we have a diversity of acts who have already submitted. Depending on what ensembles submit, we are also entertaining the idea of an “After Dark” stage open to blue content and 21+ audiences. This would allow for even more performance slots and a broader range of shows.

Is there anything you want to add about the festival?

If you’re on the fence, please submit. This festival prides itself on its diversity. Past acts have come from major theaters and independent companies, from urban meccas to towns smaller than ours, and from coast to coast. We’re inspired by shows that are inspiring. Show us improv that inspires, whatever it is and wherever you come from. We want to see and showcase that kind of art.

Submissions are still open, but only for a few more days. 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: Red Rocks Improv Festival

This year marks the 5th year the small little town of Cedar City has and improv festival. It’s inspiring to see this community grow and expand every year. Cedar City has about 35,000 people in it and is a college town, but that doesn’t mean its been an easy road. Off The Cuff Improvisation who runs the Red Rocks Improv Festival, have had their challenges but in the end have hit them head on. Now they are a festival that attracts acts from all over the country to sold out crowds. Here is an interview I did with Co-Founders TJ and Wendy Penrod.

It’s your 5th year as a festival! What can we expect?

This will be a bigger better festival than we have put on before! In our fifth year you can expect to have an amazing time, watch some kick ass shows, see some beautiful sights, attend some awesome parties, eat delicious food and get to know improvisors from all over the country as well as the beautiful state of Utah.

You are known for not only having a festival, but taking improvisors on outdoor adventures. Is that happening again this year?

Yes! We have planned 2 hikes this year. The first hike will be on Friday to Kannaraville Canyon waterfalls. Plan to get wet on this hike as we explore a deep slot canyon with some waterfalls only 10 minutes out of Cedar City. The second hike will be on Saturday in Zion National Park. We will be hiking the Emerald Pools loop Trail. On this hike you will be able to see the iconic Red Rocks of Southern Utah and everything Zion National Park has to offer. The hikes are free and transportation provided. Both hikes are in the easy category as well so we encourage everyone to come.

What workshops can improvisors expect?

There will be workshops! The who, and when are still being figured out at the moment. As soon as this information gets finalized we will be posting it on our Facebook page and sending it out to everyone who is performing at the festival.

What does the little town of Cedar City Utah have to offer improvisers?

Cedar City is a beautiful town located in the heart of the Red Rocks of Southern Utah. It is known as Festival City USA. Despite its small size, Cedar City is home to many different Arts organizations and hosts a variety of festivals throughout the year. Including the Utah Shakespeare Festival, the Neil Simon Festival, the Groovefest American Folk Music Festival and of course The Red Rocks Improv Festival and many more. It is also home to Southern Utah University and because of its proximity to National Parks it is a hub for outdoor adventurers. Cedar City has all the perks of a small town, friendly people, clean air and great restaurants (if you get there before 9pm when they all close!)

OTC runs the Red Rocks Improv Festival and you just celebrated 10 years. Tell us a little bit about that…

That’s correct! We have survived for ten years! If OTC was a person we would be going into 4th grade. 3 years from puberty. We can’t wait for our bodies to change and our voices to drop.

We started out as college students in a coffee shop and now we run our own theatre and school. We strive to better ourselves and our festival is one way we do so. We’ve been really fortunate to get the support of our town and the amazing national improv community and we’ve been able to learn from some of the best in the business. We LOVE improv, and for everyone involved in OTC our festival and theatre are a product of that love and we want to share that with as many people as we can and give back to those who have given so much to us.

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: Big Little Comedy Fest

thumbnail_1399617601-300x300[1]I’ve met a lot of great festival producers through the National Improv Network. One person I didn’t meet here is Tina Jackson. Tina has been a passionate performer on the festival circuit for about as long as I can remember. She’s been leading by example in the community for a long time, which is why I was excited to hear a few years back that she and Dan Grimm (another fantastic performer) were going to be putting on a festival. Both they and I had been on the road long enough to see the kinds of festivals that did things excellently and those who maybe had a little room to improve. I knew that Tina and Dan, and the people they were working with would build an amazing festival coming from the knowledge of a traveling performer.

And they did. Big Little Comedy Fest has grown quickly and its growing list of amazing producers is still out there on the road doing what they can to make festivals around the country great. In all that time, however. I never really had a chance to ask about some of the really unique ideas at Big Little. So I jumped at the chance to learn a little more.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the only improv festival that isn’t permanently housed in one city. There’s obviously a passion there to do something. What was the genesis of the festival. What made you feel the need to create such a unique festival?

The genesis for Big-Little started about 5 years ago when I was unceremoniously cut from my Harold Team at iO. I had a bit of a personal improv crisis at that time – What am I doing in Chicago if the reason I moved here is no longer part of my life? Am I still a good performer? I had a pow-wow with my former coach, Kevin Sciretta, who assured me that I was still a dynamic performer, and encouraged me to find another avenue for my passion, outside of iO, which turned out to be festivals. Having attended a handful myself, I decided to call a few friends and set up an informal weekend of shows at a small theatre in Grand Rapids, MI (where I’d gone to college). That weekend’s success is what became the first Big-Little Comedy Fest. It was my way of turning lemons into lemonade. My improv redemption.

Turns out, running a festival out of town, and in 2 cities throughout the last 5 years, was both complicated and extremely rewarding. I always compare it to planning an out-of-town wedding, hiring the best musicians, the best wedding photography, and catering. But what’s so great about Cleveland and Grand Rapids is that unlike Chicago, where Big-Little is based, they’re cities that aren’t over-saturated with improv. They’re hungry for shows and workshops and out-of-town exposure, and even local press that they aren’t normally able to garner on their own on a regular basis. What Big-Little has turned into is an opportunity to bring big city improv, sketch, and stand-up in a large-scale event to smaller comedy communities throughout the Midwest. (Hence the name, Big-Little Comedy.) But what we really love is the chance to show places like Cleveland and Grand Rapids at large what kind of comedy already exists in their city by showcasing the great local teams alongside out-of-town acts that draw more attention to the event.

Babymakers (Vert)That said, you’ve been in Cleveland two years now. Is it going to be your home for a while now? What made you decide on Ohio this year?

We’re definitely going to be in Cleveland for the forseeable future. Cleveland is my hometown, so last year’s move to Cleveland amazing for me in a lot of ways. Not only was Big-Little able to put on an AMAZING weekend of shows for bigger houses than we ever have before, but (selfishly) I was able to bring my passion home to my family and friends, which was such a great added bonus. We’re also trying to get shows together in Louisville, with a potential for adding a full festival there within the next year.

The festival has been going on for five years, but I know the producers have been on the festival circuit themselves for many years. What kinds of things are you hoping to bring from other festivals? What things do you think you’re making even better

Oh God, I love festivals. One of the best parts of festivals, for me, is the networking you get to do with other performers from around the country. This past year, we made it a point to treat our performers like rock stars, including airport pickup, personal liaisons, killer afterparties, performer discounts, etc. That’s something we’ve always loved about festivals like Out of Bounds, the effort they make to ensure that your stay in their city is as pleasant as possible.

Full CrewWhat is the Cleveland improv scene like. And what are its audiences used to? What kinds of shows are you hoping to introduce to the city?

Cleveland comedy is primarily built around a popular stand-up and theatre scene, but the improv scene, although small, is a vibrant one. There’s a little longform, a little shortform, a little sketch (I can’t recommend ​
Last Call Cleveland highly enough), a little training, but no dedicated theatre or organized scene on ​​ a large​r ​
scale. The local teams there have great followings, which makes Cleveland such a great city for a festival. The audiences really love and embrace comedy and come out to support it in force.

And despite being largely unfamiliar with longform, they really seem to respond to it, which is so great.​

Every time I’ve performed in Cleveland, it’s been in front of a packed house (and a​s a regular Chicago performer, that’s such a nice change of pace from some of our​ regular​ shows​)​.

Lost DogWhat are some things that are new to the festival this year?
New starting this year will be trying to run fests in 2 cities in the same year. We don’t have official dates for an event in Louisville yet, but we’re looking forward to adding more events in more Midwest cities every year from now on.​

What are some of the non-performance activities planned for the festival this year? Workshops? Parties?

We’ve definitely got a couple fun things in the works including a reprise of our awesome bowling/drinking afterparties at Corner Alley.​


Where does Big Little go from here?
Onward and upward! We have a lot of things building right now for our 5th Anniversary Year, including more events both in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. Our network’s really been building for the last several years and it feels like everything’s coming together for us now. We added a lot of new staff this year, including 3 new producers, interns, and a dedicated marketing team, which is nice because we’re finally able to do some of the things we’ve had on the backburner for a while, because we didn’t have the manpower to put them into action.​

It’s not too late to visit this year. Submissions are open for another week. I highly recommend submitting and heading to Ohio.

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

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