Train at as Many Places as Possible

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and after reading Mick Napier’s blog, which you should check out. When I was reading the blog I kept thinking to myself why you should train at as many places as you can. Two of those reasons are:

1: To see what theater’s philosophy you click with the most and…

2: To fill those improv gaps that theaters can’t fill.

In Mick’s blog he accurately points out the missing elements of each major improv theater, including his own. Does that mean they’re bad…Hell no. That just means they focus on different philosophies, which they all do really well. It’s just when you focus on a certain way of improv other things may get lost in the shuffle or slip in the cracks.

When I was going through acting school there was different methods you tried, Stanislavsky, Meisner, Chekov. But I, for some reason, gravitated toward Meisner. But again, I’m glad I had the others as training because even Meisner has some holes too and I was able to access the others to help me get through those moments. Meisner was my main focus that I connected to, but I was able to use the other methods if I needed them.

It never hurts to try iO, Second City, The Annoyance, Groundlings, ComedySportz, UCB or whatever theaters are in your hometown. There are usually more than one theater in each major city now. Go try them all! You’d do yourself a disservice if you didn’t. You don’t have to go to all of them but at least try two or three. Ask your friends what they think of each place and see if it’s something that interests you. Or go see a show at the theater and see if the work they are presenting is something you like. Then take a class.

I’ve  heard some theaters have Non-Compete clauses for their performers…Meaning they don’t allow their performers to play anywhere else. This always hurts when I see this, first off in most states it’s illegal unless you are a full-time paid employee of that theater. But more importantly it hurts the performer. A well rounded performer is a better performer and a better improvisor. If you look at the great improvisors, Craig Cackowski, Tina Fey, Tj and Dave, they have all had training at different theaters. And guess what they still perform at those theaters when they can.

I’d love to hear your experiences on this matter please feel free to drop a line and tell us your experiences, successes and failures of training at different theaters.

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. He has also taught workshops around the country. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

7,000 Miles, 15 States, 20 Shows

The Story of Glassworks Improv out of Eau Claire, WI

In the past two months we have driven roughly 7,000 miles through 15 states, performed in Canada, and been a part of over twenty shows in the Western half of North America.

Why we did it

When we started Glassworks Improv we had no intention of touring. We were three guys who had played on a team in high school together and loved it. So why not just keep doing that? We decided to build a theatre in our basement for shows, and play around our hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. As we played more and more shows in Eau Claire, we started to feel how special this experience could be. If we were going to be on a team, why not take that idea, that partnership, as far as it could go? If we truly wanted to take ourselves seriously we knew we had to play more shows. As playing every night in a mid-size city isn’t exactly practical, we hit the road. The idea of playing to a completely different group of people every show was very appealing to us. Audiences wouldn’t have history with us to fall back on if we weren’t living up to our full potential on stage. They would have to take us for exactly what we were in that moment. We wanted to be put in situations where we had to follow the fear. Comfort is a great thing, and something that all improvisers strive for. But to get to that place of being comfortable in our team skin, we had to make the shows less comfortable, so we would be forced to break new ground every night and find our team’s identity. Now that that has happened, we can show the audience a better show the next time we are in their city.

Why it worked

Travelling usually costs a lot, and getting off of work without quitting can be nearly impossible. Well, none of us are in school (which means no debt, more time for improv) and we all took a leave of absence from our random day jobs at home. During the summer we had several shows and saved that cash in a group account. We calculated how much the trip would cost and at first it seemed that we would all have to scrape together every last dollar we could find, but then we checked our team account and discovered that our only personal expense would be food! That made the entire trip feasible financially.

Gas was covered by our summer shows, food was at our own expense, but what about lodging? Well, we were able to crash in a home (not a hotel) in just about every city we went to. When you combine friends, extended family, and improvisers that you meet along the way, we can guarantee that you’ll be able to sleep for free. Seriously, you should try contacting your grandparents’ siblings’ friends and see where they live; we did. We slept in the car a few nights, but it was manageable and expected.

Here’s another key item that made the trip effortless: technology. Most of us nowadays have a smartphone, and every smartphone has a map that can be accessed anywhere (except Canada). It makes travelling ridiculously easy! It seems like only a few years ago that we had to go online and print out every map with directions, but now we have a map of the world in our hands.

What this can do for the improv community

Now we know how easy it is to connect with improvisers literally ACROSS the nation and boy does it warm our hearts. Our team connected with several incredible improvisers and met people from NIN in reality like Nick Armstrong all the way in Los Angeles. We don’t think that a trip like this would have been possible a few years ago, but now it’s as simple as choosing a location and setting up a show. There’s an improv theater (if not several) in every big city so contact them and then find a way to get there. Just imagine what it would be like if every team travelled. Theaters could have more shows each week with fresh talent from around the country. Also, our couch surfing network would be huge! Every team should travel and every team deserves to perform in front of a fresh audience.

The entire community has grown substantially in the last few years and it’s not going to stop here. With this next generation of improvisers we can expect the entire scene to grow leaps and bounds, excelling the art and evolving improvisation in ways we can only imagine. Del has said that, “One day Charna and I will wake up and see that the old way we used to teach is archaic and outdated. It’s advancing and developing so rapidly that the only way to allow it to survive and thrive is for Charna and I to step aside and let the new guard lead it past the next threshold.” Well, that new guard is all of us and together we can grow improvisation into something truly beautiful.

Find your free time, save up money from shows, and GO! Hey, if you want to do a show in Eau Claire, WI then please contact us! Stay at our house and we can help you set up a show. Feel free to ask about our travels or inquire about getting your own team started with travelling the country. If you want to read about our travels, check out http://www.glassworksimprov.com/blog. We look forward to hearing from some of you!

With Love,
Glassworks Improv (Mack Hastings, Elliot Heinz, Alex Raney)

When A Stoppable Force Meets A Movable Object – How Many Festivals?

Today I submitted to the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival; which got me to thinking. How many festivals HAVE I submitted to this year? By my count, this year alone I’ve submitted to 12 festivals, attended 8, performed in 7, and taught workshops (either during or as a result of attending) at 3. Wow! When you see the numbers before you it’s quite daunting.

So here’s how I make it work with the flight attendant gig: improv is (and always will be) my #1 love. If you truly love something, you’ll find time for it. That’s what I do with comedy. I submit, I book, I rearrange. I always make improv my priority. Now having said that, I also have to know my limits.

There was a time when I was flying over 100 hours a month (which doesn’t sound like a lot because that number only reflects my pay. Not the amount of hours I actually work. It’s messed up, I know), running my own improv team (Trapper John), taking classes (at The Magnet), figuring out how to do Solo Improv (with personal coach Alan Fessenden), and also dating a girl long-distance who lived outside of Detroit. Doing all of this just about killed me, so I had to learn the art of Time Management.
Long story long, I’m still learning how to effectively manage my time, but suffice it to say, I’ve learned how to mix classes, shows, and festivals into my time table. Here’s how:

1) I make a very general map in my head as to how I want the upcoming year to go down. Let’s take 2013 for example. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish levels 4 AND 5 at The PIT before 2012 was over, thus not making me eligible to audition for house teams come January 2013. I had also applied and was accepted to perform in the first ever Alaska State Improv Festival (ASIf!) in April as well as the LA Improv Festival in June.
2) My next step was to figure out my goals and then fit them around what I already had planned. I knew that I wanted to finish classes before the year was out. I had also recently become an intern at The PIT with a regular Tuesday night Box Office shift. The real trick for me was figuring out what days of the week I would be free to fill my schedule with non flight attendant stuff.
3) Now that I had a few specifics in mind, I could start the process of filling my schedule. As a flight attendant, I’m usually on-call 20 days out of the month. I know in advance when these days are going to be, as well as my days off, so that I can plan my schedule. Working in the international base, I know that all of my trips are going to be either 3 or 6-day trips. (ie. day 1, fly to London. Day 2, stay the day in London. Day 3, fly back from London. Days 4-6, repeat). So, I always knew that on days 3 and 6 that I’d always be back in New York. This way I can plan to take classes, work a shift as an intern, teach classes, or do a show. Plus, I had my days off to plan things.
4) Rearranging the schedule. I would always plan my improv stuff first and then rearrange my schedule to accommodate. Generally, it hasn’t been too difficult a task. I just know better than to plan things on the weekend. And if I do, I can only plan to do something one weekend a month, as weekends have proven murderous to try and get off.

Anyway, technical mumbo jumbo aside, I’ve been playing this game of planning and rearranging my schedule to accommodate the love of my life for seven years now, and has become so commonplace for me that I forget what it’s like to have a typical 9-5 where I know that every evening and every weekend is going to be free.
And as for the girlfriend outside of Detroit… Yeah, that didn’t last long.

So…this is my life. It gets daunting. A lot. Which is why I try to take the advice of Peter Gwinn in his book “Group Improvisation” and take some time to live and experience life (and in my case, sleep!)

 

Improv Warrior: Jill Bernard

Improv Warrior (n.) Someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty. An improvisor, who is not just a performer, but lives and breaths improv, heightens the art, cares for the art and brings it to new levels.

Today’s Improv Warrior is Jill Bernard. I have had the pleasure of performing with Jill and bumping into her at practically every festival in the country. She is an amazing teacher and an amazing talent. But beyond that she is just a wonderful human being. Jill recently celebrated 20 Years as an improvisor and celebrated it in a major way! –Nick Armstrong

Here is what she had to say:

From Jill Bernard:

On Sunday December 1, 2013 I did a show called “JILLVITATIONAL: 20 duos in 12 hours to celebrate 20 years” – the length of time since I began improvising.

My favorite part was the sensation of each new partner. Jeff Wirth has taught me many things, but one little interesting tidbit is to read how an audience volunteer wants to play when brought up onstage. Are they a clinical person or an emotional person? I thought of that concept a lot during my twenty duos, because each pairing was an opportunity to be the scene partner my friend was asking for. When someone steps onstage, they’re proposing a game. If your opening line is, “I don’t know, Edgar, perhaps this climb was too ambitious, the temperature’s dropping faster than we could’ve predicted,” you’re basically saying, “Hello, would you like to play doomed mountain expedition with me, in a slightly old-fashioned and serious style?” and my answer will be yes yes a million times yes thank you, let’s let’s.

I was charmed by the opportunity to do so twenty times in a row, especially since I am rather infamous for being an ungenerous player who will drag your corpse behind the sled of my agenda. It felt like a lovely challenge to play the Venn Diagram of just the two of us to the nth degree, in the Viola Spolin sense of ‘following the follower.’

I picked twenty friends but I could’ve picked a million friends. The feeling I was left with after it was all over was “Oh, what’s wrong with the limits of my body and my brain that I can’t just keep doing this hour after hour and get to share the stage with everyone ever?” Being alone with just another person is the full dose of them. It’s the extra virgin million parts per million version of their aesthetic, and you get to take a bath in it. I could get used to that. Trish Berrong and I neared the final moments of the final duo and my eyes filled with tears for all the gratitude I felt in that moment – gratitude that Trish Berrong and Bailey Williams would come up from Kansas City, Lindsay Gonzales would come from Chicago; Samantha Pereira , Katy Kessler, Kelvin Hatle, Eric Heiberg, Doug Neithercott , Lauren Anderson and Josh Kuehn would come do improv before noon; Butch Roy would play and let me use our theater for this silly project all day long; Mary Strutzel, Eric Knobel and James Moore who were alongside me when I started would still be alongside me now; Clay Macartney, Bernard Armada would just hop into the unknown; Nate Morse would bring me a cat piano; Meghan Wolff, Jason Bindas and Carolyn Blomberg would be those kinds of friends who will play with you just because; and for everyone who came to watch and cheer and bartend and tech and box office. That’s a lot to be emotionally touched by, especially after a long day fueled by mostly Topperstix and runner’s Goo.

It was good, it was fun, but I won’t make an annual event of it as it’s exceedingly odd? arrogant? pathetic? to make up an event named after yourself. I did it because, as I told a reporter, “Improvisational comedy is the kind of an unsustainable ridiculous career where you ask yourself what you’re doing with your life every 12 months or so. I used this idea to kind of cheer myself up. It’s also an uncelebrated art form. Improvised theater is not even eligible for an Ivey award, none of the newspapers or online calendars have an ‘improv comedy’ section. As a result, improvisers can’t sit around waiting for recognition, we have to celebrate ourselves.” I feel so celebrated now. What a wonderful boost to spur me on for twenty more years.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

 

When A Stoppable Force Meets A Movable Object

We have been reaching out to many of the people we’ve been meeting on the site and at festivals around the country. I met Mike through NIN first, then saw him on the road. He had an interesting story to tell. Mike will be one of the contributors to our site, we are reaching out to more people too as to give you a variety of ideas, thoughts and advice. –Nick Armstrong

Here’s Mike’s Intro Blog:

When Nick Armstrong asked me to start a blog on the NIN I was completely flattered and honored to be part of one of the best (and fastest growing) online communities that exists for improvisers! I felt as though someone was finally taking notice of my hard work. For once, someone that matters is taking an interest in what I do an a comedian. Almost immediately afterwards I freaked out because I had no clue what I would write about. I’m just a little twerp from Oil City, Pennsylvania. I’m a nobody. Who would honestly want to hear my story?

Then Nick offered a tip as to what I might write about: for the past seven years I have been working as a flight attendant for United (previously Continental) Airlines. I literally travel the globe on a daily basis and perform improv wherever I can. Plus, as an added unique feature to add to my repertoire, I specialize in Solo Improv which I have patterned exactly after a normal ensemble improv troupe. It’s a portable one-man show that takes me around the world doing what I love best: making people laugh.

In this blog, I aim to offer a weekly glimpse into my life as a Solo Improv artist that has the opportunity to travel the world. Some weeks will focus on what is currently happening in my life, while others will shed some light on my past and how I got to where I am now.

If it at all comes across arrogant and self indulgent, then I apologize. I am actually aiming for conceded, self righteous, and all important. So let’s all work together to keep me on the right track, shall we?

Mike Brown

Mike was born in Franklin, PA, raised in Oil City, PA, and now resides in Harlem, NYC with fellow improviser, Josh Hurley, and his cat, Minerva. He works as an international flight attendant for United Airlines and performs Solo Improv around North America and Europe. Mike teaches and coaches improv via 10,000 Hours, The University of Oxford, John Jay College, and Skype & FaceTime. For more info, visit soloimprov.com

We’ve Made a Team…Now What?

In July I wrote a blog 6 Ways to Make a Successful Improv Team and I wanted to do a follow up and dig a little deeper. So you’ve made a team…now what?

It’s an exciting and sometimes hard task to start a new team. Getting people to share a common schedule for shows, rehearsals and more. I’ve started, coached, directed a ton of teams in my over 10 years as a improv instructor and below is some advice I have for improv teams once they get started.

I’ve Got a Conflict!

This will happen 90 percent of the time. People will have conflicts. If you can’t get on the same page this way you’re going to have a difficult time from the start. There is a lot of, “Well I got this on this day so I can’t do it.” I see it on teams all the time. Then it ultimately comes down to who’s conflict outweighs another members. The only true good excuse I can think of is work. It pays the bills letting you do this art sometimes. If you are in a play, another team or some other commitment then that’s great go for it, you should do those things. But don’t commit to an improv team if you are doing those things. It’s all about priorities and when you start a team shouldn’t your team be a priority?

Priorities and Expectations:

An improv team needs rehearsal and practice. It takes a certain focus. In Long-form you have to create group mind, connect, know your philosophy of play and discover a shared language if you want to be a successful team. I want to believe that every teams intention is to make the next great improv team, but you have to set realistic expectations that match your teams priorities. If you want to be the “next great improv team” that’s going to take work and that’s some high expectations. You don’t have to decide on a form but you do have to start speaking the same language in expectations. If you want to be just a practice group and play then that’s a different expectation. A high expectation is a good thing, you should strive for greatness. But it takes work and your priorities need to be focused on this one group in order to have a chance to try and reach your expectations. My advice for a new group is sit down, have a chat and make sure everyone is on the same page. What kind of group is this going to be? A practice group? The best harold team ever? The new form team? Just make sure you’re speaking the same language and know what your expectations are so you can prioritize together.

Developing a Same Language and Group Mind:

Developing a language for a team and group mind is probably one of the hardest things to do in improv. It takes patience, time, wisdom and commitment. You don’t get this right away so don’t think it’s something you can get overnight. But you can start figuring out if you can achieve that by starting to speak the same language. What I mean by this is sharing, as an ensemble, what you agree upon as far as your philosophy of play. For instance, my Harold Team King Ten, speaks a language and philosophy of thematic, theatrical and deep idea based Harolds. We know this, we all agree that this exists within the bible of our team so we know what to look for when someone is trying to point it out or pull a move that associates itself with that move. Your team might want to be a team that plays physically and has no edits. It’s agreed upon you know what’s up. Start telling each other what you love about improv and try to incorporate that into your ensemble.

Who to Get as a Coach?

Not all coaches fit a team. I’ve coached some teams where I clearly was not a good fit and have told them that. Once you’ve decided what kind of team you’re going to be and have set those expectations find a coach that will fit those expectations. Sure you might have to try a couple first and if you’re a practice group you can probably filter through different coaches to get different flavors. If you’re a team that wants to be a great harold team, find someone that has a track record of coaching great harold teams, if you want to do a JTS Brown or Deconstruction find a coach that knows those forms inside out. You owe it to yourself and your team. Set yourself up for success. Yes, it cost money to get a rehearsal space and a coach, but you have to invest in your improv and acting education if you have set those priorities and expectations. Stay true to them.

Don’t Try to Be That Great Other Team Be Your Team

This is big. Watching improv is probably one of the best things you can do to learn how to be a better improvisor and team. Watch shows together even! But don’t become that team. Why? Because that’s already a team and they do what they do. What do you do? What stamp is your group going to put on improv? Your team is your own thumbprint on improv so be different, play to your strengths as an ensemble. Those people you just watched are 8 or so people who come from a different walk of life then you. Allow yourself to find who you guys are.

Support

If anything this is the single most important thing. Support your fellow ensemble on and off stage. Make them look good in life and stage. Be there for them, learn who they are as a person, their passions, triumphs and failures. Know them as a human. This will help you connect and know them on a deeper level gaining each others trust and if you can do that the sky is the limit onstage.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

 

 

Share the Love!

So I was thinking of what to write about this week and even had a great plan to write about how Improv is much like Star Wars! But instead I wanted to share with you some other blogs and podcasts that I read and listen to.

A.D.D. Comedy Podcast with David Razowsky

The first is a must listen to podcast from Master Teacher and former Second City Artistic Director David Razowsky A.D.D. Comedy Podcast. Dave has some great interviews here with some improv legends. This is a must listen to for any improvisor.

Improv Nerd (Blog and Podcast)

Then there’s the Improv Nerd, Jimmy Carrane. This is a very honest blog and Jimmy has no problem sharing his personal struggles and triumphs. He also writes improv advice and interviews great guests on his podcast.

IRC Podcast with Kevin Mullaney

Also a must listen to is Kevin Mullany’s IRC Podcast. Kevin has great guests as well. Listen to him talk to improv greats like Armando Diaz, Craig Cackowski and Joe Bill.

Geeking out with… (Pam Victor’s Blog)

Pam’s blog is almost like a podcast on paper. Great interviews! Pam is a journalist and it shows in these blogs and she treats here guest like poets and scholars.

Some Recent Improv Blogs I read that you may like:

Here are two recent blogs I read, one is about the recent Harold Auditions at UCBLA. I thought it was an interesting read because its author Rebecca Drysdale really puts things in perspective for people who stress about not getting on a Harold team or the process of auditioning in general. Read HAROLD MOON

There was a recent shake up at iO West in Los Angeles where all the house teams were disbanded. This was an interesting take on the situation from the perspective of Erik Voss who was one of the people who was on a team that was broken up. Read CLEANING HOUSE.

I wanted to share the love today to all of you. I’m sure you’ve heard of some or all of these. But as I sit here and write blogs for the National Improv Network I’m always reminded of some other great resources for improvisors. I think of improvising as a never ending quest on knowledge and this is a great way to get improv advice, hear about the history of improv and just laugh from the greats.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

My Experiences on the Road: My 2013 Improv Travel Diary

This weekend marked the official end of my 2013 improv travels. I wanted to share with you my experiences over the last year of meeting some amazing improvisors and show you why I love this community so much! I hope you enjoy!

The Experience: Milky Way Improv Festival:

This year marked the first improv festival ever in my hometown in the Sacramento/Roseville region in northern California. I was extremely proud to finally come home and know that not only was there a great improv community forming but a really amazing improv fest in one of the most beautiful venues. It was a classic theater in old town Roseville with an audience of 200 plus!

Why You Should Visit:

Sacramento has got a lot of history to check out, plus the Milky Way Improv Festival is a nice place to perform and a supportive audience and improv community. Also, if you are ever passing through or find yourself in Sacramento Blacktop Comedy Theater always has its doors open for out of towners.

Improv Utopia

Improv Utopia

The Experience: Improv Utopia

My next adventure was at Camp Improv Utopia. This is a camp I am the Founder and Camp Director of. Being a Boy Scout growing up and an improvisor as an adult I wanted to combine both my loves of childhood and adulthood because I figured…Yeah improvisors are like adults and kids all at the same time that would be cool! Flash-forward to 4 years later and I’ve had the amazing opportunity to meet improvisors from all over the country connecting me to them and learning about their improv, their festivals, their cities and their theaters. Also, what my campers showed me was how great the improv community really is. I might have provided the venue for this but the campers and the national improv scene have created the camaraderie there.

Why You Should Visit:

Camp is an amazing experience that brings the national improv community together for a camping retreat. Filled with workshops, camp activities and more it’s a great place to have fun and share your love of improv with a great community.

The Experiences: Spectacles Improv Engine: (Fullerton, CA)

Spectacles Improv Engine visit!

Spectacles Improv Engine visit!

My third stop was at Spectacles Improv Engine in Fullerton, CA. This is a great and growing community in southern California that has a great community of improvisors. Lead by the amazing and wonderful Josh Nicols, they have not only created some great teams and improvisors but have brought an improv festival to Orange County with such acts as The Reckoning attending. The thing I love about the scene down here is their willingness to learn and grow. Bringing great acts and workshops to their community and not being afraid to bring other local improv theaters into their community to try to expand the presence of improv behind the Orange Curtain.

Why You Should Visit:

The Orange County Improv Festival is hosted by Spectacles Improv Engine and they work hard to get great acts and workshops together for their out of town and local acts. They are also just extremely nice and fun to hang around with!

The Experience: DuoFest

DuoFest is such a cool festival. Intimate and amazing this year was headlined by Scot Adsit and Jet Eveleth and they put on a hell of a show. But the thing I got most out of this festival was how passionate their organizers were especially one of the board members Rick Andrews.

Why You Should Visit:

If you have a two person show this is the mecca for it! That’s all they do no exceptions. Also, it’s Philly! Historical and beautiful. Go visit Independence Hall and say hello to the weird tour guide there! I loved it so much here I found our East camp in Pennsylvania this same weekend!

The Experience: The Detroit Improv Festival

Razowsky and Clifford at the Detroit Fest!

Razowsky and Clifford at the Detroit Fest!

To the EAST! In August, I was off to Detroit, MI to attend my second year at The Detroit Improv Festival. When I say I love this festival, that’s an understatement. The gang here have really taken an improv fest and turned it into a rock concert! This year they had pretty much every major improv headliner there is…TJ and Dave, Craig Cackowski and Rich Talarico of (Dasariski), Razowsky and Clifford, Messing with a Friend with Susan Messing and Tj Jagadowski. I mean Detroit was the improv mecca for a week in August! Thank god a nuclear bomb didn’t go off  in Michigan or improv would have taken a huge hit! This was truly a great event bringing acts from all around. And not only do they have great acts but they have great full audiences too! And they treat their improvisors very well here. I was so full from all the free food it was crazy!

Why You Should Visit:

Hands down one of the best improv festivals in the country right now. A chance to mix and mingle with improvisors and headliners from all over the US and Canada and a ton of great opportunities to see great shows and do workshops from the best.

The Experience: Ventura Improv Festival

Performing with Kind Strangers in Ventura

Performing with Kind Strangers in Ventura

Labor Day Weekend! I went to the small beach community of Ventura, CA and stopped off at The Ventura Improv Festival. Run by the Ventura Improv Company, the festival is mostly local acts with a few acts from out of town. The theater and community is really great here and very welcoming. A mix of short-form and long-form, the audiences were packed in every night giving us improvisors a great and enthusiastic crowd. The one thing I really get from this festival is their tightness as a company. They almost seem like family there. And they should be…the company has been around since 1989 bringing improv to the Ventura region.

Why You Should Visit:

Located in a beautiful beach city, they are always willing to put up traveling improv groups or have you in one of their shows. It’s a great community that makes you feel at home!

The Experience: The Kansas City Improv Festival

The Mullaney Chain: Kansas City!

The Mullaney Chain: Kansas City!

Off to the Midwest! In September, I found myself deep in the midwest at the Kansas City Improv Festival in Kansas City, Missouri. This was a really fun fest for me. It was a dream come true to play with Kevin Mullaney, Jill Bernard, Trish Berrong and Ed Doris in Mullaney Chain. I also got to play with After School Special, which is a local troupe who invited me to play with them and we had such a fun and magical show in front of a packed house.

Why You Should Visit:

The improvisors in Kansas City are really great and welcoming and they have a few improv theaters there. A great chance to meet improv vets and see some great acts. Also, Kansas City is a great place to hang out for the weekend. And if you do pass through go see After School Special. They’re pretty rad!

The Experience: The Red Rocks Improv Festival

The Narrows - Zion National Park

The Narrows – Zion National Park

Man, I can’t say enough about this festival. I’ve been their since it’s inception four years ago and I keep going back. This is for sure the smallest fest with the biggest heart. Run by Off the Cuff Improvisation out of Cedar City, Utah it’s a weekend of not only shows and workshops but group bonding! One of the highlights of this fest was trudging through water in Zion National Park with a group of improvisors from all over. We even jumped off a rock into icy cold water!

Why You Should Visit:

The location and people! Off the Cuff Improvisation is a great company that takes care of you. Finding you places to stay, bringing in huge crowds in such a small community and even renting a huge van to commute you around to different nature hikes. This city is surrounded by beauty not only by nature but by the friendships you make here.

The Experience: Coldtowne Theater (Austin, TX)

Austin, Tx is just a fun town! I was invited out to teach and perform out here and was amazed at the family feeling I got from them! My friend Amy Carpenter, who I first met in Phoenix on one of my favorite teams Mail Order Bride, let me stay at her house for the weekend. The backyard was filled with chickens and I even had a welcome sign in my guest bedroom. Amy was also converting one of her rooms into a small theater! The Artistic Director of Coldtowne Cody Dearing has done a wonderful job in creating a great environment there and they are always welcoming in bringing in guests and troupes. Hit them up if you’re in town!

Why You Should Visit:

Austin, TX is an amazing town with tons of great food and food trucks. Coldtowne Theater puts on some great shows and their theater is a fun place to perform, you can feel the passion of the artform all over.

The Experience: The Denver Improv Festival

Who doesn’t like fall in Denver? What a beautiful city. And not only that they have such a wonderful community. The Denver Improv Festival, run by the non-profit organization Group Mind Foundation runs heck of a fest! On the first night the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse offered performing improvisors free beverages! You know they were all over that! It’s a beer town of course they would! Again this is a festival that brings in great acts and workshops too. It’s also a well established improv community that has around four major improv theaters.

Why You Should Visit:

Denver is beautiful in October, which is when the festival usually happens. The Group Mind Foundation and the participating theaters make you feel welcome and offer performers some great perks.

The Experience: GhostFest (Phoenix, AZ)

This improv marathon is one of the only ones that I know of out West. It’s a two day marathon with a ton of shows and performers. GhostFest is a fundraiser for the popular Phoenix Improv Festival. The great thing I love about this marathon is people experiment! Shows are not alway about being funny, which a ton of them are, but they are not afraid to be serious and take some risks.

Why You Should Visit:

A great opportunity to meet a ton of improvisors and do a lot of shows. You can even hop into shows. If you’re around you might just be asked to join. It’s a fest that is fun, funny and spiritual all at the same time.

The Experience: Finest City Improv (San Diego, CA)

Finest City Drink Menu

Finest City Drink Menu

My last stop was Finest City Improv who will officially open their theater in December, but has a soft opening happening now. Run by their Captain Amy Liweski, an improv warrior in my book, is really trying to grow the improv scene in San Diego. Opening this theater is one way she is doing it, the other way she will be doing it is by producing the San Diego Improv Festival that will be Valentine’s Weekend in February of next year. I love watching the thirst and passion to create a community down here. They’re not alone we even got to hang out with some of the Sidestage Improv folks too who have their own shows, but also cross pollinate between the two and will be helping put on the festival as well.

Why You Should Visit:

San Diego it seems always has great weather. And the Finest City gang always have an open door policy to any improvisor from San Diego or from out of town. The cool thing about the theater there is it’s attached to a hotel, so you can get a room, food and drink anywhere at anytime even in the theater! I got tater-tots and Lava Cake one night! YUM!

Wrap up:

It’s been a great and fun journey and I really want to say that if you get a chance to go to a festival or go to a theater if you’re visiting a town or city do it! You will always feel at home when you visit improvisors, theirs always a room or couch waiting for you, an eager improvisor to show you their city or have you perform with them. I can’t believe how far we’ve come as a community in only really the last 5 years. It’s been pretty amazing! No matter how big or small the fest or theater is, one thing is always true in all my travels. Improvisors are the most kind and amazing people on this planet!

 

 

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Nick Armstrong

Nick is the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups held in California and Pennsylvania every year. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want!

 

 

Spotlight On: The 13th Annual Phoenix Improv Festival

I met Bill Binder in an iO West Class over 10 years ago. He would drive from Arizona to LA to take his class each week and then drive back home the same night. He finished classes at iO and went back to Phoenix to help created the Phoenix Improv Festival and The Torch Theater.

My first ever improv festival was PIF in 2004. Among the improvisors there were such improv vets as Craig Cackowski and Jack McBrayer. I had no idea what an improv festival was or what it was even all about. But I have to say I was the luckiest improvisor alive to experience PIF. It really was a game changer for me as an improvisor and improv in general. It paved the way for a lot of things including NIN. Celebrating their 13th year as a festival I interviewed Executive Producer of PIF and Co-Founder of NIN Bill Binder about the upcoming festival:

You’re celebrating 13 years of the Phoenix Improv Festival. How does that feel and what are your goals this year?

Reflective. We have such a huge wonderful community, but some of us have been here since PIF 1. It’s interesting to see how the community and we, as people, have grown and changed in the past decade. We’ve learned so much and we’re always excited to have new people and ideas help it grow even more.

Logistically we have many internal goals that are related to growth. The last two years we played it a little safer than we had in the past because there were so many things going on in Phoenix. Dearing Studio and The Torch opened, NCT and Theater 168 both expanded. Weddings, babies. So much. But this year we can put a lot of our focus back on the festival growing again. We want to push our comfort levels a little. We’re right on the cusp of becoming a much bigger cultural event here.

Our other big goal is becoming another hub for communications between improvisors. Our first festival was designed solely to get the theatres in our town together to learn from each other. We’re really at a point where we can be doing that on a national level. If we’re all in one place, why not use that time to share ideas as theatre owners and festival organizers outside of just having shows?

What can improvisors expect at your festival outside of performances? Workshops? Conferences?

We’ll have a few workshops for sure this year. We haven’t nailed down exactly who yet. We will be bringing back the unconference this year after it’s success last year. Every festival has great discussions during after parties, but we’ve moved them into the daytime as well. Saturday afternoon will be set aside for organized discussions in the hotel on coaching, marketing, improv theory, you name it. Last year, the breakout panel was a discussion on gender issues in improv across the country. We’re really excited to be host to these conversations so that we can all grow.

We’ll also be having a photo shoot and probably a few other things to announce. Oh, and the after parties will be pretty great this year.

Talk about your venue? Where does PIF take place?

We love playing in The Herberger Theater Center. I honestly believe it’s the most beautiful venue in our state. We all love our respective theatres in town, but it’s nice once a year to dress up nicer and present our art to an audience that might not think to see improv otherwise.

What’s there to do in Phoenix?

It depends what you’re looking to do. Our venue is about 1/4 of a mile from Chase Field where the AZ Diamondbacks play. We’re also just south of The Phoenix Art Museum, Opera House and The Deck Park. There are plenty of good places to eat around Phoenix too. Visitors almost always love Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles and some folks want to go visit Pizzeria Bianco ever since Oprah named it The Best Pizza in America. (If you want to avoid the four hour wait, ask a local for the secret to get in fast). We are also in old-west territory, so we have plenty of mountains and deserts nearby for hiking and views. Of course, past festivals have shown that plenty of people just love hanging out at the pool or playing basketball at the hotel. (Did I mention we put all of our performers and instructors up in a hotel a block from the venue?)

What makes PIF different then any other festival?

Wow. That’s a great question. I think the big difference I see between PIF and other festivals which I love is that most festivals are really connected with the passionate people at a particular theatre in town. Phoenix takes more of a Green Bay Packers approach. I don’t think the people of Phoenix associate the festival with any particular group or theatre. It’s part of the cultural landscape of the city. People get excited talking about it eight months before it happens because they know it will be a celebration for everybody. As much as we use the festival to promote improv all over the city year round, people know the festival as part of this city’s traditions and they come out to see great art. We take that responsibility to heart to show them great art and that means treating our visitors like the artists they are. I know – as a traveling performer – that sometimes you feel a bit like a vagabond, but here you’re an artist. And I think that respect leads to great shows and great times. We still use one venue because if we invite you to come play, we want to see you. and we want other troupes to see you too. I was honored by the quote from Dave Hill in our local paper last year.

There are a couple of festivals that have been around for a while that have become a little more corporate, a little long in the tooth. And that’s why the PIF is so unique. It’s grown, but it feels like both a grass-roots and a big-time experience.

Submissions for The Phoenix Improv Festival are now open and you can instantly submit on NIN today! Submit HERE.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want!

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6