Festival Spotlight – West Coast Musical Festival

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

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

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

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

What can improvisors who submit expect from the festival?

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

Will there be any workshops?

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

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

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

Tell us about the venue you’re performing in.

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

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

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

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


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

Spotlight On: The San Francisco Improv Festival

The San Francisco Improv Festival celebrates it’s 10th Year in September! I was able to do an interview with the Executive Producer of the festival Jamie Wright.

NA: You guys are celebrating 10 years of the San Francisco Improv Festival. How exciting is that? Tell us a little bit about your history.

JW: We’re super-excited to have the 10th anniversary of the Fest happening this year. We have a ton of great stuff happening – improvisation is exploding in San Francisco right now and the scene is full of new groups, schools and some new venues that are going to be fantastic. The fest has gone from a 12-week season of improv when it started to the focused, 10-day event of workshops &  shows with some of the best in the biz. We’re also excited about the work we’re doing around improv history via our documentary on SF’s The Committee, their influence, and the story of how they created [the] Harold. This years fest should be huge – we’re bringing back some favorite headliners, looking to get some surprise new ones and we have our most geographically diverse submission pool yet, so we’re really looking forward to putting together our lineup.

NA: What can improvisors expect from the SFIF this year?

JW: Probably the biggest difference between this year and years past is the load of workshops we are going to offer. We’re in talks with some fantastic teachers from all over the country & from all the different major national schools, and we’re looking to put together a sampling of what you can learn in SF’s improv scene as well. Also, we’re going to focus a bit more on our post-show hangouts. We’ll have the usual performer prices at our full bar for the immediate post-show schmooze, but we’ll also make sure there’s another place to wander off to for libations at different local joints, most likely in North Beach.

NA: San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. What attractions can improvisor partake in?

JW: September is the time of year to be in SF. The summer fog goes away and everyone breaks out their warm weather gear and you see all the local restaurants put out their terraces. There’s the usual run of SF tourist things to do which are all worth a go at least once, but you also have all the major parks in SF (Golden Gate Park & Land’s End are amazing) and you’re an hour’s drive to wine country, a short BART ride to Berkeley & Oakland (SF’s Brooklyn), and the Mission is a foodie’s wet food dream. Though that last part makes it sound way less appetizing than it really is.

NA: Tell us about the venue improvisors will be performing in.

JW: All our improvisors get to play in a 200-seat theater sandwiched between downtown, North Beach and the waterfront. It’s a great, professional theater space to work in with a fairly massive stage to play on. We also in talks on having a satellite 80-seat stage about a 5-minute walk away, just up in North Beach, but more on that as it becomes clearer.

NA: When the festival’s done and people go home what do you hope people will be saying about the festival and the improv community in SF?

JW: We just want to make sure that people feel like they were taken care of and that they were actually in San Francisco. We’ve all done pile-on shows or revues where we feel like we were just given a slot and expected to fend for ourselves – it gets even weirder when it’s not your town. We want everyone who performs here to have the feeling like they got their due, they had a decent house to perform to in a pro venue, and that they got to meet & mix with a bunch of their fellow improvisors, gathered here in this amazing city from around the country & the world. The SF improv community is really cooking right now and it’s an exciting time to be here – come check it out!

So what are you waiting for SUBMIT Today! Or visit www.nationalimprovnetwork.com.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings.  He has also taught many workshops around the country. 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

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