5 Things I’ve Learned in the Improv Festival Circuit

We want to welcome Ryan Nallen to the NIN blog team! You’ll be hearing from him more. Check out his first blog which we love about what you learn on the improv fest circuit. As someone who travels to a ton of these a year. I totally agree with the below thoughts! – Nick Armstrong

From Ryan:

Performing in improv festivals can be fun and exciting and it can also be terrifying. In the past year, my improv group Switch Committee has had the amazing opportunity of being able to perform in numerous festivals around the country. In this post, I discuss some of the things I’ve learned as a newbie to the improv festival circuit. So, let’s get started…

  1. Everyone is supportive. This seems like an obvious one, but it still needs to be said just in case people are worrying about traveling to another state to do improv or sketch or standup among people you’ve never met before. Since we all have common interests (comedy) people are quick to be friendly and actually have a general interest in meeting you. We all are there for the same reason, but we all have a different past or story of how we got here. There’s a metaphor for life somewhere in that last sentence. It’s interesting to hear people’s stories and hear how their group has developed, where they’re from and what their plans for the future are. Obviously, you’ll encounter some ‘too cool for school kids’ or people who think they are better than everyone, but those people quickly stand out as being everything but cool. Don’t worry, you probably won’t be running into them after that experience. The most important thing for everyone is support. Being supportive of one another is the glue that keeps this community together.
  2. 2.     Traveling helps to create a stronger team bond. Doing trust-falls, having team bonding nights, and hanging out (different from just rehearsing regularly) with one another on a regular basis is great (and definitely recommended) but sharing a four hour car ride while singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a hotel room that has a shower in the middle of the room is a whole other thing. Switch Committee actually had a hotel room in Cleveland when we were at the Big Little Comedy Fest that had a walk-in shower where you could walk into it from the living room. If you’ve got 5 people in your group you’ll probably try to cram everyone into a hotel room with one bed to cut costs. That means people will be on the floor, on chairs, and sleeping together in the bed. That means you’ll have mornings reminiscent of that “Those Aren’t Pillows” scene from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Fun right?!
  3. This is a great way to network yourself and your group. Traveling to different states to perform means meeting other people and groups who have traveled from other states and so on and so forth. That also means meeting people (new friends) who run other festivals in other states. You see where I’m going with this? Getting your group out there to perform with other groups from around the country will open the door for more festival opportunities. For example, when Switch Committee traveled to Detroit to play we ran into some people who help run the Denver festival. They saw us perform and asked us if we’d be interested in doing that festival. Then when we were in Denver, we got asked to play at the Eau Claire Improv Festival because the guys who help run that festival were also performing at the time. Performing in Detroit and Denver also opened the door for us to travel to the Phoenix Improv Festival which we’ll be performing and teaching a workshop at in April. The point being that one thing had led to another in terms of festival opportunities and it’s all because of meeting new people who share the same joy that you do. Everything happens for a reason. Obviously, you’ll still have to go through the festival submission process like everyone does, but it can’t hurt your chances of being accepted if they’ve already seen you at another festival. Even better, if you had a good show at the festival that they saw.
  4. It’s a good way to test yourself to see where you are in your comedic career. If you’re ready (mentally and financially) to travel to another state to try and make an audience of people you don’t know laugh than you should be doing it. It also depends on why you are doing this in general. If you just like making your friends laugh than sticking to doing shows in your hometown or friend’s studio apartment might be your best bet. For example, me, I love making people I don’t know laugh. For me, I rarely invite people I know to shows because I don’t want them laughing because they know me. I don’t want courtesy laughs. If you want to make a career out of doing comedy, courtesy laughs aren’t the route you want to be going. No one is doing you any favors. There is no better way of seeing whether or not you can ‘cut it’ than by traveling to do comedy in a place outside of your normal stomping grounds. Personally, I want to legitimately make a room full of people who I’ve never met before laugh because my group and I have created something wonderful, artistic, imaginative and most importantly…funny. Funny is funny. Traveling to different states and making people laugh has helped to boost my confidence as a performer. The key word being confidence. Not cockiness, which you’ll see in some of the ‘too cool for school kids’ that I had mentioned earlier.
  5. You get to TRAVEL! We all love going on vacation. That’s a fact. Imagine though that you get to go on vacation with your best friends for a weekend every few months to a new place to do something that you love. It sounds like a dream doesn’t it? Well that’s cause it is. You get to meet new people, eat at new places, and perform in front of a new audience that has never met you before. It’s fun and terrifying at the same time.

In the end, if you’re currently a performer or group that’s on the fence about traveling to a festival, stop worrying about it and take a risk. Grab a camera, film your show, gather up some change for a submission fee from all the cheapskates in your group and then submit to a festival. There’s nothing to lose, but there is so much to gain. If you have a good show, great. If you have a bad show, great. Good show or bad, you’ll have gotten the chance to travel to a new place, strengthen your bond as a team, network and make new friends, test your comedic abilities on a national scale, and support others with the same artistic visions as yourself. I don’t want to sound like a Nike slogan, but….just do it.

Ryan Nallen is a graduate of the iO Training Center as well as the Annoyance and is currently about to graduate from the Second City Conservatory in Chicago.  Aside from Switch Committee, Ryan is an Associate Producer for Big Little Comedy as well as a member of the Playground Incubator team Desperado. In January 2013, he completed an entire month of comedy by performing 31 days in a row. He’s a frequent blogger (nastynally.com and iO Water Cooler), PinteresterInstagramer and Tweeter. Based on that previous sentence, it can be assumed that he has no life.

***Ryan Nallen is a blog contributor to NIN. If you want to contribute please send us and e-mail at nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com to be considered.

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