Our Improv Family

The improv world lost a great improv legend. Mr. Jay Leggett. Last week at iO West in Hollywood they had a memorial for Jay, an amazing improvisor who I had the honor of seeing in Joel Murray and Friends at iO. Jay was on the legendary improv Harold team Blue Velveeta. Not only was he an amazing performer and coach he was just a warm and friendly person who would always stick around after shows that he coached or performed in and chat with you.

Being in the bar after the memorial was awe inspiring. Seeing a family come together for an amazing person. I say the word family because it dawned on me how this crazy thing we do called improv is more than just a stage, tag outs and make’em ups it’s really a family. No matter what theater or team you’re on, we are all a part of something bigger. I think Susan Messing said it best on her Facebook Page…

From Susan:

Last night, in the haze of sadness and joy in celebrating Jay, an overwhelming feeling came over me. It’s not until one of our comedy friends leave us that we really get to take stock of how fortunate we are to know each other, to have been able to grow up together, how privileged we are to be able/allowed to do comedy and to be members of this tribe. As someone who tries to always look forward, sometimes it is good to sit back and take stock of how long we have known each other- I am so grateful to be a member of this community, to have the opportunity to take such pride in your collective brilliance- and I look forward to the opportunity to play with you again. Infinite Love to You All.

Thank you Jay for your contributions to improv and everyone you made laugh, taught and inspired. The improv world has lost a great soul.


Blue Velveeta









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

The Improvisors Project – A Discussion with Sam Willard

If you’ve been lucky at an improv festival or camp in the last year, you may have been lucky enough to have had your picture taken by Sam Willard. Sam is a photographer who has been capturing improvisors offstage expressing emotions and feelings through his photographs. It’s a fascinating project and Sam was kind enough to share some thoughts on the project.

Sam WIllard photographing David Razowsky back stage at the San Francisco Improv Festival in 2012.

Sam Willard photographing David Razowsky back stage at the San Francisco Improv Festival in 2012.

It’s clear from just the avatars on this page that many people on the National Improv Network have been involved with the Improvisors Project, but for everyone else. What’s the project about?

The Improvisors Project documents and celebrates the diverse pool of talent in the improv community, through portraits of its many members. As soon as I started getting involved with improv a few years ago, I saw the amazingly expressive people and knew that they had the potential to be great portrait subjects. That realization planted the seed for the project.  My first photo shoot was in 2012. Since then, I have had shoots all over the country and photographed over 200 improvisors.

Everyone here loves improv. You love photography with equal zeal. But we’re all artists who appreciate the process. What brought you to photography?

I was always an artistic kid. From early childhood, I had a passion for drawing. I spent hours drawing every day after school. In my teens, I got more into making portraits, instead of just ideas from my imagination. But creating realistic drawings of faces was difficult for me. I suppose that the camera’s ability to realistically render faces is part of the reason I shifted toward photography, as my interest in portraiture deepened.

I spent years taking pictures as an amateur, starting in college and on into my twenties. I discovered that photography was a way to engage with people, and to draw out and capture something essential about them. During the time I was learning photography, I got a business degree and worked in business and tech for several years. When that started to lose its appeal—and at the same time my photography skills were maturing—I decided to make a career switch. That was ten years ago. I have been a professional photographer ever since.

Improv and photography are two very interesting art forms to bring together. One celebrates the immediacy and intimacy of a shared moment that will never be recreated. The other is about finding the beauty of a moment and preserving it. Being part of both worlds, how do those ideas play off of each other? How do you feel the marriage of the two helps you grow as an artist.

As I mentioned, photography was a way for me to engage with people and make authentic connections. I guess improv appeals to me for the same reasons. As you say, improv is ephemeral, and photography is more permanent. But that difference is in the product. I like both art forms because of the process. And in terms of process, portraiture and improv are remarkably similar.

When I meet with a portrait client, they have hired me because they need to project an authentic image of themselves, capturing those qualities that best communicate to their intended audience. But they have never met me before. I have never met them. And usually (unless they are a celebrity) I don’t know much about them. It can be awkward. And the photo studio is an intimidating place, with bright lights and this stranger pointing a camera at you. On top of all that, the only tools I have to tell my client’s story within the rectangle of the image, is their face and body, and my simple background.

If you think about it, this scenario is almost exactly like a basic improv scene: Two people. Simple stage. Bright lights. No props. Just your body and your voice to connect with each other and tell a story. Both performers have to engage and discover some essential truth, and go from there.

Without a doubt, my experience as a portraitist informs my improv, and vice versa. And they both strip away all the bullshit. Just two human beings, creating an authentic human connection. One is ephemeral and one leaves a record, but both are awesome. Life is full of so much noise. Authentic connections are precious, even thrilling. It is why I love portraiture. It is why I love improv.

Looking at your photos, it’s clear that this isn’t The Improv Project, it’s the Improvisors Project. Most improv photography in years past has focused on performance and the ensemble, but this project captures the individual performers outside of that environment. As a photographer this probably gives you a more individual connection. What was the motivation for the focus on the performer rather than the show?

What amazes me about improv is that so much can be created with just vocal and physical expression. For me, the best way to capture expression is by isolating the individual. This strips away context and narrative, and leaves pure expression. Also, these portraits are meant to be viewed in groups. The identical composition, lighting, and backdrop, framing the individual subject, makes it easier for the viewer to see the amazing variety of expression from person to person and shot to shot.

These aren’t mug shots. The photographs in your collection are filled with incredible variations in expression and ideas. What are you hoping to get out of an individual photo shoot? What goes into the decisions you make on a performer by performer basis?

My goal with every photo shoot is to capture a wide range of improvisors, and to make photographs that capture big, authentic emotion. I usually schedule photo shoots at times and places when I am going to get a lot of people in a short period (festivals, workshops, camp, etc).  I photograph each improvisor for only about five minutes, but I schedule many people over a period of several hours on one or more days, so I end up with a lot of portraits at a single event.

When an improvisor steps in front of my camera, I don’t have any set ideas of what I want before I begin. I start with a clean slate and an open mind, like at the beginning of an improv scene. I usually let their physicality cue me toward an emotional state of mind, then I prompt them to heighten. For example, if they look uncomfortable (as people often do when first in front of a camera), I might say—as if I am their inner voice—“Timmy Jenkins, don’t you dare wet your pants, no matter how bad you have to pee! Everyone on this school bus is going to call you pissy-pants, and you will be the laughing stock of Third Grade!” Then, once he or she starts to squirm, and get into the state of mind, I might engage with them as a scene partner. “Hey guys, look! Timmy looks like he’s gonna piss himself! Pissy-pants! Pissy-pants! Hah, hah!” This heightening can go on for a few rounds. When the emotion gets dialed up as high as it can go, that’s when I start making pictures. The whole process from start to peak to done lasts just a few minutes, then it’s over and the slate is wiped clean again with each new person.

I should say that much of my work goes on after the fact, during the editing process. The photo shoot is a frenzy of activity where I try to create as much raw material as possible. Sorting through everything afterwards is where I do the precision work of finding those peak moments of authentic emotion. And, as you said, the end result from a series of portraits is incredible variation.

You’ve had the opportunity to meet many incredible performers, but specifically, you’ve had the opportunity to work with The Committee. That’s a pretty rare and special thing. What are your memories with working with that group of incredibly talented performers?

Hands down, the best part of doing this project has been the access it has provided me to people I otherwise would probably never have met. Photographing members of the Committee did indeed feel rare and special.

The 50th anniversary reunion event earlier this year had almost every living Committee member in attendance, and I jumped at the chance to participate. Many guests were in their 80s, and hadn’t performed in decades. But every individual brought incredible presence when they stepped in front of my camera. And to my pleasant surprise, many of them twinkled with incredible mischief and glee, as if they were still young actors creating live improvised theater every night.

Some of my favorite portraits from The Improvisors Project were created that night. But I have to say the highlight of the evening happened off-camera. As the event started, and the room filled up with people, arriving one by one, old friends lit up seeing each other for the first time in ages. Many of the original Committee members in attendance had lived 40+ years living elsewhere and doing other things after the Committee. But being together with dear old friends brought everyone back to 1963, and all the youthful camaraderie that time held for them. I wasn’t even alive in the 1960s, yet I was overcome by the emotion in the room. Like seeing old soldiers being reunited long after the war had ended. I was reminded of the great fraternity that improv creates, and the close bonds I have in my own group of improvisors.

I notice one important omission from the project so far. No pictures of Sam Willard. At least none that I’ve seen publicly. Do you consider yourself – as an improvisor – to be part of this collective, or do you feel yourself more the observer in this project?

Hah. I definitely consider myself to be part of the improv community. It’s just technically a bit hard to do a self-portrait, with the way these images are made. I actually did get in front of the camera on my very first Improvisors photo shoot. I wasn’t thrilled with the results. Maybe there will be a Sam Willard portrait at some point.

Just like any great improv set, this project started from a simple idea. Where it went from there was not based on invention, but discovery. What have been the discoveries you’ve made along the way? How has the project shaped you and those around you?

As an artist, this project has shown me that the old axiom is true—follow your passion. The elements of this project are things that I am passionate about, things that excite me. That got me energized, and in turn energized others whose support have been essential to the project’s success.

I also discovered that—like in an improv scene—being open to serendipity is more fruitful than having a rigid plan. At each step of the way, I was uncertain what was next for the project. The more open I have been to possibilities, the better things have worked out.

Finally, by meeting so many improvisors, I have discovered that the improv community is even more awesome than I had thought. I have been fortunate to meet a ton of people who are fantastic on and off the stage, and it motivates me to continue the project, so I can meet and photograph many more.

Along those lines, what’s next? Do you think this is a project that will ever be complete or will it keep on growing? Have your ideas on what to do with these photographs changed over time? What’s the next step for The Improvisor Project?

This year I got married and had a lot of other big events in my personal life. Time to work on The Improvisors Project was limited. Now that my schedule is opening up a bit, I am planning to dedicate more energy to the project in 2014. I hope to travel to several cities and festivals, and photograph many more awesome improvisors. I have a “bucket list” of people who I particularly admire, and hope to photograph starting next year. All the while, I hope to continue sharing the project with the improv community that it represents.

I recently set up Facebook and Twitter pages to announce photo shoots and show off new work. I share an “Improvisor of the Week” every Friday. I plan to roll out a dedicated website in early 2014 (and in the meantime, you can see portraits from the series on samwillardphoto.com). A year from now, I will probably be thinking about putting together a book and exhibition.

The project is ongoing. As long as there are improvisors expressing themselves so creatively, I don’t see why I would stop.

Improvisors_01a Improvisors_01b
Improvisors_02a Improvisors_02b
Improvisors_03a Improvisors_03b

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

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to all

Happy Thanksgiving to all

It’s an incredible time to be an improvisor! As the world gets smaller, we all are reaching out and making connections with performers all over this country and around the world. We’re learning from each other, sharing ideas and discovering that there are so many more people than we ever imagined who share the same deep love of improvisation that we do. And for the most part, those people will do anything they can to help each other, laugh together play together and push each other to grow in improv even more. We are truly blessed.

So today, we take a break to remember the things we are thankful for. As individuals we have all had a year of huge triumphs and defeats. As improvisors, we have much to be thankful for in 2013. Everyone is welcome to add their own thoughts. These are things I’m thankful for as an improvisor this year.

  • I’m thankful that we share an open and supportive community. Always celebrating in each others successes
  • I’m thankful that even the most celebrated and revered performers and teachers will always take the time to help a level 1 student.
  • I’m thankful for the performers and teachers who fly from city to city, sleeping on couches and cheap hotels to share their knowledge.
  • I’m thankful to all our families, who may not fully understand why we are doing this instead of using our engineering degrees, but support us 100%.
  • I’m thankful that more than anytime in history, audiences are coming to understand improv – not as a gimmick – but as a way to truly explore the human condition.
  • I’m thankful that there are over 50 active festivals across North America alone, introducing new people to improv almost every weekend somewhere.
  • I’m thankful that new theatre companies are starting and old theatre companies are finding new homes.
  • I’m thankful for the bosses in our “day jobs” who understand that a few times a year we need Fridays off to go play in another city.
  • I’m thankful for the new friends I’ve met in this year.
  • I’m thankful that the gifts we give each other onstage don’t require waiting in line at Best Buy.
  • I’m thankful for people like Lucien Bourjeily and hundreds of others who have literally risked their lives to bring art and improv to parts of the world where it was once forbidden.
  • I’m thankful for those pushing the limits of form, character work, technology and performance to create new shows we never could have conceived of.
  • I’m thankful that more incredibly talented performers like Pete Holmes and Chris Gethard are getting the praise they deserve and paving the way for more performers.
  • I’m thankful that Chicago, New York and Los Angeles will always have great theatres, but they’re no longer the only cities that do.
  • I’m thankful that all of us; students, teachers, performers, coaches, directors, producers and theatre owners are are taking ownership of this thing we love; protecting it and dedicating their time to it. I know that those who came before us sacrificed so much to make the road easier for us today and we continue to work to make the path easier for the improvisors who will come after us. Each year more and more performers have the chance to play and love to the fullest of their potential. I am thankful for every improvisor in the world who makes this happen.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. And to everyone who has joined us in this daring adventure of a webpage, a most heartfelt thank you. We came to you with a simple idea and you have all yes anded it into something wonderful and still growing. From everyone at NIN, you have our deepest gratitude.

Spotlight On: The Milky Way Improv Festival

482773_523852694324029_8972322_nThe Milky Way Improv Festival, held in Roseville, CA (Near Sacramento) will be celebrating it’s second year March 21-23 and we couldn’t be happier. I had the privilege of attending last year and they treated us right. Great venue, great people and a great town! I had a chance to interview the Festival Producers and owners of Blacktop Comedy Paul Burke and Betsaida LeBron:

This is your second year throwing the Milky Way Improv Festival. How did the idea of doing this festival start?

We had attended a lot of improv festivals (Seattle, Austin, San Francisco, Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angelas). An improv festival is this perfect blend of talent, passion, and openness. It’s all about the art form at a festival, and everyone wants to share, and listen to ideas. Simply attending the festivals inspired us. We wanted to bring the Roseville/Sacramento community a festival that could showcase incredibly talented improv productions from all over. We want this area to be inspired, and realize, “We can do that with improv?!”

Why Milky Way Improv Festival as a title?

Maybe there’s life on other planets! We’d hate to limit our festival to Earth and possibly miss out on some improv troupe submission from Gliese 581. We wanted to suggest this festival is big and welcoming.  We want to include as many teams as possible. There’s so much amazing improv being produced and performed, and we welcome all of it to the Milky Way Improv Festival.

What’s the improv scene like in the Roseville/Sacramento area?

I’d say ‘growing’ and ‘learning,’ describes the scene. New faces drop into an improv class every week and keep coming back! Seeing new performers, people who have NEVER stepped onstage before, realize, “I can do this!” is pretty inspiring. As performances go, you can find both long and short form improv in Roseville/Sacramento. Everything from a classic harold, to an all female acappella improv group perform in Sacramento/Roseville.

What are your goals for the second year?

The first year was so fun and we got a lot of positive feedback. We did learn a number of things and are excited for the 2014 festival.

Our goal this year is threefold.

First, let the improv community know about our festival. We’ve met a number of improvisers who have told us, “we didn’t know about the Milky Way Improv Festival.” That’s on us, and we’re working to fix that.

Secondly, we’re looking for lineup of shows that extends beyond California. California troupes and beyond, we welcome your submissions!

Thirdly, we’re looking to offer more improv courses. As the local improv community grows, we would love to bring them, and all festival goers, a variety of classes. Interested in teaching a class? We’re accepting submissions!

What can improvisers expect if they attend your festival?

We want you to enjoy yourself. Think of this as a weekend long party for improv. One of the biggest perks of the festival is our theater venue. We’re lucky enough to partner with a Tower theatre in Downtown Roseville. The Tower Theater is a gorgeous 200+ seat theater. Social events at local bars and restaurants will be planned and organized, so you will have an opportunity to spend time with other performers. Discounted hotel rooms will be arranged. If you would like to teach a class, a classroom with be provided to you. What would you like to see at our festival? One thing we do well is listen, and are always open to ideas.

For those who haven’t been to Roseville/Sacramento, what are some of the things people can check out in the city during the day or any places to visit?

There are lots of great things in the region. Here are just a couple (we’ll list more on the website soon):

Placer County Wine Trail

Hiking and Biking trails

Award Winning Restaurants

Sacramento Kings basketball

The Crocker Art Museum

white water rafting in Montreal

Old Town Sacramento

Maybe I’m biased because Sacramento is my hometown, but I have to say this festival was amazing and the venue is a great place to do your improv show! It’s an amazing theater and you’ll get a great crowd! Paul and Betsaida have created a wonderful community here and the Sacramento/Roseville area is a great place to explore. It’s Gold Rush town!

To submit to the festival instantly on NIN click HERE.

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


Festival Travelling Tips

Congratulations on being accepted to your first festival. You’re going to get to perform for people in a new city and go on a road trip with your friends. It’s going to be a fantastic time. But if it’s your festival, there are a few things that will make your time more fun overall.

1. Pack accordingly

This is just like any non-improv trip, but it’s a good reminder. Check the weather. Know how many days you’ll be there. Bring the right toiletries etc.

2. Drive if you can

Sometimes flying is the only feasible option, but if you can drive – do it. It’s not only a cheaper option (most but not all of the time) it gives you two advantages. First, a road trip with your cast is fantastic group mind building. You’re show and your future ensemble health will be better for it. Second, you’ll be able to get around in town. There’s nothing worse than being stuck at the venue and not able to find a ride back to the hotel.

3. Stay near the venue

If there’s an official hotel. Consider staying there unless it’s really outside of your price range. You’ll get to spend some time at the continental breakfast and in the late nights meeting and sharing with other improvisors and you’re more likely to get rides back and forth. If there isn’t a hotel, find one that’s nearby. You don’t want to be so far from the action that you can’t get back to your hotel for a shower or a nap.

4. Party after your show

There are often parties every night. Go. Have fun. But don’t overdo it the night before your show. Doing a show with a hangover is miserable and you’re going to feel crummy for going all that way and not having the best show you could.

5. Record your show

Often times a festival will be recording shows anyway, but if not, ask the tech person if you can set up a camera to record your show. And be respectful. The tech person at a festival is often one of the most thankless jobs at a festival and they’re stressed. Be respectful of their time.

6. Thank volunteers

Speaking of thankless jobs, any festival has countless volunteers who are working their tushes off just because they love improv. Let them know they’re appreciated. The festival wouldn’t be happening without them.

7. See shows

For Pete’s sakes, you’ve come all this way. Why not see something you don’t normally get to see. Go see your friend’s shows, but also try to catch as many shows as possible that you’ve never seen. In our own cities, we often build up our own assumptions. It’s great to have those assumptions challenged.
And if you like a show. Tell them. It’s always nice to hear that you did a good job.

8. Talk about improv outside of the bar

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about improv when you are at the bar. Do it, it’s awesome. You’ll have some passionate debates and idea sessions there. But most of them will be forgotten. Check in during the downtimes during the day. Ask people about their shows and their philosophies. They’re always happy to talk. More and more festivals are having conferences. Go to these, they’re amazing chances to grow.

9. Buy the T-shirt

Yes, you will regret being the only one to not have one.

10. Say goodbye

Take a chance to say goodbye to the people you’ve met on your trip. You’ll see them again in another month in another city. You’re now part of the great travelling nomadic culture of performers. But for now, say goodbye and head back home.

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

Book Highlight: UCB Manual

ucb_cover_1Most improvisors have the same core books in their libraries; Truth in Comedy (Close / Halpern, Johnson), Improvise (Napier), Impro and Impro for Storytellers (Johnstone) and of course Jill’s Small Cute Book of Improv. These are the great starting books to learn the core of our craft. There are of course dozens of other great books that focus on specifics, and countless terrible books.

Many of these books were written in a near vacuum. They were invaluable resources for people who had previously had practically no introduction to true improv. This last decade has been an exciting time of growth. Theatres across the world are resources for this knowledge. We’ve reached a form of critical mass where there is a market for something more, something more specific.

Anyone who went to The Del Close Marathon this year (and saw the mystery box) knows that after a long wait, The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual is finally here and one of the first books to make this step into more specialized improv training.

The book is perfectly named, this isn’t a book like Improvising Better. This is a manual, a textbook. And I don’t mean that it’s cutely formatted like a text book. It’s an Honest to God text book on UCB style play. The book is filled with exercises, terminology, examples, scene analysis and all the other things you would expect from this kind of book. No book can ever be a substitute for actual live training, but the book will solidly prepare you to understand the method and techniques of performing at The UCB.

Does that make this book useless for those who play in other styles? Of course not. The core ideas and evaluations will make any performer stronger, but it’s certainly designed specifically around UCB’s style of play. And that’s fantastic. It fills a gap left by more generalized books on the subject.

The book does indeed seem designed for those with a functional knowledge of longform play, but is always careful to explain even the simplest concepts for the truly beginning improvisor reading the book. That said, although the book is extremely thorough and attentive to the smallest detail, there does seem to be one oddly missing piece of information. Being a UCB book, there is a strong emphasis on game play. There are dozens of wonderful examples and exercises to identify and create game, but there doesn’t seem to be any intro to what a game “is”. That seems to be the one and only assumption the book takes in it’s readers – an understanding of the concept of “the game”. I found this surprising, but even if an unfamiliar reader might be confused in the early chapters, I think the concept becomes fairly clear, if not explicitly addressed.

Improv is growing and education and sharing of ideas is growing with it, both online and in more tangible forms. The UCB Manual is a fresh new take on improv training and I think every performer – UCB or not – longform or not – should give it a read. And this isn’t the end. There are more books coming in the next year with exciting other forms of training. (Including one that will be discussed in two weeks right here.)

What about you? What other books are you excited about?

Hooray books!

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

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






NIN: Where We Are and Where We Are Going!

A message from Co-Founders Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder –

in-the-beginning-title-slide-message-series-950x712-1In the Beginning…

After our official launch at Camp Improv Utopia in California at the end of May it’s been a whirlwind and we can’t thank you enough for your support. When we came up with the idea of NIN a few years back we wanted a place where we could bring improvisors together under one roof and help them grow as performers and as a community. We also set out to help improv theaters and festivals grow and help Improvisors find what they wanted to find: theaters, festivals and improv content. We still to this day believe in this philosophy and will always hold NIN to this standard as long as it exists.

Where We Are…

Flash-forward to today, we have 722 members, 63 festivals listed, 353 Troupes and 60 theatres listed. Now, we will be the first to admit it hasn’t been easy. Like any new site there are some bumps and holes. The site was running extremely slow due to the former server we were on and that was frustrating. Nobody was as frustrated as we were. We fixed it and now it’s running smoothly. We want a site that is user friendly and we apologize for that little hiccup. So far NIN has helped improvisors and festival organizers, with our Instant Submission service, be able to submit to a handful of participating festivals. Some of them include: The Detroit Improv Festival, The Denver Improv Festival, Eau Claire Improv Festival, Houston Improv Festival, Twin Cities Improv Festival, Milky Way Improv Festival, Big Little Comedy FestivalOrange County Improv Festival, The Phoenix Improv Festival, The Alaska State Improv Festival, The Red Rocks Improv Festival. Most all of the festivals listed have experienced more submissions than ever and better quality of troupes. Why a better quality? Because the members on our site are amazing and put up great and complete troupe profiles. So congrats you guys for being a festivals dream!

deloreanWhere We are Going…

We aren’t just a submission service. NIN is so much more! Here are a list of things we are working on for you:

  1. Chat Feature: See someone you like online? Curious about where they’re from? What improv they do? Well we want you guys to chat!
  2. Master Teacher and Instructor pages. That’s right if you’re a Master Teacher or improv instructor you will be able to list your workshops and submit them to festivals as well! Or if you’re a festival organizer, you’ll be able to contact instructors, and read over their workshops. If you’re a teacher you will be able to upload your workshops and resume as a PDF and you’ll be able to list it on your personal profile site as well. *Our Master Teachers will be selected by a committee of Master Teachers. We will release those names when we launch the feature.
  3. Troupe Profiles will be able to upload their songs so that festivals can just download them for easy use when they are accepted and perform at that festival.
  4. Communication to our Members: We will have an area on each of our pages that will have the latest news or features introduced so you know what’s happening on a day to day basis. If we want you to know about it you’ll find it there!
  5. Communities: 722 users can be daunting. But we’ll be adding public and private communities for improvisors to share ideas in smaller forums. Oklahoma improvisors, musical improv, marketing ideas. There will be many communities to find like-minded performers.

lochness27n-1-webNIN Myths and Clarifications:

With all new things there are often times miscommunications. We have been guilty of miscommunications so we want to clarify a few things. NIN is a free site. Anyone is allowed to list their theater, festival, personal and troupe profile for free. However, if a festival uses our instant submission service there is a small fee per submission. The fee goes toward keeping the site maintained and paid for so we can continue to bring you this resource. If a festival decides not to use our submission service they can still list their site and direct their festival link to their own registration page for free. Every festival, theater and performer has different needs and we want to help all no matter what they’re need is.

Finally…Thank You!

We want to thank everyone who as joined the site, read some blogs, submitted to festivals and shared our site to their communities! We could not have done this alone. We honestly believe that we are all better together and we truly thank you for making NIN possible.

Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder

Co-Founders – National Improv Network (NIN)

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!



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