Spotlight on Improv Fest Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

What workshops can improvisors look forward to?

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

What venue is the festival at?

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

What are some fun things to do in Dublin?

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

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

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

What do you look for in a submission?

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

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

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

Spotlight on Improvaganza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kumu Kahua

Kumu Kahua

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on Baltimore Improv Festival

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

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

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

What do you look for in a submission?

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

What are some fun things to do in Baltimore?

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

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

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

Will there be workshops at the festival?

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

To submit to the Baltimore Improv Festival click HERE.

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

New Multimedia Improv Book is the Future

He’s the Co-Founder of iO West and a member of the legendary group Beer Shark Mice and he’s written a new book that is one of the most comprehensive books I’ve read in improv. It is even multimedia. I had a chance to interview Paul Vaillancourt about his new book “The Triangle of the Scene.”

N: When did you start writing the book?

PV: I started actually writing the book about six months ago but it is something that I’ve been thinking about for years and that I’ve been practicing in my classes so when I finally put fingers to keyboard it went pretty quickly.

N: Why did you write the book?

PV:I have been doing this for nearly 30 years and I really love teaching so when I finally landed on the tools that make up “The Triangle of the Scene” I felt like I had something new and concrete to share with people so writing a book seemed like the next logical step.  I had been getting really great results with the triangle in my class and students had been expressing to me how much this approach helped them, so I wanted to share it with a larger audience.

N: Do you recommend this book to improvisors of all levels?

PV: I do.  I think that basics are really important and I always keep coming back to them no matter what level of improvisor I’m working with as a teacher or coach.  Most of the time when I end up coaching a team nowadays they have been around for a while and have kind of lost their way a little bit or are looking to sharpen up their work. When I work with them I try to bring them back and strengthen those basics and that seems to do the trick.  In this book are the approach and exercises that I use with my level 1 class all the way up to those more advanced teams I work with.

N: Tell us what you want improvisors to get from your book.

PV: Improvisors are going to get a set of specific, concrete, replicable tools that they can use over and over again for building better long form scenes.  Giving people notes on one specific scene doesn’t really help them get better because they’ll never do that same scene again.  We need to  identify the bigger lesson or strategy that they can apply to other, different scenes in the future.  I think the tools in this book will do just that.

N: You’re book has media elements in it, not just a book, which is different then any improv book I’ve seen yet. Tell us about that.

PV: I bought a book about film making which I really liked but then I saw there was an iBook version with embedded video and I was blown away by how much better and more understandable the concepts were when I saw them in action. I immediately thought that this technology was perfect for a book about improv.  In the past Charna wrote “Art by Committee” that came with a DVD but that interface always seemed a little clunky – are you going to read the book sitting in front of the TV?  But now technology have given us the option of seamlessly integrating the two so the reader has it all there in front of her.  And I think that being able to read through the principles and description of the exercises and then, right away see it IN ACTION will really bring those lessons home in a very powerful way.

N: You Co-Founded iO West. What made you want to do that?

PV: I was living in Chicago and I had done pretty much everything that I could do there.  I knew I wanted to move to LA, but I really felt like the iO was my home and I didn’t want to leave that community behind.  Then I realized that if I opened an iO in Los Angeles I could kind of have my cake and eat it too. How often do you get to do that in life?  So, I pitched it to Charna and we decided to do it.

N: What were the challenges of starting another branch in Los Angeles?

PV: I think there were a few challenges when we first started here. One, our name. Before we shortened it to iO we used to go by Improv Olympic.  So when I would talk to people about it they would always think of The Improv – the stand up club on Melrose.  That, however, has really changed and people have gone from “What is that?” to “I’ve been there.  I’ve seen shows there.”  That change has been really gratifying.  Our second challenge was that there wasn’t really any long form improv going here when we came out here.  The improv scene was dominated by The Groundlings and ACME.  So, there was a little bit of educating the audience that needed to be done.  And our third challenge was that the LA students were just different than the Chicago students.  At the time, Chicago was the Mecca for improv so the students were mostly improv pilgrims coming to the holy land – they knew some improv and they wanted to be improvisers; that was their end goal.  In LA, the students have different backgrounds and different goals – many of them are actors who want to learn improv as a means to an end (doing better in the commercial auditions or whatever).  Improv was (and still is) for them only part of the puzzle while in Chicago it was the whole puzzle.  Nowadays, though, with the explosion of improv in LA I think we see a combination of those two kinds of students and that’s a pretty interesting change to see.

N: Where do you see improv in 5 to 10 years?

PV: This is a tricky one.  I don’t know that I see improv being that much different per se – I mean the basics are the basics and the principles of a good show are sort of timeless, but I am interested to see how technology might change the way we use or consume improv.  Like now, when I’m teaching I can refer my students to a specific King Ten Harold on youtube.  I couldn’t do that even a few years ago.  That thing that used to the archetype of “you had to be there” is now captured and sitting there waiting to be viewed. I think that’s a big change in improv already.

N: Beer Shark Mice is one of the premier ensembles in all of improv. What’s it like being a part of the group and does it influence your work?

PV: Playing in BSM is great – super fun as you can imagine.  It is a team of alphas and veterans so you can really go for it with everything you’ve got and you know that everyone else is going to do the same thing.  You can play in a really fearless way and I think that has really been the biggest effect on my work outside of BSM.  For example, before playing with those guys I don’t know that I would have been fearless enough to do Man vs. Movie (the world’s only one-man improvised movie).

N: Where can we get your book?

PV: The book is available on iBooks and there will be a Kindle version coming soon.

N: You perform a one-person improv show called Man Vs. Movie. Can you explain the show and tell us how it is just being you out there?

PV: Man vs. Movie is an improvised one man show that I do.  Inspired by an audience suggestion of a line of poetry or a lyric from a song I improvise a feature film complete with characters, plot, special effects and camera angles – everything you would see in a regular feature film but improvised on stage by me.

Being out there solo is scary and thrilling.  The most tense part is right before I hear the suggestion because I have no idea what I’m going to do for the next thirty minutes, but once I start, the show moves pretty fast and I don’t really have time to think or be nervous or any of that.  Things start happening and I’m really in the zone, discovering the movie along with the audience.  A lot of times I’m finding out what’s going to happen at the same time the audience finds out.  I like the show because it’s a little bit of a feat with a little ta-da at the end – like a magic trick.

N: Where can we find out more about your upcoming shows?

PV: You can follow me at any or all of the following:

Instagram: @whatsupwithpv

I really recommend this book because it’s so different and very hands on with the multimedia aspect. You visually get to see what he’s talking about and makes it easier for you to comprehend and even teach. To purchase the book you can click HERE. Enjoy!

Nick Armstrong
Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia a non-profit improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also teaches improv throughout the country.

1,000 Scenes with Morgan Phillips

I think it was Miles Stroth who said you have to do at least 1000 shows before you can become somewhat good at improv. Well how about 1000 online improv shows? Morgan Phillips is on a mission to do just that and guess what you can be a part of it. I interviewed Morgan about his project:

N: Tell us about your project and why you decided to do it?

M: To celebrate my 20-year improv anniversary, I’ve set out to do 1000 online improv scenes in 2015 — each one with a different scene partner.

N: When did you start this project?

M: I started on New Year’s Day, 2015.

N: Do you have a finish date?

M: My goal is to complete 1000 scenes before the end of the calendar year.

N: Tell us how it works, how frequently do you do these?

M: Anybody who wants to be part of the project just needs to send me their general availability, and we’ll set something up. Shortly before the scheduled time I send them a link to a Google Hangout, and (barring technical difficulties) they click the link and we do a digital improv scene together.

I’ve done scenes at all times of the day and night — including a 3am scene to fit the schedule of an improviser in Australia (Reid Workman, scene #111). I have to average approximately 2.75 scenes a day to stay on pace, so I really am looking for anybody and everybody who’d like to participate. So far my scene partners have ranged from artistic directors of improv theaters to a guy literally doing his very first improv scene (Joe Cherry, scene #70). Some of the people are friends of mine, but many of them are people I’ve never met before.

N: What do you think about improv online? What are the pros and cons?

M: The technology is still in its infancy. There are frequent glitches, and sometimes we have to troubleshoot for several minutes before I actually start the Google Hangout broadcast. Once it’s up and running, it’s a lot more limited than actual, real-world improv. There’s less opportunity for physicality and space work, so there tends to be far less “going to the environment” than there would be in a standard scene.

That being said, it’s free. There’s no need to rent a space or book a show, and you can do it any time of the day or night. I highly recommend it for anybody out there who loves improv, but isn’t getting enough stage time. Provided you can find at least one other person who’s into it, you can literally add as much improv into your life as you can stand.

N: What has been the most interesting scene you’ve done so far?

Scene #221 (with Kevin Hines, head of the UCB training program in NYC) was an attempt to do my half of the scene live, on stage. It was an enormous failure, thanks to a huge delay between the scene and the live feed, and an unreliable internet connection. It made for an interesting video, though. The audience at the theater claimed to enjoy it, but it’s possible they were just being polite…

I think this project is so fun and I got a chance to do it with Morgan too. Our suggestion was Pun and we plotted to murder a co-worker. HA! Morgan is a super nice guy and very fun to play with! Go do it and help him reach his goal.

Do you want to be a part of this great project! Feel free to e-mail Morgan at and join the fun!

Nick Armstrong
Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia a non-profit improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also teaches improv throughout the country.

Spotlight on The San Francisco Improv Festival.

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

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

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

What does a troupe get if accepted?

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

What do you look for in a submission?

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

Where in SF do you hold the festival?

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

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

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

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

To instantly submit to the San Francisco Improv Festival click HERE.

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

Spotlight on Coachella Valley

Last year’s Coachella Valley Improv/Comedy Festival was a mouthful, but it was also a great time for a first festival. (Also, it happens to be geographically directly between where Bill and Nick live.) They’re gearing up for their second year and taking submissions. I got to interview Jeanette and hear more about this year’s festival. They’re growing, but not losing touch with made them good to begin with.

Last year’s festival had more positive feedback that just about any other festival out there, but it was also a very small festival so many people may not have heard about it. Tell us a little bit about what the Indio Festival is all about and what it hopes to do?

White Women with Hal Williams

White Women with Hal Williams

The Coachella Valley Improv/Comedy Festival was created to give improv and comedy a platform, more exposure as well as opportunities to commune with like-minded individuals. We view improv as an under-valued art form and want to help give it the respect it deserves as well as help create a wider audience for improv (and stand up comedy.)

We just wound up our “Weekend of Comedy” at the Indio Performing Arts Center. This show featured the winners of the inaugural festival (the improv group “White Women” from Los Angeles) along with two stand up comics that also performed at the festival and fared well with audience votes. Many of our audience members had never seen anything resembling long-form improvisation like “White Women” did, but they ate it up. The “Weekend of Comedy” was really the culmination of last year’s festival. This makes the festival a year-round project, as we now approach the deadline for submissions for this year’s festival.

Indio isn’t a major city, but it brings a very informed and educated audience. Tell us about the community out there and the kinds of shows you’re hoping to attract to show them

Indio is booming. Our county, Riverside, is one of the fastest growing in the nation, and you can tell by just looking around. What used to be a highly seasonal area is becoming more and more a year round destination. The festival just happens to be riding that wave at just the right time.

The local community of Indio is perhaps a little more economically challenged and diverse than the other cities in the Coachella Valley. And yes, there is an informed and educated audience who also happens to be older and maybe a little more conservative than the average improv audience. So, while we don’t want improvisers and/or comics to censor themselves, we do encourage everyone to play to their highest intelligence.

What are some of the things people can do when visiting when the festival isn’t going on?

Some of the major attractions here are the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which transports you from the desert floor to the top of Mt. San Jacinto in ten minutes, tons of golf courses, world-class restaurants and spas which often have off season discounts, the “magic healing mineral waters” of Desert Hot Springs, Wet n Wild Water Park, Indian Canyons and Tahquitz Canyon, Whitewater Preserve (where I personally have spotted Bighorn sheep meandering), The Living Desert, Palm Springs Art Museum, a new aquatic complex in Palm Desert, the College of the Desert Street fair (weekends), the Thursday night street fair in Palm Springs, Hard Rock Hotel, Painted Canyon, and at least 3 casinos which bring in top-name entertainment. A fun activity that costs nothing is to drive around the area and see the homes where icons like Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Liberace, Elvis and others had vacation homes or part-time residences.


Bill and Harpo

Last year you had a very swank banquet for performers. What treats do you have in store this year for people coming to visit?

We are planning to once again have an informal buffet-style meal on Friday night while we mix and mingle and pay homage to Harpo Marx. Perhaps even screen one of the Marx Bros. films together. Harpo’s son, Bill Marx, lives here in the desert. He is an accomplished pianist and has agreed to play and accept an award for his dad’s contributions to comedy. Bill has also written a book about life with his famous father, so we might have a book signing as well–still planning.
On May 16, as a teaser for the fest, we have a special event planned. Drama Desk Nominee and Joseph Campbell Foundation Fellow David Gonzalez will teach a storytelling workshop which will be open to the public. That same evening, he will perform his award-winning one man show, “Mytholojazz.” This is made possible by a partnership with the McCallum Theatre’s “Crisalida” project.

How has the improv and the public perception of it grown in the last year?

It just keeps growing, which I think is healthy. There are at least 5 individuals I know of who teach locally, all or most of whom will be involved in the festival in some way. There is an improv presence at the Idyllwild Arts Academy in the mountains above Palm Springs where I teach 2 improv classes, but also at Coachella Valley High School, College of the Desert, and at Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre–all local institutions. What I love most is what you talked about in your “Miles to Go Before I Sleep” retrospective of last year’s fest. I saw it happen again after “White Women” performed as part of “A Weekend of Comedy:” an older generation with the look of a new found love in their eyes.

What are the things you learned from your freshman festival? What are some things you hope to change or grow this year?

Passionate volunteers are an absolute necessity to pull off a successful festival. It is truly a year-round endeavor. And don’t try to do too much too fast. We hope the festival will grow, but also realize the importance of not growing it too quickly. We’d rather have a high quality small intimate festival than to try to grow it too quickly and have it become impersonal.

Submissions are open until the end of April. Submit now.

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

Getting to the Point

An improv theatre is getting ready to open in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That alone is cause to celebrate. But the story here is pretty remarkable. And they could also use some help from the improv community. So check out their video and then read up on the quick interview I got to do with Jason Tomalia

Michigan has a long history of improv, but never really in Ann Arbor. Which is surprising. For non Michigan folks. Tell us a little bit about Ann Arbor and why it’s a town so in need of improv.

It did have a successful improv theater downtown for a while called Improv Inferno. I won’t pretend to know all the ins-and-outs of why it closed, but I can tell you it wasn’t because they were having a hard time drawing an audience.

Ann Arbor is a university town. There is a solid music scene and the University of Michigan even has a division devoted to musical improv. We’d like to have a stage that embraces improv in all its forms. Ann Arbor is also a counter-culture hub that thrives on questioning and challenging everything. Satire is a natural fit and improv is a medium that allows for pushing boundaries with topical and relevant material.


Jason Tomalia

That said, there is improv all around the state. How have you been connecting with the other great performers and festivals in your state?

I have been active with the improv community in Detroit and did some volunteer work with the Detroit Improv Festival the last couple of years. I have a good relationship with the folks at Go Comedy! and we are working with Gary Lehman who heads up Go U (Go Comedy’s improv training program). Gary is also a performer and director who is well connected to the Detroit improv scene.

I am taking time to get out and watch other performers and groups. We will be inviting established groups in to perform on Fridays and Saturdays, so I will be continually looking to connect with groups from all over the state and beyond.

Tori and Jason will obviously be involved. Who are the rest of your ensemble? How did you come together?

I already mentioned Gary. Mike Fedel also teaches improv in the Ann Arbor area and has a connection to the improvised music scene and he is a musician himself. Meriah Sage is a counterpart to Tori and provides depth to our Saturday Family Series goals as well as creative dramatics for kids, which is essentially a precursor to improv. She is also an outstanding director, designer, and marketing guru. All of us have ties to Eastern Michigan University.
We will be forming our cast of Pointless improvisers (you like that?) through auditions and they will be pivotal in creating our improv, sketch shows, and array of other offerings.

We truly want to embrace a spirit of cooperation so we will be reaching out to others (theaters and individuals), but I don’t want to say too much because nothing has been finalized. (I know, mystery, right?)

Tori Tomalia

Tori Tomalia

When you faced a crossroads, you decided to make the world a little better. Why improv? What has it given to you in your life? How do you hope to share that with the world?

Oh, wow. Why not improv? What hasn’t it given to my life?

Just before Tori’s diagnosis, she was making a name for herself through teaching and directing at EMU and I was getting more connected to the improv scene in Detroit. After the news, I tried to maintain a level of normalcy and continue on, but I had to draw back and process our new reality. I fully relied on skills gained through improv, i.e. accepting change as fuel and going where the scene takes you. The experience has driven home the notion that life is one big improv set with the stakes constantly being heightened. It is up to us to find a way to cope, to “yes, and” and carry on.

Improv has helped me grow and become a better person in so many ways. It has given me an ability to dig down deep, trust my instincts, and find solutions. It has provided a safe place to truly question and it forces you to empathize. Improv builds confidence and character. It has taught me how to have someone’s back and trust in others to have yours. Okay, improv mixed with Tai Chi, meditation, and theatre experience.

Life is improv and improv is life. Conversation is the most natural form of improv. We all do it, everyday. To take that and turn it into a theatrical experience is totally awesome, and super scary. I think the scary part is also a draw. Fear gets in my way all the time. It is what has held me at plateau points with my own improv. It has kept me from making bold moves. Fear has kept me on the back line. The funny thing is that I say fear has done this, but really it’s just me letting the fear have control. Improv is scary, or at least it can be. We grab a suggestion and go. Who knows where we’ll end up? A group’s chosen form hardly guarantees success and can be a hindrance. Improv has taught me to take a deep breath and jump. It will work out. We will find a way to make it work. That’s a good note for life in general. Am I babbling? I should probably shut up. Whatever. The skills I’ve learned through improv have made it easier to cope with my wife’s cancer, have made me a better dad, and have given me the ability to tackle difficult times with a sense of calmness, strength, and belief that we can make the seemingly impossible a little more doable. Improv has also instilled a strong desire to live with honesty, empathy, compassion, kindness, and love. These are the values we teach our kids. These are also values that help strengthen communities. Okay, we’ll call that good. I’ll shut up now before I write a book.


One beautiful thing about improv is that each theatre can pursue their own passion. You’re passion about life is clear from your video. What kind of improv really motivates you? What will Pointless be sharing with the rest of the improv world?

I love long form improv. I love the story structure and the freedom to go anywhere and create anything. Don’t get me wrong, I love short form too, but long form is my true passion. I love satire, as well as social and political commentary. I want our improv to be fun and funny, who doesn’t, but I also want it to question and challenge.

OK, so craft beer. What makes yours delicious?

I brew with love. This may sound cheesy, but I approach beer like improv. Beers have styles, just like sets have forms. Think of a Harold like an IPA. Strong aroma, hoppy, and you’ll probably love it or hate it. There is little in between. Anyway, there are specific elements and points you are trying to hit with various styles of beer, but it is always the brewer that adds their own twist on the recipe. Go out and buy three or four different IPA’s, stouts, porters, lagers, or whatever and sample them along side of each other. There will be differences even within the same style. The same is true of improv forms and groups.

We will be brewing on a small system so that we can take audience suggestions and develop new recipes on a constant basis. This means that even our “go-to” beers will have some slight variation from batch to batch. I look at this as good. Grains and hops are slightly different from year to year. I say embrace it. I’m not interested in modifying ingredients to make sure that each and every time we brew the same recipe it tastes exactly the same as it did before. It will be damn close. To the point that most won’t notice the subtle differences, but the avid consumer will be able to say things like, “oh, this has more citrus notes than the last batch.” There are improv groups that I’ve seen tons of times. Their sets are always different, but almost always delicious… uh, I mean entertaining.


Pointless can only grow. How do you want to see it blossom? What impact are you hoping to have on the community?

Initially blossoming will entail the addition of sketch comedy shows, a college team night, music-based improv, group events, and web content (shorts, web series, etc.). I also want us to get into feature length film/video projects, both improv based and fully written material.

We would love to add a larger brewing system in the future where we could brew and distribute our favorite beers. I also want to do tribute beers to all the improv greats, e.g. Viola Spolin, David Shepherd, Paul Sills, Del Close, Dudley Riggs… Honestly, we could have a tap dedicated to beers inspired by improvisers all over. Think about a beer that honors the intensity of a Mick Napier, or the fun-loving quirkiness of Jill Bernard. Oh, man, great people, great beers.

We will want our classes and workshops up and running as soon as possible (when our doors open, if not before), but that will be another offering. I’d like our school to become the premiere place in the Ann Arbor area for training in improv and writing. I’d also like to see our performers build a body of work while they are with us. I would love to see our little pocket of the country become a powerhouse in the realm of improv and new media offerings.

Our family lives in the neighborhood where we are opening our business. We have a vested interest in making this community stronger for all who live here. My goal is not to become a millionaire, if that is a side effect then cool, but my goal is to provide for my family and give back to the community in any way we can. I firmly believe that businesses have a responsibility to the communities they serve. I know that we want to have events that align with the values I mentioned earlier. I will figure out a way to give to lung cancer research. I ultimately want to find a way to create financial opportunities for improvisers. It gets hard to work for free, so I want to be forward thinking on devising ways to make sure improvisers are compensated for their time, energy, and hard work.

To wrap up, I thought about being a doctor when I was younger, but my heart wouldn’t let me get too far away from the arts. When I was a kid, I was doing an improvised one-man baseball game and shows with my cousins in my back yard for my mom and grandma. I knew this was going to be my life. I devoted my adulthood to theatre. B.A. in theatre, M.F.A in creative writing, an M.A. in theatre with an emphasis in improv, a diploma in improv/sketch writing from the Brave New Institute, and a diploma in improv from GoU. When we went through the intense pregnancy with our twins, my son’s surgery, and then my wife’s diagnosis and subsequent treatment, I wished I had become a doctor. Then I realized that I had chosen the profession that helps people find meaning and peace through the tough times. Comedy helps us cope with the harsh realities of life. The importance of play is highly underemphasized. I am at my best when I keep things light, funny, and don’t take myself too seriously. I want to give that back to my community and offer skills that will help people tackle issues with new eyes. We need to be willing to work together, and more importantly, play together in order to make cool things happen.

To support Pointless, you can head over to their Kickstarter for the next two weeks.

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

Spotlight on The Omaha Improv Festival

The Omaha Improv Festival celebrates its third year. I love watching a small town improv community attract great teams and great instructors. Omaha has done that very successfully. It just goes to show that improv can be anywhere and can be successful anywhere. I was able to interview Dylan Rohde who is the Executive Producer of the festival and Backline Improv.

You’ve created quite a scene in a somewhat small community. What’s your secret? What are the challenges?

There have been many challenges. Whether it was people wanting short-form more at first, to people rejecting Game, to dealing with people who feel like outcasts within our community. Moving downtown was also a struggle as we were almost kicked out of our first location by the health inspector and had to move with no money, at the same time that improv and standup had split ways in the community (lately we have mostly gotten back together though.)

My top 3 secrets are, it’s 1. Community- I try really hard to create a scene that people want to be a part of, and I encourage everyone to hang out as often as I can. For most of the people at our theatre, we are all our best friends. I’ve always believed you can get higher by helping others up rather than stepping on them. 2. I try and be a great teacher. That sounds too broad, but I’ve always felt the best teachers are able to make their material easy to understand to their students. I also think it’s important to work with each student on their strengths and weaknesses. While I was the only teacher for a while, I didn’t want everyone to have the same sense of humor and style. I also believe anyone can be good at improv and refuse to give up on anyone. 3. 3-Line Openers. I don’t know why more schools don’t do these, but they are done every single week in class through our 6 levels except for a few weeks in one level. I also have a different thing to focus on each week, which allows me to cover more ground and link all exercises together on one focus. One week, each line has to be 1 word, then the next week, the first line has to be a vague statement, then the 2nd line gives the specific. This has helped immensely, everyone should do these. I did less 3-line openers in 4 years at 2 schools in LA than my students do by Level 3 here in Omaha.

What’s new to the festival this year?

We have 2 new great venues, and got rid of the worst venue from last year. They are all still very close and within walking distance. We also have the best lineup of shows that we’ve ever had. This is the first year that we have a lineup at Backline that is just straight up solid. It’s the first year that I went out of my way to specifically invite teams I wanted, and got them from the 3 surrounding large improv communities (KC, Denver, and Minneapolis.) Plus, our theatre is cooler, and our part of downtown has improved quite a bit.

What do you look for in a team that’s submitted?

My two biggest values in improv are Trust & Listening. I look for teams that are able to do these well if they want to play the main stage. If I hear over-talking, or someone not taking in information from their partner, then I know they won’t be a good fit. However, we do accept most teams and I try and give everyone the slot accordingly. This year has a much higher rate of quality teams submitting, though, so you should not be butt-hurt if you do not make the main stage. Especially specialty shows and one or two-person teams.

What can improvisors expect at your festival?

They should expect great workshops and shows, as well as a fun time hanging out and getting to know improvisers from all over the nation, especially our neighboring communities. This festival is for improvisers far more than it is for the general public. We want you to land from the airport and start having fun immediately, then not stop having fun till you board to leave again.

What’s some fun stuff to do in town?

Besides the Henry Doorly Zoo (possibly the best in the nation,) and the Old Market (which is right next to most of our events and is basically a large outdoor vintage mall,) we also have Taste of Omaha going on just 9 blocks away. It’s a Food & Music Festival that cost nothing to get in and listen to music, and the food is pretty cheap. This takes place right next to the Missouri River. This is also typically the best week in Nebraska, so the weather should be great for it.

Submissions are due by Sunday the 22nd. To submit instantly to this festival click HERE.

Nick Armstrong

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

Tough Love

I’ve recently seen the movie Whiplash, in which a verbally abusive music teacher (J.K. Simmons) pushes a pupil and class to the absolute brink mentally (and sometimes physically) in the hopes of bringing out greatness within them. It’s an incredible film and really makes you think about how hard you need to work to be good at a certain craft. It also makes you ponder where the line is drawn when it comes to how far you can push someone. Watching the movie I thought of the tactic that the teacher was enforcing, which was a higher intensity version of tough love. Basically, you’re brutally honest and strict yet supportive and caring in your attempt to make that person or group better. All in the hope that they’ll rise to the occasion (or walk away because they aren’t mentally or physically strong enough to take it on). It reminded me of an improv class I once took.

About two years ago, I took a class at a prestigious training institution in Chicago. It was an ultimately an improv class, but one that had a focus on acting. I had heard going in that the teacher gave honest notes and would call you out on your bad habits. I was excited and wanted to see how I fared in terms of my acting abilities within the confines of an improv scene.

8 weeks later…

This teacher was not one to mince words. At least not for me he wasn’t. He destroyed me every single class. No matter how well the scene went, he had something to say about it. Good, bad, or otherwise, there was always something to work on and always something that I could have done better. In my mind, I could do no right. He said my object work sucked and then forced me to start every scene doing object work. I’d start doing object work and he’d ask me where I was. I’d show where I was and he’d ask me who I was and what my motivations were. It was trial by fire and I felt like I didn’t know about improv, acting, or anything in between.  I felt like the Mayor of Garbage City. I started to really dislike him (mainly because I thought he hated me due to the amount of notes I was getting every class). I started hating the whole process because it made me lose confidence in my abilities. I didn’t want to go to class, but I didn’t want to fail out either. It was mentally taxing and got so bad sometimes that people would put their hand on my back and tell me “it’s alright, he’s just trying to make you better”, but I didn’t see it that way at the time. It was hard and I felt like I was at a crossroads at times. Then, I started trying to prove him wrong, which led to more notes. “What is that character?” “Who is she to you?” “What are you holding?” “Where are you?” “Start over.”

Finally, we had our last class. As everyone exchanged those awkward end-of-class goodbyes, I slipped out the door to freedom when he stopped me.  I went from relief to panic within seconds. “Are you walking towards the train?” he asked. I mumbled, “Yes” with my head down and he replied, “I’ll walk with you.” In my head I thought, “Great he’s going to rip me apart one last time. Hasn’t he done enough!?” That walk and conversation would end up being one of the most informative ones I would ever have. It taught me a valuable life lesson. It was during this walk that he informed me why he was so hard on me during the class. He said it was because he knew I could take it, because he knew I was better than what I was putting out, and because he thought I was good and was only going to get better. He said I was very funny and he saw that I was getting stuck in routines. He told me there were habits that needed to be broken and it was through this approach that they would be broken. It was tough love at its finest. None of the past 8 weeks had made any sense until that conversation on the way to the train.  Looking back at the progress I had made, it was groundbreaking. It made me work harder and despite knowing it at the time, it was making me much better. It made me think in ways I had not been thinking before and covering areas that had not been touched. I was improving every time I stepped into a scene, but the harsh notes made me think otherwise. The funny thing about life is that some events never make sense until after the fact. 20/20 hindsight they call it. That brutal honesty will stay with me forever. It ended up being one of the best classes I’d ever taken.

Which brings me to my next part.

In my opinion, tough love in your given field or profession is what’s going to make you better. Embrace the tough love. You don’t want someone to hold your hand through classes, pat you on the back, and say “good job” after a mediocre scene or set when you didn’t actually do a good job. Everyone says “good job”, but do they actually mean it. Hearing that over and over without any notes, you aren’t improving or growing artistically. Most importantly, you aren’t learning from your mistakes. I’ve taken classes at iO, Second City, and the Annoyance in Chicago and the most I ever learned was when my teachers broke me down and called me out on my mistakes. In fact, there is always something to be learned. If you have a teacher who is laying into you, don’t take it personally. Listen to their notes and know it’s coming from a positive place that’s focused on making you a better performer. At times you might get upset and you might want to quit, but that’s good. That means it’s struck a nerve and now you need to work on whatever that thing is so that doesn’t happen again. Always get back up and try again.

If you’re a first time coach or a teacher, you might think, “but I don’t want them to dislike me.” Not being honest and not giving them the appropriate notes to make them better is what’s going to ultimately make them dislike you. Maybe not even remember you. They’ll look back at your class and they might say, “I didn’t learn much” or “I don’t really remember” and the class will just be a bullet point on a resume. Nothing more. The best teachers out there and the best coaches aren’t pulling any punches. Give it to them straight and everyone benefits.


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