Take a Break! Don’t Forget About Life!

“Improv is a life art so go experience it”

RelaxI see a lot of improvisors get burned out. Hell, I get burned out too.  You have to remember as an improvisor part of your learning experience and your rehearsal is the things you do in life. If you’re performing onstage all the time you are forgetting about the outside world. I’ve been there, three rehearsals, two shows and coaching and then you’re like, “Wow, where did my week go? I’ve been at the theatre every night.


I think every improvisor should take a break from shows every once in a while. Think of it like a sabbatical. This will re-energize you and get your head away from performing for just a little bit and get you in touch with the world around you again. Being totally immersed into something is okay at first, but in improv you just have to take a step back. Improv is a life art. Part of what informs your improv is your experiences offstage so if you’re missing that your work may plateau. I often hear improvisors saying, “I think I’ve plateued.” It’s usually because they’re a student in the middle of classes they’ve been taking over the course of a year, or a vet who is doing everything improv from coaching, performing and rehearsing.


There’s no answer to this. You could just take a week or maybe even a month. It’s really up to you. But read some books, go camping, catch up on your favorite shows, hang out with friends that you haven’t seen in a while that are outside the improv world. Think of it as a summer break so that when you come back to improv it’s like you’re going back to school and seeing all your old friends again.

Improv is meant to be fun and if you’re not having fun onstage and it just becomes work, then you need to take some time off. Improv isn’t work it’s art. So take a break, go have fun, live life for a little bit and then come back and get ready to have some fun!

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! For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

Red Rocks Improv Festival Combines Improv and The Great Outdoors!

547231_611653305522623_1019168721_nI just got back from Cedar City, Utah and I have to say I’m impressed! Off The Cuff Improvisation, which will be celebrating its 10th year in the small city, put on the 4th Annual Red Rocks Improv Festival. The festival was filled with improv performances from all over the country, workshops and wonderful trips to Cedar Breaks and Zion National Park where improvisors had the chance to hike and bond!

Tj and Wendy Penrod are the force behind the festival and OTC Comedy and have been since its inception. This year Red Rocks decided to partner with NIN and use our submission service to help gain some more exposure for the festival and it worked! Gaining improvisors from California all the way to New York! Tj and Wendy have created an amazing improv community in Cedar City and are actively involved in the arts culture there.

Being such a small town with one main street…named Main Street, I had worried that it might be hard to get a crowd. Not here! Wendy, TJ and their OTC gang have done such great work out there building a community that both nights were filled to the brim with audience. This audience was hungry for improv too!

This years festival added and extra bonus. OTC Comedy rented a 15 seater van, we dubbed the party van, to pick us up and take us hiking to places like Cedar Breaks and Zion National Park. I went on the Zion National Park hike through The Narrows which is not just any trail, it’s a 90 percent water trail where you wade through water in narrow slot canyons! AMAZING! It was a great experience and a great way to meet and hang out with people from other improv communities. When we reached the end of our journey one of the OTC gang started to jump off a rock into a pool of water…everyone followed suit in support, some conquering their fears! It was such an amazing experience filled with community, friendship and fun!

So should you attend this festival? Yes! This is the perfect example of what a festival should be. They took the idea of bringing great shows to their community exposing their small town to big named groups while also taking care of their out-of-town guests and treating them to their beautiful surroundings! Someone asked recently “Why do you go to festivals?” This is why I go to festivals!

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! For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

Spotlight On: OC Improv Festival

2012 saw a huge freshman class of improv festivals in North America. Although not the largest, one of the more well known festivals from last year is the OC Improv Festival thanks in large part to the folks at Spectacles Improv Engine who spent the year traveling and getting engaged online with the larger improv community; looking to work together with other festivals and grow together.

I first met Josh Nicols at camp last year and was instantly impressed with his huge outgoing nature and willingness to talk about his deep love of improv. His enthusiasm is common among everyone I’ve met from OCIF and unquestionably responsible for its success. I had the opportunity to talk with Josh about the upcoming festival and what potential submitting troupes can expect.

OC is a quickly growing improv scene, but one that many folks don’t know about yet. What is the scene like? What kind of shows are really defining what OC Improv is all about?

Our community is mostly a collection of very popular short form teams with a handful of successful long form teams coming together in the last couple years.

It’s a pivotal time in our growth as we search for an identity as a community. Last year’s festival was a huge step in introducing us to the depth and variety of improv. Both players and audiences alike were blown away by the quality of improv we brought in. It’s a great time to come to Orange County and make a long term impression on a group of players and fans who are madly in love with improv.

What kind of events – outside of performances – can visitors expect at the OC Festival? Will there be any workshops or other events during the weekend?

We will be having a party every night at the theatre. Last year we had amazing workshops, which greatly impacted the quality of our scenes. We have the same goals this year. We plan on bringing in high quality training with focused and effective workshops at affordable prices. Also so Friday day excursions are in the works.

Dinner with the boys

Dinner with the boys

Where can people go during the festival’s off hours? What things are there to do and see in Fullerton?

There is plenty to do around the north Orange County area. Disneyland is just minutes away, we’re close to beaches and we’re well within walking distance of a thriving nightlife of bars and restaurants well stocked with party animals. If Disneyland isn’t your thing, we have Knott’s Berry Farm, Medieval Times and Pirate’s Dinner Adventure all just two towns over in Buena Park. Orange County is packed with good times. We are both an improv festival and a vacation destination.

Many of the organizers of the OCIF are very active in visiting other festivals and ImprovUtopia. You’ve spoken to many festival organizers and also visiting performers. What have you learned? What are you bringing back to the festival to make it a great experience? What have you seen in other festivals that you think can be improved?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from other festivals is the confidence in knowing we can have a great festival. That it’s not impossible to get great teams and workshops. Nick Armstrong was a great mentor in making sure we didn’t make a ton of rookie mistakes. We’ve also seen that it is attainable to take a non-traditional improv market and, with hard work and time, give it a national reputation. It’s clear to us as well, that it’s not built in a day. It’s a commitment to getting better each year, building a quality reputation, and maintaining the relationships a festival affords you.

Anything else you’d like to share about the festival?

Our first year as a fest was a huge success, it really set the bar high for future OC festivals. Visiting teams consistently remarked how surprised they were that this was our first year because everything ran so smoothly and the quality of teams we brought in was so good. Our focus remains the same this year, celebrating the art of improv by bringing in great shows to full houses, all while elevating our own community through inspiration and education.

Submissions for The OC Festival are open now, but they’re closing soon. You can submit your troupe right now on the submission page. If you’d like more information on The Festival, you can visit the website or drop a message to Josh directly here on the site.

The Orange County Improv Festival started in 2013. It is a product of the growing and diverse improv community of Orange County, California. The festival is committed to the celebration and elevation of improv behind the orange curtain.

Can I Have a Suggestion?

f139f95a49389299038c04dc0eeb-660x439Most improv teams start off with this very line in some form or another. It’s been on my mind a lot lately. It’s usually a word that is shouted out by an audience member to get the improvisors going on their way. Let’s dig deeper shall we and have a discussion.

Inspiration and 3rd Degree Choices:

A suggestion is a point of inspiration. You don’t have to hit it over the head. For instance, if your suggestion is Hammer, you don’t all have to start being a hammer or start talking about a hammer you can be construction workers on the job or a boss knocking the man down. (Hammer/nail metaphor). I call this my 3rd Degree Choice. When I get a suggestion from the audience, like Rose, the first degree of that is simply a rose, the second degree of that is garden or yard and the third degree of that could be love or beauty versus harm (Thorn and Rose) etc. What I’m trying to say is let’s dig deeper in our suggestion get to a deeper meaning that our show can hang its hat on. Love brings out certain emotions, beauty versus harm can bring out a great dynamic in your show at the very top. What if half the show had the POV of beauty and then we see that same first half done completely from the harm POV. That sounds pretty fun!

How do you get a suggestion?

We’ve all seen the standard, “Can I get a suggestion of anything at all.” That’s a fine one because we can be inspired by anything. When I was doing the JTS Brown we got a suggestion of a line of dialogue, poetry or song lyric. This inspired us because most of the time it had an energy or emotion attached to it that thrusted us into inspiration. Locations are fun and can definitely give you some sort of emotion or state. What do you ask for and how does it work for you or your team?

Feel a suggestion:

I like to tell my students to feel a suggestion instead of thinking about it. When a suggestion is hurled our way we often start thinking of what it is and then we are placed in our heads immediately. I like to say feel it. When you hear the word cabbage how does it make you feel? It makes me feel gross and yucky because I absolutely hate cabbage. So I might start an opening or a scene with that emotional state. Of course you might love it and start a completely different way, so the second scene or your part in the opening might be the opposite of my reaction and create a dynamic opening or the start of a dynamic show. There is no wrong way to feel about a word. Everyone is their own thumbprint of emotions.

Your suggestion is: Dildo!

Yes, we all get the inevitable suggestion of dildo at some point or something along those “Blue” lines. The best thing to do in this case is explore the third degree of it. One, a dildo, two, sex and three, sexual revolution. Give the jackass that gave the suggestion the best theatrical experience of his or her life by doing the best and smartest show possible. After getting a shitty suggestion it is one of the most fulfilling things ever to do a great, smart and funny show. We play to the top of our intelligence and this is one way to prove that to an audience.

Teams that don’t ask for a suggestion:

I know TJ and Dave don’t take a suggestion and still have amazing shows and I’ve seen some other teams do it too. I always felt the need to get one, so I felt connected to the audience. Thoughts?

I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to approach a suggestion. Just some open thoughts on how I see them and would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

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! For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

Spotlight On: Alaska State Improv Festival

ASIFOne of my great regrets from last year’s festival circuit was that I was unable to make the trip up to The Alaska State Improv Festival. The prospect of visiting a beautiful new place was enticing enough, but I’d spent enough festivals talking with Eric Caldwell from the Alaska scene to know that it was a city where people cared about improv in a big way.

I had the chance to talk with Eric about ASIF as it enters its second year and talk about what performers can expect.

Alaska is a pretty big trip for many performers and the airfare is going to be higher than many other festivals. Lots of groups will do fundraisers to fund their trip. Outside of airfare, what kind of budget do you think performers will need to prepare for?

Airfare is a consideration, but we time our submissions to coincide with Alaska Airlines‘ annual sale. There are also some really good perks with the Alaska Airlines card that can get people to Juneau for less than they think. The festival is during “shoulder season” so hotels are relatively cheap. Festival staff and volunteers did a great job last year taking the performers around for personal tours and we’ve even provided for some of the meals, so there aren’t really many other expenses beyond discretionary spending.

Juneau is a very beautiful city. When not performing what things can people do and see near the festival? Aside from some extra layers, are there any other things that people should pack for a day out in the city?

Juneau’s generally not all that cold in late April, more like Seattle on a cool day than “Nanook of the North.” The area near the venue has some great cafes and restaurants, museums, and art galleries. Outside of the main downtown area, some of the sites that were popular with our guests included the Alaskan Brewing Company, the Mendenhall Glacier, the Treadwell Mine ruins, and a Catholic shrine where we saw whales, sea lions, and eagles from a scenic lookout.

What’s the improv scene in Juneau like? What kind of shows define the Alaskan improv style.

The improv scene in Juneau has developed its own attitude. As people come in and out, we look at where their strengths and interests lie and aren’t afraid to create shows that cater to those areas. Mike and I tour with a show that is Dada-influenced. One of our shows features a couple of local slam poets doing improvised poetry and scenes. At one point, we had a couple of playwrights in the group and started performing improvised one-acts based on locally-written works. It’s led to more people taking chances in both their shortform and longform work, and to people combining their personal interests into their improv formats.

SusanMessing_web[1]Outside of performances, what other treats will be in store for visitors? Do you have any activities planned for visitors? Will there be any workshops or panels? After parties?

Alaskan Brewing Company was one of our sponsors last year, and our after parties were a highlight. Susan Messing will be coming in from iO – Chicago to lead a couple workshops. Amber Nash, of Archer fame, is coming up from Dad’s Garage in Atlanta. So, yeah, we’ll put the quality of our workshops against any festival in the country. In addition to that, we took our guests to not only the tourist spots but to some of our local favorites. We wanted people to feel like they’d experienced Alaska, and the performers let us know that we’d succeeded.

I know you have traveled to many festivals and been involved with many other festival organizers over the years. What are some other festivals that have inspired the shape of ASIF? What are some things that you feel are lacking in the festival community and ASIF is trying to make better?

The Seattle Festival of Improvisational Theater has had a huge influence on what we do. They’ve done a great job of offering great shows and workshops, providing a real sense of community, and keeping it all within a realistic budget. I’ve focused on what I see as “best practices” and look at how we can use our local resources to produce the kind of festival I would like to attend as a guest.

One thing that traveling performers look forward to at festivals is seeing other shows and having time afterwards to share with each other. How much opportunity will visitors have to just hang out with each other and learn from each other?

That’s a primary focus. Performers were provided with festival passes and encouraged to attend each others’ shows, mostly stayed in the same lodgings, toured around the community together, had joint radio interviews, and after parties with free food. Our venue, McPhetres Hall has a commercial kitchen available, and we’ll be continuing our tradition of stocking the kitchen for group breakfasts. The main regret the performers expressed last year was that there weren’t opportunities to perform with the performers from other communities. We’ve fixed that this year by adding a fourth day and the opportunity for mash-up shows.

McPhetres Hall

McPhetres Hall

What’ the venue like?

The venue’s gorgeous. The original McPhetres Hall was a multi-purpose room inside a church. The church was destroyed by arson in 2006, and the church made a point to rebuild McPhetres Hall as a theater-first venue with flexible seating. The facility re-opened in 2011, built with local cedar, a solid light grid, and a nice stage. You could see the performers light up when they walked into the building.

You’re still early in planning your 2014 festival. What’s the one thing that you’re most focused on? What are your hopes for this year’s festival?

We focused on our master artists first. Susan Messing and Amber Nash. Check! Now we’re working on getting the word out to the performers. We had a solid roster last year, and we’re hoping to build on that. Andy Eninger gave us a great compliment, saying that he was amazed that a first year festival was so well organized. If we can maintain what we established in year one while presenting more high quality ensembles and continuing to expand our audience, we’ll be on the right path.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

The 2013 festival featured performers from all around the country. If you’re considering coming to AS IF, you probably either know someone who performed at the festival or know someone who knows one of the performers. They’ll be glad to tell you about their experiences at AS IF.

Submissions for The Alaska State Improv Festival are open now, but they’re closing soon. You can submit your troupe right now on the submission page. If you’d like more information on The Festival, you can visit the festival website or drop a message to Eric directly here on the site.

Listen Like a Fourteen Year Old

Good scenes are sometimes like school

Good scenes are sometimes like school

As improvisors, and as teachers of improv, we get asked some of the same questions over and over again. We’ve found our quick little standard responses to those questions that at one point were pretty clever, but maybe it’s time to actually think about those answers rather than giving them lips service. Here are two answers I hear and find myself giving often.

Muggle: I could never do that on stage, I can’t think that fast
Improvisor: You’re doing it right now. We’re improvising all the time.

Student: How do I know what to ‘Yes and’?
Teacher: Just listen harder.

There’s a lot of truth in both of those answers, but they’re incomplete. The first is true. We’re all acting without scripts all day long. But we’re acting on years or decades of our own personal back-story that informs how we react; what we say. We don’t have that when we step into a character. We’re still learning who we are to ourselves and our scene partners. The second is also absolutely true. Listening is the key to building relationships. But how? Most students who ask this questions thought they already were listening. They heard all the words. They speak English (or whatever language the scene is in) well enough to parse sentences. So how can they listen better. We offer very little specifics in improv instruction, so here’s one. I propose the answer to both of those questions is not simply to listen, but listen like a fourteen year old.

I’ll explain.

Try to remember back to eighth grade. It was a weird time. In many ways, every character we inhabit is similar to a teenager; trying to discover who we are and how we fit into the world around us. What are our passions? What kind of person are we going to become? How do other people view us? How do we relate to those around us? What are these new emotions we aren’t accustomed to? Sound familiar? Of course it is. We may not consciously give time to those notions when we enter scenes, but they’re there. And this isn’t a bad thing. This is a wonderful thing. This uncertainty helps us seek out who we are. Somehow miraculously, teenagers survive. They turn into young men and women ready to change the world. Of course, if you’ve ever had to raise a teen (God Bless You) or spend any quality time with them, you know that it can be a trying process.

That’s because as adults, we sometimes use words recklessly. We don’t think through every sentence before we say it; think of all the ways it could be interpreted. But to a teen, they are desperate for clues as to how they are perceived and treated. They are paranoid about every word choice, gesture and fashion choice you make. They dig for meaning where none is present. Even if there’s nothing “between the lines”, they’ll find something there.

Take example from their paranoia. As performers, we are also often even more lax in our choices (in word and deed) onstage because we often act before understanding our own motivations. Don’t let your scene partners or yourselves get away with that. Every word, every movement, every facial expression means something to you. Don’t treat anything as throwaway. Ask these questions;

“Why did you just say that?”
“Why did you say it to me? You could have shared that information with anyone. Why me? What is different about me that I am told this and not someone else?”
“If you’re telling me, you want to have an effect on me? What do you want me to do? How are you trying to make me feel? How will this change who we are to each other?”

Don’t be satisfied with the first answer to this question. Keep asking. Assume that there’s more.

It’s not just for your scene partners either. Ask questions of everything you say. You’ll be delighted that words that come out of your mouth inform so much more than you might imagine.

Have something to add? We finally have a comments section. Let us know what you think!

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

16 Tips and Advice for Students of Improv


“My mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier you’ll be a general; if you become a monk you’ll end up as the Pope.’ Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.” – Pablo Picasso

Students of Improv! You’re going to be okay! Art is hard! Long form is an art that requires patience. You will not get it overnight nor will you get it the next day. A typical 8 week class usually goes like this from a students POV, “I get it, Oh shit, I’m in my head, I get it! I’m lost, I get it, I hate improv I’m never going to get it, WOW I get it!” and so on. Oh this can happen to vets too, nobody is safe from the ups and downs of improv.

Below is a list of things to maybe help ease your fears and give you some friendly tips and advice to help you get through it all. Think of it as free improv therapy.

  1. You can’t be perfect at improv, so don’t worry about it.
  2. You’re not going to get it.
  3. You’re your own worst enemy.
  4. You’re going to live in your head for a while. It’s class you’re learning.
  5. There is no right or wrong so just try everything.
  6. Take direction. They are teachers for a reason.
  7. You’re not the best improvisor ever, you’re not the worst improvisor ever…there is no such thing.
  8. Don’t be someone else in class or do another improvisor, be you!
  9. Sure that guy/gal gets more laughs then you…who cares they do their improv you do yours.
  10. You’re never done being a student.
  11. There will always be a bad show, class or rehearsal no matter how many years you’ve been doing this. Grab a beer and walk it off.
  12. It takes at least 1000 shows and maybe you’ll start getting it.
  13. Play with people better than you.
  14. Watch shows, watch more shows and then when you’re done watching those shows, watch even more shows!
  15. Read, observe and live life. Don’t just be an improvisor.
  16. If you don’t get cast out of an audition it’s okay, do it again and again and again! Don’t give up.

I hope this helps you in your quest. Improv is a wonderful art filled with wonderful people. Probably the best people on Earth in my opinion. Remember, class is about trying to figure out who you are and what you can do. Performance is about trying to figure out who you are and what you can do too. So like Picasso, become the improvisor that winds up being you.


Nick Armstrong

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


Improv Warrior: Rick Andrews

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

Today’s Improv Warrior is Rick Andrews who is on the board and one of the organizers of DuoFest in Philadelphia. He is also a teacher and performer at The Magnet Theatre in New York. On the first night I was at DuoFest I saw Rick and asked him where he was staying in Philly while doing the festival he said, “I’m going back to NYC every night.”

So get this, Rick would do a show, Dwight D. Eisenhower which was one of my favorites at DuoFest, host some of the hours with crazy positive energy and then when the shows ended, around midnight, he’d hang out and go to the after parties, then he’d hop on a bus at 3 a.m. in the morning, get on a train to get home to teach by 10 a.m. at The Magnet Theatre.

I asked Rick why he had to get back to teach, why couldn’t he just get a sub. It turns out Rick was so concerned about his new level 1 class that he wanted to get back to them to make sure they were taken care of. Sure it would be easy to just get a sub for the weekend, but that’s not Rick.

I’ve always said that improvisors are a different class of people and when I met Rick in NYC about a year ago, before DuoFest, he solidified that thought even more.

Rick is the definition of an Improv Warrior. His dedication to DuoFest, his students and the art form are way above and beyond. Rick is definitely and inspiration to all improvisors. Rick travels to festivals around the country and is available for workshops.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Improvisor and Writer living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick is currently on AMC’s Story Notes and has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Parks and Recreation. Recently, Nick received a development deal for a TV Show he created for A&E. 

Onstage Nick has trained at The Groundlings and iO West. You can catch him performing regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA on the famed genre-based group Kind Strangers and LA’s Longest and Critically Acclaimed Harold Team King Ten. Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network.





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