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.

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