Spotlight on the Stumptown Improv Festival in Portland

The Stumptown Improv Festival is the answer to Portland’s growing improv scene. I’ve heard tales of cool gift bag for improvisors who attend as well! I was able to interview Jed Arkley of The Stumptown Improv Festival and asked him some questions about the fest:

Tell us a little about the Improv Community in Portland.

The improv community in Portland, like a lot of things in Portland, has its own flavor and tempo. We’re not home to major schools like UCB or iO or Second City, but that has allowed Portland’s improv community (and comedy scene in general) to find a distinctive voice. We’ve got our own theaters and training programs (Brody Theater, Curious Comedy), as well as a slew of independent teams and coaches, that approach improv in their own way. It would be hard to pinpoint Portland’s “style”, but I think it’s fair to say that improv here puts a high value on strong relationships, realism, and playing to the top of our intelligence. We’re really a long-form town, in all the ways that term can be used.

At the same time, our community is going through a really fantastic growth spurt. The past few years have seen a cornucopia’s worth of new groups sprouting up and, most importantly, performing and performing and performing again. We’ve always had a ton of improvisers, but it’s good to see the scene starting to edit itself, push itself, and become stronger.

Why did you decide to start the Stumptown Improv Festival?

I was driving back from the Vancouver International Improv Festival in 2013 after performing with my group, Whiskey Tango, and it just hit me: “Wait a minute. We can have a festival in Portland. There are festivals in Vancouver, Seattle, LA, San Francisco…this is a no-brainer.” Also, Vancouver puts on such an amazing festival, from the quality of the comedy to the way they treat the improvisers, that I was super-pumped after being there. I immediately called Erin and Leon (the other two co-founders) and the three of us have been kickin’ it/rockin’ it/jammin’ out ever since. In addition, as mentioned above, we really wanted to give the improv community a platform from which to shine and an opportunity to kick their comedy into high gear. Bridgetown was a big help for the standup scene here in that way and we wanted to do the same for improv. Exposure to amazing groups from around the country, as well as a little healthy competition, can help out groups immeasurably.

What can improvisors expect when attending your festival?

A preeeeeeety amazing gift bag. A really tight and friendly gang of Portland improvisers. A smart audience who appreciates intelligent and original comedy. A venue that is close to perfect for improv.

What do you look for in a submission?

Be honest, realistic, and listen. When I say “realistic”, I don’t mean that you can’t be at a Space Monkey Farm, but, if you are, make that the most honest Space Monkey Farm that we’ve ever seen. Note: don’t ever name your improv group “Space Monkey Farm”. Don’t be goofy. Trust that you’re already funny enough and let it develop.

What are some fun things your city has to offer an improvisor who is considering coming out to you?

The Greatest Summer Weather in the History of Humankind. So much good food, from restaurants to carts, that it starts to make you a bit angry. An attention to detail in all things alcohol-related (think: craft beers, craft cocktails, craft distillers) that you wonder if Portland is just denying that it has a serious drinking problem. Across the board, attractive and approachable men and women who will be showing their skin.

Where venue is the festival held at?

Milagro Theatre. Low-ish ceilings and ideal capacity (121) make it such a nice stage to play on.

Only a few more days to submit to the Stumptown 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.

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