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.

Why not IIN?

Where We Came From, Where We're Going

hIn just a couple weeks, we’ll be celebrating our first birthday. It’s an exciting time to look back at the growth we’ve had and the growth we’ll continue to see. I talk to many people all the time about what they’d like to see on the site. There are some fantastic technological ideas people have suggested. Hopefully many of them will be programmed into the site. There’s one question I hear often from folks that has less to do with technology and more to do with our scope.

“Why National Improv Network? Why not include the whole world?” It’s a very valid question. And one that deserves a real honest thorough answer.

The very short answer is, this site and the people on it aren’t trying to isolate The U.S.A. from the rest of the improv community, or only help improvisors here. Quite the opposite. The very idea of a global improv community, sharing ideas and traveling across oceans to play together is possibly the most exciting thing I can possibly imagine. I can’t wait to see the improv community of the very near future that shares a love of “yes, and” across international borders; a community that has honed it’s craft to incredible new places we can’t imagine through a global collaboration. I want to be part of that world.

But if we’re going to accurately look into the future, we should start by looking into the past. Including – if you’ll forgive me – a bit of my personal history coming to NIN.

10-12 years ago, the improv community was very different than it is today. There weren’t dozens of improv festivals around the country; certainly not major ones that brought in national acts. I would spend many nights in the bars I had performed in that night – a chalkboard behind the small makeshift stage that said “IMPROVE COMEDY TONITE!”. I had conversations with my friends about our joys and frustrations with the growing improv scene in Arizona. How could we make that next big step towards increasing our quality without access to new teachers? How could we increase our visibility in this town hungry for entertainment?

Of course, that same conversation was happening in bars across the country. Probably around the world. People in Atlanta, and Boston and Detroit and Austin were asking those same questions. We didn’t know about each other. And even if we did, we didn’t have many answers to share. But little by little, we found small answers to those questions. We experimented and learned. Many of us learning the same answers in different ways. But it was frustratingly slow. And many great performers made the choice to move to Illinois, New York or California. A choice no one can blame them for, but it was another blow to anyone trying to build improv in their towns. They were fun, but hard times.

Then sometime around 2004, things started to change. We had grown to the point where we were able to leave the nest a little and set out like explorers looking for new lands. A trip to another city was a very big deal back then, and probably only happened once or maybe twice a year. We started meeting each other for the first time and exposing each other to not only how improv had evolved in our respective cities, but how we’d started learning how to move towards making improv our livings. We were thrilled to hear new answers and perspectives on problems we’d faced individually, and also unpleasantly surprised when we found out other places hadn’t found those answers.

POMP from Canada

POMP from Canada

One of those important moments for me was at a festival in 2004. I won’t name them because they’re lovely humans who have put on amazing festivals in the years that followed. But in 2004, they hadn’t really figured out how to handle out of town guests. I had only a small number of festivals under my belt at that time, but I had started noticing that each festival was run very differently and their oversight was different. In this festival’s case, the thing they forgot was to realize that out of towners don’t know anything about their city and as a result, many performers ended up at a very nice hotel two miles away… on the other side of the river. It took close to an hour to get from the hotel to the venue because they never thought to let us know that there are no roads that connect those parts of town easily.

Being a producer of a very nascent festival myself that year, I learned two very important lessons on those very long, very expensive cab rides.

  1. Always remember that out of town performers need to be informed of things you take for granted
  2. Festival organizers need a means to share the things they’ve learned so we don’t all make the same mistakes.

That second thought ignited something in me. I saw how important it was for my festival, but also for all festivals and ensembles and theatres to start sharing their successes and their failures. If we wanted our art form to be taken seriously by the public, we’d have to start taking ourselves seriously and that meant investing the time into learning how to do it right.

I tried many ideas in the next two years, ideas using emerging technology to start raising the bar for everyone. I created HTML festival lists and calendars. I invited the festival producers I knew to a Yahoo Group (yeah, a Yahoo group). I was excited. The things I tried could at best be called “ambitious” and at worst be called “hopelessly naive”. As hard as I – and others – tried, it didn’t take hold. The simple truths of the matter were. A) The technology we needed simply didn’t exist. These were the dark days of MySpace. B) Technology alone wouldn’t solve these problems for us and we would be foolish to assume they would. At best, some of those early attempts got improvisors “talking” to each other. And with those conversations came the understanding that if we truly wanted to grow together, a Yahoo Group wouldn’t do it for us. We’d need to call each other for help. Visit each other. Ask for help, and embrace our disagreements.

We grew. We became friends rather than just names we’ heard. The improv in our cities started to grow. The students of those theatres started their own theatres. Communities started exploding. Festivals popped up everywhere with stronger starts than those of years past. The technology grew as well, and we had more and more access to each other.

In 2011, or thereabouts, the tone of the conversations at after-parties started to change. Just like those bar conversations of half a decade ago, the conversations started sounding the same. A tipping point had been reached. The ideas that many people tried to create in years past failed because we didn’t have the knowledge of each other to make them work, but that knowledge had come. It was time to reinvest in the idea of building more formal tools to help us develop as professional improvisors.

I was very excited to hang out in a hotel conference room in 2012. A festival was happening with the producers of many festivals and theaters in attendance. Why waste that opportunity? Instead of talking at the bar that night, we spent all day talking about What’s next? Where do we go from here? It was the first time I personally had been involved with a dedicated conversation of that scope. Ideas came fast and free. We talked about a platform to share ideas on grant writing and building codes and building curriculum. We talked about a central location for festival listings that allowed each festival producer to maintain their own information. We talked about these ideas on a global scale.

At best, those ideas could be called “ambitious”.

Paris Tales from France

Paris Tales from France

We realized we were about to make the same mistake we had made many years before. Without naming it, we had built a national network. We knew a lot about things that would work across the country. But as soon as we started talking about giving advice to people in Europe we realized; none of us has ever spent any real time performing in Europe. None of us has ever dealt with building codes in Japan. None of us had ever tried to market a show in Australia. For us to claim we could offer any kind of resources to the world would be arrogant and laughably uninformed. There were simply too many things we just didn’t know. From the simple things (how does PayPal work for international submissions?) to the complex (what is the artistic culture of other countries?) we realized that we were not yet ready to pretend we were in a position to know what the needs of an international improv community would be.

I am proud to be a part of this organization. I can speak with confidence about the ideas I share with people in many states. And we’re entering a new and very exciting place. Ten years ago, I was just beginning to meet amazing performers from New Orleans and Philadelphia. Now they are friends. And because of that growth I’m just starting to meet and learn from amazing performers from Ireland, Australia, Italy, Israel, France and Lebanon. Their stories are phenomenal and humbling. Their ideas are exciting and they remind me that there is a literal whole world of improv beyond my immediate line of sight.

There are many people from all over the Earth on our website. I’m excited that they’re here. I hope “some” of the tools and blog posts have something helpful for them. But I know there is so much out there. Their being here is a constant motivator that where we are is not far enough. We’ll continue to grow. We’ll continue to expand into each other. Just as those conversations in different cities were beginning to intermingle ten years ago, our national conversations are starting to be aware of the larger global community in an amazing new way. I’m starting to hear that there are versions of NIN starting to form in other countries and that is exhilarating. I want to learn more about them. I want to meet them. I want to start moving towards that day when I can travel to other continents and invite performers to come play here. I don’t know what form or what technology we’ll be using in that time. But I know without doubt that there will be an itnernational network we can all be a part of, an international community of improvisors. And everyone here working on this site will be there to help build it in any way we can.

Ten years from now, the world is going to be amazing. I feel that same excitement I felt ten years ago as I see that future. It’s a future that will take a lot of work. But it will be worth it. And I for one can’t wait to be a part of it.

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