There are days where I miss college and wish I could go back. Luckily, I got that chance about a week ago. I recently got the wonderful opportunity to teach and perform with my independent team Switch Committee at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. We were there for the Pandamonium Improv Festival, which is a student-run festival created by the on-campus team K.A.R.L. Improv. It consists of a full-day workshop with professional teams (Switch Committee and Octavarius) and on-campus teams as well as college teams traveling from around the country. Following the workshop and a brief break, all the teams perform together in shows later that night. That’s my synopsis, but feel free to check the write-up from one of WashU’s independent newspapers here for a little more background on the festival.
The workshop, which was held in different classrooms on campus, went from 9am until 4:30pm. If you came to the festival as a team with your friends, you’d be split up individually to create a new team with other students you’ve never performed with before. At first I was confused, but then I realized these students were much smarter than I am and this whole process was one of the most organized things I’ve ever been a part of. It’s also great for students who attend the festival solo because you’ll be placed on a team anyway. The members of Switch Committee were split up to coach the student teams. Throughout the day, I got the chance to connect with the students and find out exactly why they were there that day. Their responses were motivating and inspiring.
This whole festival reopened my eyes to the supportive environment that collegiate improvisation encourages. They may not know it, but these students inspired me. They inspired me because they weren’t there to ‘catch a break’ or become famous. They weren’t doing this as a means to an end. They were there because they all loved and enjoyed performing. They loved the art of improvisation and the endless possibilities that exist in the world of make believe. Too many times I hear people in the community say, “This is how I’m going to catch my big break.” When you find yourself saying that, please stop. You need to stop and realize why you started doing this in the first place. It shouldn’t be about catching a break, but instead about enjoying what you’re doing and living in the moment. It’s about the journey, not the destination. They all had one purpose; being happy because they were doing something they love. I could see that joy in each and every one of their eyes. They wanted nothing more than to learn, get better, and most importantly, to just have fun. The shows the teams put on that night were spectacular. It was such a warm and inviting environment with people who were there to support one another. The teams put on hilarious shows and implemented moves or ‘tools from their toolbox’ as I like to say, that they learned throughout the day. It was a mix of short-form and long-form groups that together created a fantastic night of improv for everyone in the room. It was an honor to be a part of this festival.
As for my suggestions to give to K.A.R.L. or anyone who helped to create the festival (queue dramatic Inception music)…I would simply say keep doing exactly what you’re doing. You are doing it right. This whole festival should be used as an example of how a college festival should be run. If you’re a college improviser and you want to perform with like-mind individuals like yourself, you should be attending festivals like Pandamonium. If you have the money you should try to travel and submit to as many festivals as possible because you’ll be able to meet people who share the same interests that you do. If you don’t have money to travel than create a festival for yourself. There is nothing stopping you from making your improv team a registered student organization and asking your college for help in creating a festival to celebrate performing arts and theater. If you go to your student organization office and tell them you want to create a festival or event on-campus that will bring students together for a common purpose, they will jump at the idea. They will love it because it promotes student collaboration, school recognition, and the performing arts. This also is a great way to get started in learning how to develop and run a sustainable festival, which has been done by many of the festivals here on this site.
So if you’re a college improviser and you’re reading this, what are you waiting for? Build something that brings people together just like yourself. Go make something happen….after you get out of class of course.
Ryan Nallen is a graduate of the iO Training Center, the Second City Conservatory, and the Annoyance Theater in Chicago. Aside from Switch Committee, Ryan is an Associate Producer for Big Little Comedy as well as a member of the Playground Incubator team Desperado. In January 2013, he completed an entire month of comedy by performing 31 days in a row. He’s a frequent blogger (nastynally.com and iO Water Cooler), Pinterester, Instagramer and Tweeter. Based on that previous sentence, it can be assumed that he has no life.
***Ryan Nallen is a blog contributor to NIN. If you want to contribute please send us and e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to be considered.