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Twin Cities Improv Festival: comedy on the fly

Ready for some off-the-cuff comedy?

This Thursday through Sunday, the venerable Brave New Workshop will host two-dozen comedy troupes from around the country. That could make for a whole lotta yuks.

Seriously, though, there’s a goal for the second-annual Twin Cities Improv Festival.

“The primary focus is to showcase the really outstanding improvisation and improv community we have here — both to our visiting performers and to the people that live here and that might not know they’re surrounded by some of the best improvisation anywhere,” says Butch Roy of the Five Man Job, a local improvisational troupe sharing producing duties with the Brave New Workshop and satiric newspaper The Onion.

As Roy notes, Five Man Job and the 50-year-old Brave New Workshop are but two of the local troupes involved with the festival. About half of the participants come from the Twin Cities area, but the rest are drawn from across the country, with representatives from San Francisco, Austin, Texas, Chicago (not surprising, considering the influence of Second City) and New York City.

The programs won’t just be “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” style antics. Some groups have specific programs or topics in mind for their 20- to 25-minute slots, even if the final shape won’t be determined until the moment of the show. That means you can check out improvised musicals (by pH and Girls, Girls, Girls); a work by BASSPROV, where the two characters are in a boat, fishing; and the Mustache Rangers who create a science-fiction radio show out of audience suggestions.

A festival of our own
The idea for a festival developed as local artists worked on tour around the country. “For years, a few groups have done national festivals and the reaction to the Minneapolis style and quality of improvisation was always overwhelmingly positive,” Roy says.

Add to that the local work being done, including Improv A Go Go at the Brave New Workshop, the efforts of Stevie Ray’s Improv Company and others, and “the time felt right to start bringing people here to see what we’ve got going on. It was great fun last year to bring performers in from across the country for the first festival, and I think everyone left extremely impressed. Word has spread that Minneapolis is a place to go for fantastic improv and a great place to perform if you’re an improviser,” Roy says.

The work to select the troupes happened over the winter, as the organizers used video submissions to winnow the selections. “That’s the hardest part of the process, having to choose between the great and the really great submissions,” Roy says.

Organizers say they’ve learned a lot since staging the first festival.

“We made a lot of decisions last year trying to learn from other peoples’ mistakes and successes and for the most part I’d say we had a pretty fantastic debut,” Roy says. “One of the big things we learned was — as much as you want the whole thing to be a big party and everyone to have a good time, once you’re in the producer’s seat you can’t just be everyone’s friend anymore.”

Starting Thursday night, all of the hard work will pay off for 2008. And for the future? Roy notes that they’ve already received an international submission for next year’s event.

What: Twin Cities Improv Festival
When: Thursday-Sunday, June 26-29
Where: Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre, 2605 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis
Tickets: $10 per performance; multi-day passes also available
Contact: 612-322-6620

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