Do you like “Curb Your Enthusiasm”? Best In Show? Sketch comedy shows like “Key and Peele” and “Saturday Night Live”? Then you are a fan of improv. What’s that you say? You’re not familiar with the genre? You’ve never been to an improv show? Odds are you have been a fan for years without even knowing it.
Improv is the performance art, often comedic, where the actors are presented with all of the circumstances while they are on stage: who they are, where they are and often specific actions they must perform. Usually these are suggested by the audience. It’s like “SNL” combined with those choose your own adventure books from your youth.
The 12th Annual Providence Improv Festival is a celebration of this form of performance that showcases local groups like Improv Jones and Providence Improv Guild along with national and international favorites like Airwolf from the Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC and the Oxford Imps from Oxford, England, who Providence Improv Fesitval organizer Tim Thibodeau first met at the famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world.
I sat down with him to talk about the festival and the world of improv a little. I asked him who the target audience is for the festival. “We have something for everyone. There is going to be comedy, but there is also The Raving Jaynes from NYC who combine dance and improv to create highly physical, spontaneous pieces of dance-theater. There will be a group improvising a comic book, and one group from Austin, Texas — Black Vault — who do pieces based on the writings of HP Lovecraft.”
The group I am excited to see is North Coast. With a cast of improv comedy veterans from The Upright Citizens Brigade, the Peoples Improv Theater and The Magnet theaters in New York City, North Coast’s explosive performances have been packing comedy venues, universities and festivals nationwide since 2009. Built around a single suggestion from an audience member, the show’s improvised scenes escalate into full-blown hip-hop songs, facilitated by resident beatboxer and U.S. Vice Beatbox Champion, Kaila Mullady. I didn’t even know that there was an award for this! With their seamless melding of comedic timing and freestyle rapping abilities, North Coast frequently blurs the line between comedy show and concert, drawing audiences from the comedy, hip-hop and theater communities for an experience that has been hailed as “mind-blowing” and “next level” by critics and audiences alike.
This year’s headliner isn’t strictly for the heads, but improv geeks will be jazzed that Jimmy Carrane from Chicago will be in Providence to speak with two groups and record his podcast: Improv Nerd Podcast. For those in the know, Jimmy is a legend in the genre. If you have ever heard of Second City, or ImprovOlympics, or The Armando Diaz experience, you know that Jimmy has been a part of every important improv group in America in the past 20 years. It’s really cool that he will be a part of the festival and I am sure many of your favorite local performers will be in the audience.
There also will be a Family Friendly Show on Saturday, September 19. It’s a pay what you can performance where all the proceeds will go to the Manton Avenue Project. It’s a great way to expose your little aspiring thespian to a new set of skills that can greatly improve their time on the stage.
The 12th Annual Providence Improv Festival will take place at AS220 Black Box at 95 Empire St and AS220 Main Stage at 115 Empire St in downtown Providence on September 17-19. For more information, visit the Providence Improv Fest website at providenceimprovfest.com, check their Facebook page at facebook.com/providenceimprovfest.com or follow them on Twitter @PVDimprovfestP!F.