Twin Cities Improv Festival turns four

This year’s installment attracts more than a dozen improv troupes from across the country.

by Raghav Mehta

Fourth annual Twin Cities Improv Festival When: June 24-27 Where: Brave New Workshop Cost: $12 Over the course of nearly half a century, Chicago has built a reputation for being the mecca of improvisational theater. Being home to the world-renowned Second City , itâÄôs no mystery why the Windy City is continually touted as the quintessential training ground for comedic improv performers, which have included legends like John Belushi and Bill Murray, as well as contemporary stars like Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey . But just westward from the Land of Lincoln is another, humbler scene in the Twin Cities, thriving with just as much creativity and spirit as its regional big sister. And some people are beginning to notice, too. Now in its fourth year, the ever-expanding Twin Cities Improv Festival is a four-day marathon of extemporaneous gags and wit that kicks off Thursday at UptownâÄôs Brave New Workshop . With more than a dozen improv troupes scheduled to perform, the festival unites actors from all across the country, showcasing their comedic stylings to audiences and fellow performers alike. When most people think of improv, theyâÄôre usually reminded of old re-runs of âÄúWhose Line is it AnywayâÄù or distant memories of some underwhelming comedy troupe that performed in their high school cafeteria. But improv isnâÄôt just cheap weekend entertainment for mindless masses. ItâÄôs a legitimate art form that demands guts, razor-sharp wit and an uncanny sense of timing. With no script, actors play off one another as they go along and the results end up being just as surprising to them as they are to the audience watching it unfold. Bringing together performers of all different styles, audiences will not only get the chance to see top-tier performers, but also have the opportunity to learn about different forms of improv that troupes are experimenting with. âÄúThe focus has always been kind of twofold. One is to bring in some extra energy and to see performers and teachers from all over the country and help make our local performers better,âÄù said festival co-founder Butch Roy . âÄúAnd on the other side of that is to just show off a little bit of what weâÄôre doing.âÄù Roy said the Twin CitiesâÄô uniquely amicable atmosphere is one of the reasons performers participate in the festival. âÄúWeâÄôre not an industry town as far as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles ,âÄù Roy said. âÄúThereâÄôs far less competition and everybody is a lot more collaborative and open.âÄù Despite being overshadowed by the other cities, Minneapolis is, in some ways, the birthplace of improv theater. Founded by Dudley Riggs in 1958, the Brave New Workshop is the oldest satirical comedy theater in the country and offers a stage for performers of any skill level as well as classes for improv and sketch comedy writing. Prior to being hired at the Second City Touring Company in 2001, writer Matthew Craig was a regular performer at BNW. âÄúI certainly think a lot of the work that I had done at the Workshop parlayed into getting me hired at the touring company in Chicago,âÄù Craig said. âÄúThe stage is ideal. ItâÄôs easily in my top five theater spaces IâÄôve ever performed in.âÄù Craig, whose writing credits include network television shows such as âÄúThe OfficeâÄù and âÄúAccording to Jim,âÄù will be performing in his duo âÄúFrankenMattâÄù with actor and former MADtv cast member Frank Caeti . âÄúFestivals are an awesome opportunity to see other peoplesâÄô work and share your work. ItâÄôs the equivalent of a Comic-Con or something,âÄù Craig said. A full listing of the scheduled performances can be found at Remember, humor is the perfect way to soften any pain you might be feeling. So if youâÄôre like us and still crestfallen over the Celtics losing, check out the improv festival.