Yesterday, I told you what little we knew about the nascent Stumptown Improv Festival: It's scheduled for August 14-15 at the Milagro Theater, and it's being organized by respected Portland comedians Jed Arkley, Erin O'Regan, and Leon Anderson.
Today we know much, much more: Arkley—a member of top-notch local improv troupe Whiskey Tango whom you might also remember from his title role in Rudolph—On Stage!—was kind enough to answer some questions about the festival via email. And I have to say, it sounds like these guys are doing everything right, from setting achievable goals to networking with key members of the local comedy scene.
MERCURY: How long have you guys been planning this?
Arkley: We started planning the fest right after Whiskey Tango got back from the Vancouver International Improv Fest at the beginning of October 2013. I was driving back by myself, thinking of the fest, and it just came to me: "Why isn't Portland doing this?" My next thought was: Leon and Erin. Boom! Pow!
How has the community response been, and have you faced any particular challenges (so far) in putting it together?
No challenges yet. In fact, it's been pretty easy so far (knock on lots of wood). My older brother volunteered to do the design, Milagro was super, super nice and flexible with getting us the dates, and the three of us have yet to have a lover's quarrel.
The community response has been very positive. We made a point to talk to the Improv Kingpins personally before publicly launching the Facebook page or handing out business cards. Tom Johnson (Brody), Stacey Hallal (Curious), John Breen (Liberators), Shelley McLendon (Liberators), Patrick Short (ComedySportz)... we had one-on-one talks with all of them. Part of the goal of the fest is to continue the great trend lately in the improv scene of cross-pollination of theaters and performers (Peachy Chicken w/ 'First Friday', Curious Comedy w/ 'Friday Night Fights', ComedySportz w/ 'The Invite'). So we didn't want to be seen as stepping on anyone's toes or turf. But they all were pretty much like, "Great! Now I don't have to think about doing it." This was also the reason we wanted to pick a "neutral" theater like Milagro. The point is to be a showcase for improv comedy in Portland, not any particular theater or school.
Do you think Portland audiences are ready for a full-on festival? Why now?
Improv can be a harder sell for audiences than stand-up, that's true. Improv requires more of an investment from the audience and you can't really tune in and out of it, or you'll miss the experience. That being said, Portlanders are really responsive to smart and unique comedy-whether it's standup, sketch, or improv. And when improv is done well, it can be the most rewarding kind of show for a discerning audience. On top of that, audiences have been showing up in strong numbers lately to "all-improv" shows. Personally, I've been performing to larger crowds than ever before over the past year. On top of that, places like Portland Center Stage (with Shelley McLendon curating both the 'Slingshot' series, as well as 'Improv Night') and Helium Comedy Club (who recently asked Whiskey Tango to do a regular monthly gig) are recognizing that this is a part of the comedy scene worth investing in.
So why now? Besides what I said above, putting the focus on improv for a weekend will coalesce the existing excitement and interest. People who have enjoyed improv casually in the past will now have an opportunity to really dive deep. We have modest goals for this first year, but I think there's 300 improv fans in this town (please, dear god, please)! On top of that, this festival is meant to both recognize the improv that is already happening in Portland, but we also hope to give the improv scene an added boost. I think Bridgetown gave local comics something to reach for and it really helped to up the quality of standup in this town. We want to do the same with improv. There's a TON of talented improvisers, but we definitely need more quality groups.
Will the whole thing be taking place at the Miracle theater, or do you plan to add additional venues?
Just Miracle this year. Gonna keep it tight 'n' sweet.
How broadly are you defining "improv" - would something like Competitive Erotic fan fiction, or other improv/standup hybrid shows, make the cut?
We're talking about this a lot and I want to tentatively say "Yes". Whiskey Tango has had some of our best shows when paired with standups, sketch, or musical comedy. There is this amazing chemistry that happens when you mix up the forms that is distinct from what you experience with each form individually. That being said, we don't want to reproduce Bridgetown, so we are going to keep the focus on improv. But this shit gets all blurry in the end.
What's your timeframe for submissions?
Fingers crossed, the website will be done by the end of the month (probably sooner). We're shooting to start accepting submissions by mid-March, make decisions in early April.