IT’S NO LONGER a well-kept secret: Portland’s improv and sketch comedy communities are on the verge of something big, and this is nowhere more apparent than at the annual Stumptown Improv Festival, which hits the city this weekend, bringing with it some much needed off-the-cuff levity. After last summer’s sold-out shows, the fest, now in its third year, boasts a new venue and a solid lineup of out-of-town performers (like my favorites from last year, Canadian duo Nicole Passmore and Briana Rayner, who perform together as Virginia Jack) and a variety of local groups, both established (think: institutions like the Liberators) and emerging (like hilarious up-and-comers Tunnel).
Also of note: Bang+Burn’s (Beau Brousseau and John Breen’s) improbably funny improvised action movies; the almost excessively clever, way too sporadically-seen J Names Improv; and North Coast, purveyors of hip-hop improv. Ahead of Thursday’s opening show, here’s what Stumptown co-founders Jed Arkley, Leon Anderson, and Erin Jean O’Regan had to say about this year’s lineup, Portland’s rapidly expanding improv community, and idle gossip.
On how the festival will be different this year:
JED: The most obvious difference this year is that we’re at a new venue, Artists Repertory Theatre. The main reason for this change is because we needed more seats. (Milagro has 120, Artists Rep has 160!) So audiences can expect less tears, pouting, and rending of garments from people who couldn’t get into sold-out shows the last two years. Artists Rep also has a bomb-ass lobby, so audience members should expect to feel fancier. We also have our first “tech-heavy” (for improv) act this year, TEDx RFT, who present a hilariously bizarre improvised slideshow/TED-style talk. And we’ve got a great representation this year of Portland’s up-and-coming “indie improv” scene (Tunnel, Broke Gravy, J Names), as well as the usual brilliant folks from NYC, LA, Canada, and, of course, Minnesota.
On who’s performing and what to get excited about:
ERIN: There are eight Portland groups in the festivalyt this year, four of whom have been in the festival before, and the other four are brand new to the festival stage. It’s crazy the caliber of improv Portland is putting out nowadays! Everyone’s hard work is really showing. I look forward to a Virginia Jack show all year. Those two ladies know how to do smart and funny improv. And just loosely associating myself with the North Coast cast always makes me look cooler than I actually am. The Sunday Service is joining us again, but this year with a bigger cast. Just having two of the five cast members here in 2014 blew the audience away. I cannot wait to see what ridiculous reality they build for us this year.
On the festival’s workshops, which it offers alongside the nightly shows:
LEON: The workshop instructors were told to expect around two-to-five years of experience from participants. However, with all of these instructors, there are lessons to be learned for all stages of improv experience. That being said, they are not beginner fundamental classes—so a level of comfort with the art is recommended. I think if you’ve been taking classes for a couple years, you’re exactly who these workshops are catered toward. Students will have a range of performance and non-performance experience, and our instructors this year are great at reading the level of each individual. So if you’re interested, I say go for it!
On how much Portland’s improv community has grown:
JED: For the longest time, I felt like I could list every single one of the improv groups in Portland, and could even list most of the individual performers. But these days, I’m constantly surprised—not just by the sheer quantity of new groups popping up, but the quality, intelligence, and innovation that’s happening onstage. I was at a show recently and had to keep asking, “Who’s that? They’re really good!” There’s also this great “friendly competitiveness” that I think is arising in the scene, pushing people to do better and better work. Plus, I’m an old man who doesn’t get out much.
When asked to share gossip with the Mercury:
JED: Bang + Burn and Virginia Jack are going to get married onstage on Saturday. And Dylan Reiff’s mustache is voting for Donald Trump. [Probably none of those things are true. —Eds.]