Virginia Jack Chelsea Petrakis

"I THINK WORD GOT OUT last year in the national improv community that Portland was really, really, really ready to support an improv festival," says Stumptown Improv Festival co-founder Jed Arkley. As a member of local improv group Whiskey Tango, Arkley's a known entity in Portland comedy, so it makes sense that he and festival co-founders, performers Erin Jean O'Regan and Leon Anderson, put Portland on the national improv map when they launched the city's first festival devoted to the format last year.

"We're keeping all the good vibes and Aerosmith-style sweet emotions from year one, that's for sure," says Arkley. "We're so psyched to be back at Milagro. They're an ideal theater... you really feel like you're right in the midst of all the comedy that's happening onstage, which is especially important for improv."(O'Regan also notes that the theater's air-conditioning system has been fixed, no small detail in a summer that's seen smaller local theaters resorting to free popsicles and personal spray-fans to keep audiences cool.)

Last year's success, say the organizers, meant that this year, out-of-town improv groups were reaching out to the festival directly. "The number of submissions can be a little overwhelming with regard to the number of spots we have available," says O'Regan. Arkley says they received "close to 100." It's a good problem to have. "This allowed us to pair a local group with a visiting group for each show and create a nice mixture of performance style, group size, and makeup," says Arkley.

This year, the festival debuts an à la carte-style alternative to the steep $80 fest passes: Festival-goers can now attend any three shows for $33. The lineup also features improv workshops, and afterparties Friday and Saturday, at Binks and High Dive, respectively.

For improv newbies, Anderson, Arkley, and O'Regan all recommended Saturday night's late shows, with local faves the Liberators, plus New York City's Magnet Theater, and LA's JV, featuring performers from the Upright Citizens Brigade. Also of note are North Coast, self-described as "New York City's premier hip-hop improv comedy team," Minneapolis' Ferrari McSpeedy ("I actually watched their submission video earlier this year just to cheer me up," says Arkley), and Canadian duo Briana Rayner and Nicole Passmore, who tour together as Virginia Jack.

"You'll quickly see that any negative preconceived notions you have about improv don't apply anymore," says Arkley. "To paraphrase Neko Case: 'Get with the now, improv-haters'." [Eds. note—We could not independently verify this quote's existence anywhere in Case's discography.]

But should you plan to test this theory, it would behoove you to act quickly. "Shows will sell out," says Anderson. "I'm warning you now. Shows will sell out."