The 11th Annual Phoenix Improv Festival kicked off last night at the Herberger Theater, showing a packed house some of the best improv the Valley has to offer in both short-form and long-form formats.
There were a few acts I’d never seen before, and here’s a run-down of the talent on display from the first night.
National Comedy Theatre– This group out of Mesa is similar to the traditional short-form you might be used to from the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway? The group takes lots of audience suggestions to put into games, including one they performed last night where they threw lines of dialogue all over the stage, and improvisers had to pick them up and integrate them into scenes. They’re family-friendly and have a good variety of games that create consistent laughs. For more info on them, go here.
Judd– Billed as “four red-headed girls and Xchel” (the male musician in the group), Judd features made-up-on-the-spot songs brought together by guitar melodies. The ladies all sang in perfect harmony together, then broke into different factions making more music that tied together their scenes and incorporated the audience suggestion. Musical improv groups can be hit-or-miss because of the singing talents of the performers, but all the women in Judd had stellar voices and great comedic timing. Learn more about them here.
Umlautilde– Umlautilde is a duo of two veteran improvisers, both of who teach at The Torch Theatre. Their set last night consisted of one 20-minute scene, with two strong characters navigating a complicated relationship. This was a more dramatic kind of improv that relied on strong character development and plot rather than cheap jokes, so it’s more high-brow improv but just as meaningful. Learn more here.
Mail Order Bride- I’ve been a fan of the all-female Mail Order Bride for about the past 6 years. All of the women in the group are super-talented, and their chemistry is undeniable since they’ve been performing together for so long. They had great characters during their set at PIF, including an unforgettable pot-smoking dad, and this is one group that you are always guaranteed to laugh at. Check them out here.
Chaos Comedy- Chaos Comedy had some interesting long-form improv to serve up, where the players wove in and out of scenes as the same characters but in different times. Sometimes they’d travel backwards or fast-forward during scenes, which I really liked because it’s challenging to think back or ahead in scenes on the spot. They also had strong characters, which I appreciated, and they also brought a little edge to the stage. To learn more, go here.
Unicorn Warpath- Unicorn Warpath was a seven-person group that performed an improv form called The Harold, which includes whole-group collaboration and character growth. It’s a challenging but really fun way to do improv, since you get to see the characters mature throughout the set, and it can also become sort of silly during the group scenes, which is neat. I appreciated the group’s enthusiasm and willingness to be fearless during their set. Check them out here.
Los Subtitulos- This was probably my favorite group of the night, and they were one I’d never seen. As evident by the name, this group performed their set in both Spanish and English, which I think is a brilliant idea considering how many Spanish-speakers we have in Arizona — they’d be a great troupe to represent us in national venues for other festivals. Also, I can speak and understand Spanish on a basic level, and I understood most of what was said during the show — it wasn’t too fast or complicated, which I loved! You won’t just laugh with this group — you’ll also learn some new palabras, which I think is such a cool concept. To learn more, go here.
The Foundation- This hodgepodge of improvisers consists of instructors of The Torch Theatre, the collective that puts on the Phoenix Improv Festival and has their own theater in downtown Phoenix where they teach and perform. This group is the best of the best when it comes to longform Phoenix improvisers, and their set was predictably hysterical.
It’s great the Phoenix Improv Festival is still going strong, and I can’t wait to go back tonight to check it out. The show tonight starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $15 each — a steal for how much great improv you’ll see. Tonight’s show also features all national acts, so come check it out! And if you’re inspired to learn some improv yourself, tomorrow Phoenix Improv Festival is hosting free workshops. For more info on all of this, go here.