Regular readers will be aware of our coverage of the expanding improv comedy scene here in Scotland. From the weekly shows at the Monkey Barrel run by TBC, and the likes of Men With Coconuts, The Spontaneous Players, Smoky Monkeys, and The Tinderellas all bringing their own particular spin on the format to the Fringe; to regular workshops and jam evenings held in Edinburgh and Glasgow, improv is becoming increasingly popular with performers and audiences alike. Compared to the years of success improv has enjoyed further afield, particularly in the US, Scotland’s scene is still relatively embryonic. One company is hoping to go some way to changing that, with the announcement of the inaugural Edinburgh International Improv Festival. The festival is the brainchild of Blank Script Limited, formed by American improviser Jason Perez and theatre producer Michelle McKay, both familiar faces in the local scene, and will run from 7th – 10th February 2019 at the Scottish Storytelling Centre with a launch evening at Assembly Roxy. During the four day long celebration of improv, there will be a full curriculum of classes, as well as a full roster of shows; including an open jam evening and a concluding ‘all-star performance’.
“It’s really going to be an exciting time,” says Perez, a genial Californian of infectious enthusiasm. “We’re currently planning on having some big-name teachers coming over from the States and elsewhere to be able to teach people over here, because as of right now the US is still where the best improv is happening and we want to be able to have the best teachers in the world coming here. I’ve already talked to people from Ireland, Denmark, London, Bristol, Chicago, New York, LA, Italy as well. They’re all interested in coming out for this festival, so it’s really going to be an international affair.”
It’s this desire to see the scene in Scotland flourish that has led to the creation of the festival, and all the work that entails. It’s one thing to set up, run, and perform at numerous evenings, like the Kinky Fish Improv Jam in Edinburgh and Glasgow Harold. An entire festival is another thing altogether. ” While it’s incredible here, the scene is still really young,” says Perez. “There’s still not that many opportunities to see other groups that are doing top-notch work, besides the handful that are already doing that here. I really wanted to set up a festival that that would encourage improvisers from all over the world to come here and share what they know and what they do which will help educate the scene here, and at the same time allow us to show teams from around the world what we do.”
The reason why Edinburgh was picked as the location by the Blank Script founders is very simple. “It’s the festival city!” Perez grins. “It literally has every other festival that could possible exist, so the fact that it doesn’t have an improv festival is kind of depressing. There are podunk towns in the US that have improv festivals and that just blows my mind! Come on, we can do better than that!”
Beyond Edinburgh’s deserved status as a cultural hub, it’s the relatively virgin territory of the local scene that makes it an ideal choice for a festival. There’s a sense that it can be moulded not only by those coming in to teach and offer their experience, but by those who will absorb those influences and help the scene to bloom beyond February. Local improvisers will attest to the welcoming and supportive atmosphere, with experienced performers always involved with workshops and classes, such as those run by the Monkey Barrel. Perez feels like now is the ideal time to get involved in an art form that is easy to try, and with almost infinite flexibility, as US improv has almost become a victim of its own success, financially speaking. “With the rise of places like the Upright Citizens Brigade, and the popularity of the students that are coming out of it, the prices in the US are going up and up, so it’s hard for people to take classes there, which makes it less accessible.” Not so in Scotland. “It truly is possible for people to take classes for reasonable prices. People can see shows for £3-£5. That’s a magical thing. That’s originally what made me fall in love with improv.”
The application process will open soon, for teachers, teams, or individuals, through the Improv Network website, which is used for promoting festivals around the world, another aspect of the communal nature of the form. Those who may not be able to bring their full troupe from abroad shouldn’t be put off. “We’re going to have an aspect that is not just for teams to submit, but for people who want to be a part of the festival that might not have a team, or coming from a different country where it costs a lot of money, but they still want to perform.” says Perez. “So we’re going to put together a team of “misfits” of people who want to come out here.”
The organisers will also be looking to draw on the help of the local improv community and beyond to make sure the festival runs smoothly and be the biggest success it possibly can. “Honestly, it’s going to take a village! It’s going to take every person in this community, whether it’s just free time they have, or a connection to a business that may be interested in sponsorship, or even if they have a spare bedroom in which they would like to put up an improviser or two from outside the community. Just come and support, be in those seats.” That spirit in the scene in Scotland is vital for the festival’s success. “I want people to see why Edinburgh is such an incredible place,” confirms Perez. “Festivals want to come here, because it’s the community and city that supports everything that happens here, so that’s really what I want.”
Edinburgh International Improv Festival will run Thu 7 – Sun 10 Feb 2019.
More news as it becomes available.
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