Dreaming of Improv Festivus


© 2016 Rick Sleeman

Black Friday -- that modern frenzy of consumerism immediately following Thanksgiving -- is just around the corner but I won’t be participating. I prefer something less materialistic.

If you’re a Seinfeld fan like me, you know the undisputable benefits of Festivus. On the classic sitcom, George Costanza reveals that his father created a holiday without the religious or commercial aspects of Christmas. When the show first aired, I found the idea absurdly funny. But the older I get, the more appealing a quirky, secular, noncommercial holiday sounds. No, I haven’t started shopping for gifts, and no, I haven’t put up a tree, ok?

I hope you can imagine my delight at discovering Improv Festivus at ComedySportz® Richmond in 2016, the festival’s sixth year.

What is Improv Festivus?

Each year, the comedy celebration kicks off on a Thursday evening with performances from local players; the festival lasts through a Saturday night with comedians who sometimes travel hundreds of miles to perform. They perform short form and long form improv with a wide range of styles.

ComedySportz® theaters from cities such as Boise, Washington, D.C., Boston, Indianapolis, Buffalo, New York City, and Philadelphia also pack up their red and blue jerseys and make treks to Richmond for the festivities. Some troupes and players even come from just across town, as I was pleasantly surprised to see familiar faces from Richmond’s own Coalition Theater.

And in the spirit of Festivus, the crowd is a diverse group. No matter their spiritual or philosophical leanings, this wide range of talented players comes together at Improv Festivus because ComedySportz® is for everyone. There are no arguments over the political correctness of the phrase “Happy Holidays” and there is no pressure to regift a scented candle or label maker.

Improv Festivus 2016: Fond Memories

Last year, I attended a couple of Saturday workshops that were open to the public. Although there were master workshops available at a reasonable cost, I decided to stick with free workshops for my first year and move up to a master workshop in 2017.

I attended “Rap Snacks,” taught by Sue Taney of ComedySportz® Philadelphia. The workshop was a lot of fun, and the experience got even better when Sue went to lunch with a few of my friends and me afterward. As a fairly new member of CSz Richmond, getting to know a talented Major League player from another city was a memorable moment. We chatted and discussed some of the similarities and differences between our cities’ theaters. I’ve never been to a ComedySportz® theater outside Richmond, so I enjoyed learning how they do things in Philly.

After lunch, I tackled one of my improv problem areas with a workshop by John Kehoe of CSz Buffalo. In “Mime, and How it Can Save the World,” I had to pack imaginary boxes, place made-up objects in nonexistent rooms, and realize that miming the pushing of a refrigerator means demonstrating that object’s weight and how my entire body would strain to move it. Since I’ve started improv, mime and object work has always been an elusive skill for me and I struggled through that workshop but the lessons have stuck with me.

When John took time to speak with me afterwards, I realized how lucky I was to be building relationships with improvisers who were not just brilliant but also kind.

Improv Festivus 2017: Anticipation

A lot has changed since last year. I’m no longer starstruck by Major League players but I admire and appreciate them even more deeply. SAAB Story -- a troupe made up of my friends Scott Ingwersen, Aaron McGuire, Amy Weiss, and Bill Nieporte -- is the opening act on Thursday, December 7, and I will be there to support them. I can think of no better way to warm up my laughing muscles for the big weekend.

So this year when I received a questionnaire at work, asking whether I prefer to have Black Friday, the day after Christmas, or New Year’s Eve off, I said I have no preference for any of those days. I requested Saturday, December 9, in anticipation of workshops that are sure to be a blast and followed by a night of improv performances and celebrations into the wee hours.

Getting trampled at the mall on Black Friday? No way. Christmas? I can take it or leave it. But I won’t miss Improv Festivus.

For the full Improv Festivus 2017 lineup and workshop updates, visit www.improvfestivus.com.

Lisa Swope has been a Minor League Player at ComedySportz® Richmond since 2016.

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