The Institution of Improv Comedy

As always, I begin with appreciation to the fans and audience who came out to see our final shows of 2014. We had a blast and loved every minute on stage. What comes after the final shows of 2014? Writing the final director’s blog of 2014. From here we move on to more shows, more opportunities and our second year of operation. Subsequent Decembers will not likely yield so much emotion, but this is the end of our first year. I remember having my first lunch with Bre at AET, inviting Parsi and Dahl out to dinner to talk about space and troupe potential, signing our first contracts, making our first video. It was risky, it was expensive. What if no one comes? What if the players don’t have fun? What if we aren’t any good? The first year is incredibly important.

In one of our last rehearsals, I asked the team what they wanted out of their improv comedy, what keeps them hungry for the stage. Aneliese’s response was particularly interesting. She said she wanted improv to become an institution in Alaska. In my reflections of the last year, I strongly believe some of our favorite experiences are what sums up creating the foundation of an institution. The focus has to first be the art and the rehearsal process. You then have to pour your soul into getting the brand on the market and people in the seats. When you put your focus in these two areas, you start to earn your keep and your opportunities. My fondest memories of the year reflect the strengthening of the improv comedy institution in Alaska. We brought rehearsed long form to the Anchorage market, we performed for those who have never even heard of the art, we brought local improv comedy to the PAC stage for the first time in Alaska history, we taught workshops in high schools and on the UAA campus, we even connected with troupes around the state for performance opportunities. What gives us the right to sell tickets and perform on the stage? Simply put, because we earned it. 

We now step into year two. My goals for this year are much different. I always strive to inspire both our audience and performers through this forum, but being realistic helps define your goals. We have earned our opportunities, but I’m not about to claim institutional victory. We have some of the best performers in the state of Alaska, but they need more exposure. I want more people in the seats and to perform in more theaters and more communities. We are going to charge into this goal head on. We are already contracted to perform in Eagle River at the Alaska Fine Arts Academy and we are going back to the PAC for two more shows, all with-in the first two months of 2015.

I also want to diversify and improve the improv. We focused a lot on the Upright Citizens Brigade method of scene foundation, oddity and elevation this year, but I don’t want to get stale. You’ll be seeing new show formats in 2015 that further challenge our performers and submerge the audience deeper into the art form. I am very excited for March, when we will unveil what comes after Love is Blind. But this can’t only be done through more performance, it has to be done through consistent and focused rehearsal. Challenging performers also means challenging the director. I also pledge that you will see more full length long form shows and less long/short form mixes.

My final focus is connection to the larger improv comedy, even outside of Alaska. We have earned this. We’ll start by having a strong presence at this year’s Alaska State Improv Festival. I then want to find further festival opportunities for our team. It’s nice to go see other shows on vacation and connect with those who do improv over a beer, but that’s not what this goal is about. I want to perform for and with them. I want them walking away and spreading the good news of the Yeti. It’s time to start submitting our material and taking the show further down the open road.

Something I have been doing to keep fresh during stretches without rehearsal is to revisit some improv literature I have on the bookshelf. It has been quite eye opening as books I read five years ago have a completely different meaning to me today. For example, I am devouring Mick Napier’s ‘Improvise’. I came across the following gem:

Integrity is living up to what you declare, in an improv scene and in life. Declare what you honestly want, and live that vision fearlessly.

At the end of 2013, Mallory and I, after some time off, decided to declare what we wanted out of improv and Urban Yeti Improv was born. We then found a team to join us in this vision, a team we never imagined would be as perfect and supportive as what we have today. And we executed fearlessly, in our business and through our improv. I look at Urban Yeti very differently from when we started. There was a lot of history, a lot of baggage. It was when we painted our logo on the walls of the Performing Arts Center when I realized what this is truly about. It’s not about winning, it’s about playing, it’s about constantly looking for ways to diversify your experiences and performances. Alaska Experience Theater, Performing Arts Center, Talkeetna’s Sheldon Arts Hangar, Top of the World Hilton, Las Vegas. This is what improv is about.

I declared early on that 2014 would be the year of improv. A year is not enough. We are fearless and we have more to show you.