It's a piece of cake for the organizers of the 11th Annual Phoenix Improv Festival to pack a lot into a little -- that's kind of a holy principle of comedy. So yes, the entire event fests your ass off between now and Sunday afternoon, April 29, and it doesn't matter whether you want to see improv, learn improv (including slam poetry and improv with puppets, which either sounds promisingly nasty or it's just the influence of the impending weekend), or learn to help other people learn improv, 'cause it's all here. (That was just a little yes and, for you insiders.)
Any performer who's ever felt extra-humbled by the realization that he or she is improv-impaired should feel better knowing that PIF has more than one workshop just to teach people how to coach you. Hallelujah fuck yeah.
Even more popular, though, are the evening performances by troupes from nearly across the U.S. who've been drawn here by the conference's sweet nectar of professional education and networking, fresh audiences, and the prospect of watching each other's sets with that heady mixture of admiration and envy. So on to that.
Tonight, Friday, April 27, at 7 p.m., it's local fun in a handy one-stop form with Mesa's NCT Phoenix (National Comedy Theatre) and other Valley faves Umlautilde (whose name I just got looking at their logo), musical improvisers JUDD, Mail Order Bride, Chaos Comedy, Unicorn Warpath, bilingually iconoclastic Los Subtitulos, and The Foundation, a troupe made up of instructors from The Torch Theatre.
On Saturday, the visiting companies will have recovered somewhat from jet or van lag and hit the stage at 7:30 p.m.: What If? (from Minneapolis), Midnight Society (Austin, TX), King Ten (L.A.), Who Cares? (Chicago), and HawkinStroth (L.A.), representing theaters including HUGE Theater, ColdTowne, and iO West.
Admission to each night's show is $15 if you call 602-254-7399 or take your chances at the door; it's $18.50 with fees if you order Phoenix Improv Festival tickets online in advance. Nothing's supposed to be bluer than PG-13, so bring that kid who dreams of comedy to see how it's done. Both evening's performances are at Herberger Theater Center's Stage West, 222 East Monroe Street.
For hardcore improv practitioners, PIF will hold several "tracks" of conference sessions at downtown locations -- including the hot-cinnamon-roll mecca (for registered hotel guests only), Holiday Inn Express, 620 North Sixth Street, right across from Space 55 -- during the day on Saturday, April 28, in the manner of every convention you've ever been to (or enjoyed a spa day or shopping excursion while your significant other is attending). An assortment of local and visiting instructors will school the comedians on topics such as business models, artistry, and the aforementioned coaching how-to's.
Individual conference registration is $20 to run around like a maniac and sample what interests you, while ensembles of five to 15 members pay $100 per group for special ensemble coaching (i.e., troupes will get coached). Learn about registering for PIF workshops here.
Finally, on Sunday, April 29, at 11 a.m., you have the rare opportunities to pick the brains of PIF attendees at Introduction to Improv workshops offered at two ends of the Valley -- Dearing Acting Studio, 10806 North 32nd Street, and The Torch Theatre, 4721 North Central Avenue. It's free, and no registration is necessary.