Festival Journal from Michael Romero

The 5th Annual San Diego Improv Festival is now in the books. It’s Tuesday and I am still exhausted. The festival felt bigger than ever, and once again showcased groups of talented people from all over the country; and a little bit from Norway as well!

Unlike in years past, I did not sit down to watch every single bit of improv that occurred over the weekend. It was a risky choice, there’s certainly a fear of missing out, but without doing it, I would not have been to socialize with other improvisors. It’s a part of the experience I had not touched on too much, and wanted to give it a go. I apparently did miss out on a couple of fantastic performances in Ex-Boyfriend, and Queerwolves based on what I saw on social media and word of mouth. Queerwolves apparently did well enough to garner some votes for SDIF Best of Fest; risky decisions don’t always pay off.
A lot of teams were really good this year, I could write about all of them and in past years I believe I have. However, I will be focusing on the group of teams that were in contention with my vote for #SDIF2018Best, and a couple of shout outs along the way.
My perennial SDIF Best of Fest, Red Door came out swinging and set the tone for the rest of my weekend. The duo is a constant source of inspiration with their unique edits and form of play. If anyone reading this is new to improv, I highly recommend checking them out as they show the what the heights of improv can be. Subject to the news of iO West closing down, their base of performance out of LA is bound to change but I highly suspect them to be continue being a presence at this festival for years to come.
Chloroform allowed me to experience Brian O’Connell performing improv for the first time. I would like to stress the word “experience” as opposed to “witness.” I had seen him perform a bit at Camp Improv Utopia (more on that later) but this was truly the first time. He and Elizabeth had me engaged right away and carried me through the entire set. I’ll never view the names of Cassius and Brutus the same ever again.
Aptly named, Big Bang started out fast and loose, but they caught on to everything and were completely coherent in thought. Every “mistake” that happened was turned into a gift and they had me in tears at points in their set. Their experience together definitely showed, and camaraderie goes a long way in improv.
Rollin’ n Riches
Every year, I feel like I just fall head over improv heels over a specific team for one reason or another. This year, that team was Mona and Shara Do Improv. Whether it was their form, their first mind-melded scene, or some je ne sais quoi they have but enjoyed their set as much as any one during the entire festival. They performed with such ease and grace, and all we we had to do was sit back and watch.
I am a sucker for a good clown show. It wasn’t too long ago that I was a super fan of local team Look at What We Found. I was pretty excited to watch Man With a Red Nose figuring it was a clown show of a sort; and was it. The audience was strung along a magical ride of laughter, but Dallas also played with our hearts. Over the weekend I overheard someone say “The worst thing to happen to ‘improv’ was adding ‘comedy’ to the end of it.” Improv can bring you to emotional tears, and sometimes that’s better than getting a laugh in itself. 
Earlier with Mona and Shara Do Improv, I mentioned that every year I fall in head over improv heels for a team. Two years ago that was the aforementioned Red Door. But a close second was Rollin n Riches! I was really happy to see this duo again and their set of playing with time was a fun one. What was especially neat was seeing them perform after taking the workshop from Rich Baker and seeing it incorporated in the set itself. The man practices what he preaches.
Mona and Shara do Improv
Shout outs to:
Superfluous, it was great seeing the first Single Riders group come back;  NOX, a wonderful group that has performed here 4 years running; and Jetzo, great as always. I will never look at Joe Partynski the same ever again.
Just like I don’t claim to be an eloquent writer, I don’t pretend to be an expert at improv.  Everyone has their own take on what it can be, how to do it, how to enjoy watching it, and others have vastly more experience than I do. Some people also take to the art more easily, while others have to work at it harder. Personally, I associate more with the latter. Festivals are a great way to expose yourself to different styles of improv and different workshops to earn the skills. Another way is also Camp Improv Utopia.
Camp Improv Utopia is a series of improv camps held in Cambria, CA; Yosemite, CA; Stroudsburg, PA; and in Ireland. Just like my first SDIF, camp was a game-changer for me. You get the opportunity learn from the best of the best, have fun with others, and see really cool things; in short, it is an adult camp for improvisors! I must also qualify that statement with the fact that I had never been to camp but until then. As I write this entry, Camp Improv Utopia East has openings, and the musical form at Camp Improv Yosemite does as well. It was really neat seeing and talking a little bit with those people from camp, and other improvisors I have met through past festivals.
As with life, improv is a constant learning experience. You never know where it’s going to lead when it starts but you just work at it and hope for something good. If you are new to improv, take the chance on events like a festival, and camps; take the workshops associated with them and other workshops that come to San Diego. You meet people that you would never have met along the way, and learn from the best of the best in the art. I wish I knew what this was about when I first started improv. Instead of this being my third SDIF experience, it would have been my fourth. I may have been in over my head that first year, but I would have had that game-changing moment one year sooner.
Michael Romero
Guest Team Liaison
Mr. Romero (if you’re nasty)