Fifth Annual Kalamazoo Improv Fest brings in the laughs

For the fifth time in as many years, Crawlspace Theatre Productions invites improv comedians from Chicago and Grand Rapids to join those from Kalamazoo to create instant hilarity.
 
"This is the fifth Fest, and we're welcoming a lot of teams back that have done the Fest before," says Dann Sytsma, director of Crawlspace Theatre Productions and fest organizer. "This year will have more of that feeling of familiarity between teams, but also with the audience. The audience will recognize groups and jump on board with them quicker. I think the groups' familiarity with the Kalamazoo audience will also lead to better shows." 
 
The Fifth Annual Kalamazoo Improv Festival is set for May 10 and May 11 at Farmers Alley Theatre. Two firsts for this year's festival are comedians from Detroit and a Happy Hour performance. A ticket gets event goers a drink and admission to the happy hour show.
 
Performances are at 6 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday. There also will be an 11:30 jam Friday for those who want to play on stage or simply watch. Shows are at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Saturday.
 
Local rock group Fishlips will be performing before each show.
 
So who's on the lineup? Here are a few that fest goers will want to be sure to check out  though all of the acts are strong:
 
• Piebenga Plumbing. This is Mark and Scott Piebenga as a duo improv team. Systma says: "I've worked with both guys over the years and love what each of them bring to an improv stage. Both are dynamic, physical improvisers that commit 100 percent. I can't wait to see how they join forces for improv good."
 
• The Late 90's. "This team typifies Chicago's i.O. improv theatre's style of longform improv," Sytsma says. "They take the form to a new level of execution. It's as if longform improv was tailor made to draw out the genius of each member on the team. They are a force. Plus, everyone on the team is genuinely nice and a great deal of fun to hang out with."
 
• Rattlesnake High School. "This team was formed probably close to a decade ago and has been seen off and on since their inception," Sytsma says."They're like and eclipse, you don't see it often, but you want to be around when it happens. Unlike an eclipse, feel free to look directly at them.
 
The complete lineup is here: 
Monkapult, Kalamazoo College’s legendary troupe and Crawlspace Eviction take the stage at the 6 p.m. Friday Happy Hour Shortform Show. At 8 p.m. its Freak Table, Piebenga Plumbing and local favorites t&a. At 10 p.m. Jessica, Crawlspace Eviction and Chicago's ButchMAX.
 
At 8 p.m. Saturday Detroit's Mars, Grand Rapid's hilarious Pop Scholars and Late 90's. At 10 p.m. Saturday see MegaPawn, The Album, Eleanor and Rattlesnake High School.
 
There also are workshops for current and aspiring improv actors.
 
At 1 p.m. Saturday, May 11 Instructor Alex Moffat will teach  "Group Mind: Learning To Intuit The Needs Of The Ensemble" Also at 1 p.m. Saturday,  Mark Piebenga's workshop is "Status and Subtext." Participants will learn to make their job as improv comedians easier by focusing how they say things through games and exercises.
 
At 4 p.m. Saturday Joe Anderson will offer "Play to Your Weaknesses! (Strengths are for Wimps!) Participants learn both their great and not so great experiences will make them better. Also at 4 p.m. Ben Johnson will lead "Self-directed Ensemble Improv." The workshop is intended for those who want to start an improv ensemble but who can't pay a for a director or theater. "Are you interested in forming an improv ensemble and striking out on your own? You can absolutely do it!" Johnson says. 
 
Tickets are $10 general admission for each show, or get a $25 fest pass and see as many shows as you want. Workshops are Saturday, May 11 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Admission is $15 per workshop.
 
Sytsma adds: "The Fest performers always rave about how great the Kalamazoo audience is; very smart and very gracious. There's a sublime energy when these improv teams are paired with a great audience, and that's what the Improv Fest is all about.
 
Writer: Kathy Jennings, Second Wave Media
Source: Dan Sytsma, Kalamazoo Improv Festival and Crawlspace Theatre Productions