Phoenix Improv Festival brings together local and touring troupes

The Phoenix Improv Festival opened Thursday with an Arizona Showcase and will run through Saturday. Many improvisation troupes from the state and all over the nation will be performing in the festival.

Many of the troupes started right here in the Valley with classes at the Torch Theatre and went on to form troupes of their own.

Stacey Reed is one of the members of Mail Order Bride, a troupe that will be performing in the festival on Saturday evening, said it’s interesting to see local actors sticking together and performing as part of the festival.

Mail Order Bride is an all-female troupe that was formed in 2006 and focuses on long-form improvisation, in which the actresses might spend 20 or 25 minutes working from one suggestion.

“In long form, you really have to take a leap of faith, because you know you’re going to be going for that period of time and you really can’t stop and start over,” Reed said. It’s “so important to have trust and to really know that the people you’re on stage with are going to support you, and that you’re going to support them back, which I think our troupe does really, really well.”

ColdTowne, another troupe that will be performing on Friday evening, focuses on characters for their improv.

Michael Jastroch, a member of ColdTowne, quoted one of his troupe mates, Arthur, saying that the troupe “explore[s] the absurd predictability of human behavior.”

Jastroch’s troupe has been coming to Arizona for years now, he says, because “it’s a small festival, but it’s a small festival that somehow has all these amazing acts — some of the best acts in the country.”

Reed enjoys the festival for a similar reason.

“It’s always neat to see what people are working on in other cities, because improv can be so different. It can be so shaped by your environment, so it’s really neat to see what’s happening in Los Angeles and what’s happening in New York, what’s happening in Chicago,” she said.

Not only are Jastroch and Reed committed to improv for the art form, but also they are committed to their troupe members.

After Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, a few of ColdTowne’s performers moved to Austin, Texas, and started working there.

“We’ve built a nice, cool improv theater community here … kind of like what the Torch Theatre is doing as well in Phoenix,” Jastroch said.

The Torch Theatre offers free improv classes, usually on the first Tuesday of each month, which anyone can go to. Reed said they also offer eight-week classes that have six different skill levels.

“Improv is a great art form, and I would encourage anybody to try it, because anybody can do it and it’s just a matter of kind of letting go and getting out of your head and being in the moment, and that’s a really neat thing to experience,” Reed said.

All of the improv festival shows will be held on stage west of the Herberger Theater Center, which is located at 222 E. Monroe St., near ASU’s Downtown campus. There are also workshops that festival-goers can attend at Space 55 at 636 E. Pierce Ave. Torch Theatre is at 4721 N. Central Ave. For more information on the festival, visit phoeniximprovfestival.com.

Reach the reporter at mmattox@asu.edu


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