Laughs Out of Thin Air
Duke City Improv Festival at The Box
Parents eager to teach their children teamwork might sign them up for sports.
But a kid can learn the same lesson by practicing improv.
Kristin Berg, artistic director at The Box Performance Space, says sticking together is improv's most crucial component. "It focuses on teamwork and working toward a common goal," Berg explains. "Improv gives kids the freedom to think for themselves and make big choices, and then learn to trust those choices they make."
Youth is a key ingredient in the third annual Duke City Improv Festival. Three of the 14 teams at this year's festival are composed of actors too young to vote. Berg says these teams understand how to think fast and keep the show rolling. "When they're doing a show and somebody screws up, they have two choices: They can either point out the mistake or keep going," Berg explains. "Improv teaches them to keep going."
Ten Albuquerque teams and four national acts (from Phoenix, Denver and Chicago) will elicit laughs on the fly during the festival. Three of the visiting ensembles will also teach their craft during workshops on musical improv, group dynamics and the importance of just having fun.
Burque teams will compete for the coveted first-place rubber chicken prize in the Tour de Ha—a short-form improv contest in the mold of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
For theater-goers with their attention spans still intact, there’s long-form improv. "Long-form is more like a one-act play," Berg says. "We have puppet improv, ‘Star Trek’ improv and musical improv. There are all different styles."
The Duke City's One Night Stanleys choose to go without a theme. Steve Lucero and the other three Stanleys rely on the audience and an ability to draw inspiration from next to nothing. Lucero says he and his teammates each get one word from an audience member. They then go into short monologues based on the audience's suggested verbiage. "We either tell a story or ramble on for a few minutes and, from those monologues, we get ideas for the rest of the show," Lucero says. "We create different scenes for the next 40 or so minutes, and that's it in a nutshell."
With any good improv, it's not about how much information you glean from the audience, Lucero explains. It's about faith in your compatriots. "We don't know where any scene is going," he insists. "If somebody says I'm a duck, then I just say I'm a duck and we roll with it and continue on. If you trust each other and work a lot together, you can see where they're going and go along with them."
Lucero also contends a good team member doesn't always try to force jokes. Sometimes it's about setting up your partners. "You don't have to try to be yuk-yuk funny," he says. "Even when I'm not necessarily the funny one in the scene, I might be providing one of the team members with a characteristic that he can run with."
Lucero plans on taking in many of the festival's acts, especially the national ensembles he hasn't seen before. "I'm looking forward to seeing what other people are doing around the country," he says. "I'll be secretly judging them and comparing us to them and seeing if we're as good or better or worse than them."
Each year the festival has continued to blossom. There are more people in the seats and more squads participating, Berg says. "I'm excited to see that the improv community in Albuquerque is finally beginning to grow," Berg says. "For a long time, we saw a lot of the same faces on a lot of teams. There would be one guy on five teams, and we'd see him over and over again. Now we're seeing new people."