When Improvaganza: Hawaii Festival of Improv returns next week for a fifth year in Honolulu, it can celebrate not only its longevity, but also its successful business plan.
Garrick Paikai, festival director and founder of the On the Spot Improv troupe, says the festival took in more money than it cost to run last year, for the first time. And he believes there is a future for the festival — just as he believes there is a professional future in improv for him, as an actor and producer.
He’s inspired, he says, by the success of Laughtrack Theater Company, a grass-roots improv company in the Chinatown Arts District started by partners Shannon Winpenny and Kim Potter, which puts on shows in its own black-box room in addition to running improv classes for beginners on up.
It’s also worthy of note that the festival is drawing international attention, Paikai says. "It’s a unique camaraderie between nationwide improvisers."
At the same time, he is infused with local pride, claiming, "Our stuff is extra-special, because we put a lot more aloha spirit into everything we do."
FIFTH ANNUAL IMPROVAGANZA: HAWAII FESTIVAL OF IMPROV
Where: The Arts at Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave., and Laughtrack Theater Company, 1123 Bethel St.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday; 8, 8:30, 10 and 10:30 p.m. Friday; and 8, 8:30, 10 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday
Info: Get tickets at 800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com
On the Net: For details about the 23 acts playing at Improvaganza, go to www.improvaganza.com.
8 p.m. Thursday, Arts at Marks Garage: The Con Men (North Shore); Improviders (Los Angeles); Oil in the Alley (Honolulu)
8 p.m. Friday, Laughtrack Theater Company: Peas, Branes and Burritos (Honolulu); Hello Laser (New York); Now? with Levin and Annie (Los Angeles)
8:30 p.m. Friday, Marks: Owltastic (Manoa); On the Spot in "Ten Prov" (Aiea); Girls, Girls, Girls (Austin, Texas)
10 p.m. Friday, Laughtrack: Galapagos (Phoenix); Drum Machine (Minnesota); Ajar (Honolulu)
10:30 p.m. Friday, Marks: Team X (Santa Monica, Calif.); Sucker Punch (Mililani); Puppet TV (Seattle)
8 p.m. Saturday, Laughtrack: Vans (Honolulu); Megalou (New York); Megaphone (Austin)
8:30 p.m. Saturday, Marks: Phooka (New York); Super Mega Art Show (Seattle); Puppet TV (Seattle)
10 p.m. Saturday, Laughtrack: Panic Button (Chicago); The Improviders (Los Angeles); Aftermath (Honolulu)
10:30 p.m. Saturday, Marks: Galapagos (Phoenix); Hello Laser (New York); On the Spot in "Hush"
R. Kevin Doyle, the education director and acting publicist for the festival, says, "We’re making our own little splash. The fest has gotten really good recognition, here and on the mainland."
The festival of improv takes place Thursday through Sept. 25 at The Arts at Marks Garage and Laughtrack Theater, and this time around it features more local and mainland acts than in any previous year.
During its first season in 2006, just four local acts appeared, Doyle recalls.
"The very first years of the festival, it was just local acts," Doyle says. "In those days, there were only four or five groups doing improv at all."
By the third year, Improvaganza drew six acts.
This year, 23 acts (nine from Honolulu and 14 from the mainland) are participating, in a festival that will also include behind-the-scenes workshops and networking sessions for a national gathering.
FEATURED acts at this year’s festival include Minneapolis native Jill Bernard’s nationally celebrated one-woman musical, "Drum Machine"; Seattle’s all-puppet improv ("puppet-prov," as Paikai calls it) group "Puppet TV"; and all-woman Texan musical improv group Girls Girls Girls.
In "Drum Machine," Bernard weaves details from an audience member’s life into an improvised period piece, portraying multiple characters, accompanied by the "mad beats" of a Zoom-Rhythmtrak 123. Paikai calls her "utterly amazing … a ball of energy."
Returning favorite Galapagos, of Phoenix, is billed as "one of the most polished and accomplished improv groups in the country," and a highlight of last year’s festival. Bill Binder will also be teaching a workshop at this year’s festival.
Doyle and Sean O’Malley are Oil in the Alley. The actor -musicians call what they do "invisible improv," with subtle changes in each night’s show propelled by audience input. The back story is that they are on a reunion tour, rhapsodizing with the audience about their once-brilliant careers while performing three or four of their (spontaneous) greatest hits.
Local improv stalwarts and festival hosts On the Spot will put on two shows: a silent-movie inspired improv show, "Hush," and "Ten Prov," a spur-of-the-moment takeoff on the works of Tennessee Williams, which Paikai promises will be "over the top," like Williams himself.
"Hush" is a challenging concept in that it is all physical : There is no talking. The conceit is that the audience is watching a one-act silent movie. At the start, audience members will pose the "Hush" actors on stage, and the action will take off from there. Background musicians playing piano and violin will provide a "soundtrack."
Paikai says "Hush" has been a success on tour at performances in Austin, Texas; Santa Monica, Calif.; and Phoenix, among other locations.
Paikai has been a dedicated improv actor and coach since 1998, when his stage instructor at Leeward Community College challenged him to gather up a like-minded group to justify his self-study in the art.
Even over the telephone, he exudes energy when describing the play of emotions and cues that drive an On the Spot skit.
"We’re literally feeding off each other," he says, by playing close attention to each team member’s expression, physical movements and, yes, props.
Doyle, a Honolulu resident since 1989 and an improv performer here for nigh on 18 years, many of them with the group Loose Screws, has nothing but praise for Paikai, who is an improv true believer.
"He’s not quite crushing coal into diamonds, but he’s as close to an improv Superman as we’ve got here," Doyle says.
Not that Doyle is a slouch himself — he’ll be in three segments during the festival, one with his latest duo, Oil in the Alley, and one with Paikai’s troupe.
"It’s an opportunity for people to see a variety of what is possible out there," Doyle says.
"The challenge has been being consistent and putting on a good show, but also accommodating this many people," Paikai says. "The one thing we try to accomplish is to have groups be inspired by somebody else. … And I think we’ve done that."