The snow may be long gone, but there’s an avalanche of comedy on the way. Troupes from around the world are coming to the Peoples Improv Theater, where 200 shows will take place during five days of impromptu hilarity at NYC Improv Fest 2016, beginning March 16.
Improv is a unique breed of comedy. It takes training to master the “Yes, and…” method (going along with whatever your partners give you), and along the way you often learn something about yourself.
We asked some fest participants about how their unpredictable world has influenced them beyond the stage.
Joe Schiappa, PIT instructor and performer (Nathan and Joe), learned to slow down and listen. But he believes improv also kept him healthier. "I was diagnosed with ADD in my early 30s, and I think part of the reason that I got as far as I did is because improv trained me to focus,” he says.
You'd think the constant potential for failure would be stressful, but Ronny Pascale, festival producer and associate artistic director at PIT, saw himself become a more positive person through the process. “Improv has taught me to enjoy the moment," he says. "The more I enjoy my life and what is going on around me, others will enjoy being around me more.”
As much as improv is about creating a series of worlds, Richie Moriarty (Simply Unemployable) found that it made him realize how to live in the real one better. "Frequently, in conversations with people, I notice how bad we are at truly listening to each other," he says. "I think everyone can benefit from the listening skills that improv teaches and how those skills can lead to being a more empathetic person."
In that vein, Katie Hartman, PIT instructor and performer in Gypsy Danger, sees the potential for improv skills to head off conflict. “Great improvisers listen to their partners instead of planning what they will say next," she says. "I’ve found that so many problems, both big and small, can be solved by just listening and responding to what one is given.”
Learning to rely on other people may be tough, but the rewards are worth it, according to Evan Kaufman (Gypsy Danger, Your Love Our Musical, North Coast). “Improvisation is all about collaboration," he says. "The group can usually come up with a better thing than you can on your own. Be open to ideas from anywhere.”
Matt Higgins, PIT instructor and performer in Centralia, got the best piece of advice on improv, and life, from one of his favorite comedians. "I have always loved watching [PIT founder and former SNL writer] Ali Farahnakian onstage. Whether he's improvising or doing solo comedy work, I am kind of in awe," he recalls.
"I asked him one time, ‘You just open your mouth and everything flows. How do you do it?’ His reply, ‘Remove the filter, Matty. Remove the filter.’ I hold those words dear.”
NYC Improv Fest 2016
Peoples Improv Theater, 123 E. 24 th St.
Festival pass: $40