Monday, September 15, 2008

KC Improv Festival After-Action Review, Part I

OK.

So.

Wow,
it’s over.

And now I’m going to write a few really, really,
really long posts about it to get it all out of my system, after which I’m not going to even think about it for a while. Because I am this person, I’ll start here—even though, lacking outside feedback, any evaluation will be pretty biased:

MISSION—why we’re here
Produce an improv festival that is educational, entertaining and enjoyable for everyone involved.

Evaluation: Accomplished.
  • Educational: I’ve heard and read troupe members and directors saying they learned a lot and were inspired by both the performances and the workshops.
  • Entertaining: Audiences laughed a lot.
  • Enjoyable: The after parties were all well-attended, and we’ve got photographic documentation of very happy drunk people.

VISION—what the festival can be
KCiF is the MOST FUN, BEST RUN local festival in the country.

Evaluation: I don’t know how we compare to other festivals, but it seemed like folks had fun and things ran smoothly. The out-of-town folks were effusive with their praise; they loved just being able to show up and do shows with their friends for sold-out crowds. A few little glitches cropped up here and there…but I think they were mostly invisible to the participants and crowd. 

OBJECTIVES—what the festival must accomplish
What is “the most fun”?
— Shows
— Workshops
— Parties
— Planning

From whose perspective is it “the best run”?
— Audience
— Guest artists
— Local performers
— Workshop participants
— Planning committee
— Improv-Abilities

What do we mean by “local festival”?
— Showcase for local talent
— Workshops based on our needs

Evaluation: Again, I think we delivered—to varying degrees of success—on just about everything we set out to.

And I’d say there were some pretty big reasons things worked as well as they did—from my POV, anyway.
  • An experienced festival planning committee: Pete, Bess, Scott and Keith knew exactly what they were doing based on last year’s work. That’s huge.
  • Improv-Abilities as producing troupe: Tim and Aron’s backing made a big difference. They cut checks, signed forms, provided support and, in general, gave us the infrastructure we needed.
  • People to do the legwork: Jen, Jess and Matt were there from the start to take on the critical, time-consuming stuff like poster and postcard distribution and web calendar blasting.
  • Flipping the weekends: Not only did we front-load our PR by leading with the National Showcase, but the local groups got a chance to see shows, go to parties and attend workshops together. Which meant that when the Local Showcase rolled around, everyone was in it together—and excited to use what they’d learned.
The thing that made working on this festival (and probably a couple of others on the committee) so different for me was the knowledge that next year, it officially becomes Improv-Abilities' baby. I-A is focused on getting better as a company—but their folks are also very community-minded. They're demonstrably supportive of all improv in KC, which makes them the perfect group to take this on; if running a festival is ever just a showcase for your group, it fails. 

Oddly, that's not even a little bittersweet for me. When Lighten Up existed, I ran the festival for four years as Spontaneous Combustion, and it was pretty much a full time job—so it got bigger every year. Then Funny Outfit took over and it became the US Improv Festival for a couple of years; the organizational model was a lot closer to the collaborative effort it is now. The last two years have been great. Instead of doing everything, I just have to be aware of everything that's getting done. Along with Artistic Director (a job heavily influenced by the rest of the committee), my role has turned into Grand List-Maker, with a side of Marketing and Promotion. 

The biggest change—for the very first time ever,  playing wasn't an after-thought. 

I went through a long, long period (let's say 1996-2007) where I was way more interested in directing and teaching than performing. I didn't really want to be in festival shows, because I had to shut down my left brain and switch to the right. Now I have this job I love at Hallmark—and the part of me that loves to lead and manage and direct really belongs there. Plus, a year ago (thanks to an empty show slot and some prodding from Jared), Tantrum started as a one-shot show and turned into the most fun I've had since I got to make stuff up with my good, good friends in Funny Outfit. Spite followed—and really showed me how fun fearlessness can be. And Poke pushes me solidly into my right brain. 

Every time I get on stage with Tantrum, I have the same thought: "Holy crap. I get to play with these guys." And every night of the festival—when a group was on fire and clearly loving just messing with each other—I was nearly jumping out of my skin wanting to get up and play.

So next year, I'll help with whatever Tim and Aron and Scott and Keith and whoever else is involved thinks they need from me. But I'm really looking forward to letting improv be about recess again. 

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