I just returned from the Del Close Marathon in New York. It’s a global gathering of improv nerds performing for improv nerds. And if you want your team to make it to the next level, entering a festival is a necessary step.
There’s a lot of talk in improv about “group mind.” It’s that rare phenomenon where you all understand each other and you can almost read each other’s thoughts. Couples in love often exhibit this phenomenon. Each anticipates the other’s needs and fulfills them before they are asked. It’s that moment where you simultaneously say, “I’m hungry,” then look at each other and say, “Pizza,” at the same time.
Getting your group to share a mind is a tough deal. We come from different places with different families, backgrounds, careers and interests. Sometimes all you have in common is improvisation. That’s where a festival comes in.
Unless the festival is in your backyard, you’ll have to travel. And if you travel together, that automatically provides shared experiences. You ate at the same places, had the same weird waiters, bought the same stupid truck stop T-shirts, narrowly dodged death from the same shady guy waving the knife, and so on. Those shared experiences help put you on the same wavelength as your teammates. Several hours of conversation leading up to a performance can really focus you to the thoughts and feelings of your cast.
I think those shared experiences are the main reason to hit a festival. A secondary reason is that the audiences you face will likely be friendlier than those at home. If you perform in Chicago, audiences see lots of great improv all the time. But it’s like training at altitude. Play at a festival in New York or Austin or Kalamazoo and audiences will see things they’ve never seen before. Every city plays a different style. Taking that on the road means an audience will see something new. And they’ll probably love it.
A third reason is to check out the competition. Do you like the way they play in L.A.? What about that Canadian team? Boston? Cleveland? Sometimes, you’ll see dreadful improv that makes you feel better about your skills. Sometimes, you’ll be inspired to try something that isn’t native to your improv homeland. And after the shows, you can chat up these strange people from strange worlds to get their take on your shared artform.
Every festival I’ve traveled to has been a wonderful experience. I bond with my teammates. I push myself to excel. And I revel in the explosive nature of an unfamiliar audience.
Get your teams together, submit to a festival and reap the rewards of a unique group mind experience.