Kevin McDonald, co-founder of the legendary Kids in the Hall, emailed that he’d always wanted to visit Tucson, and asked if Tucson Improv Movement (TIM) might allow him to host a show and a workshop. As a matter of fact, TIM founder and owner Justin Lukasewicz thought that was a swell idea and, on the spot, gave one of the world’s best-known sketch comedy artists the headline slot in Tucson Comedy Arts Festival 3, Nov. 8-11.
Responding to its growing reputation, this year’s fest branches out from TIM’s 50-seat black box theatre to include the Flycatcher, home of the event’s standup comedy components; the Sea of Glass, where McDonald performs with students from his day-long, sketch-writing workshop, and 191 Toole, where a solo performance by McDonald will cap the festival at 8 p.m., Saturday.
Most of the action, though, is at TIM Comedy Theatre, 239 E. 7th street, where 30 improv teams gather from Tucson, Phoenix, Chicago and Los Angeles, to perform a dozen showcases over the three days. Daytime workshops there cover skills for short form, long form and sketch techniques for ensemble and solo improvisers.
TCAF has something for everyone, including children and Spanish-language speakers. Visit tucsonimprov.com/tcaf
for the full schedule and to register all the events. Except for McDonald’s, shows are $25 for a full festival pass, or $5 each, and workshops are $50. Some scholarships may be available.
Unique and recommended among the improv performers are Mary Catherine Curran’s solo sketch One Woman Space Jam; the Spanish language team, Cómo Se Dice; the hip-hop and rap team, Third Beats; Slideshow Fairy Tales, a unique solo comedy performance that you should Google
; From the Top, a team that improvises an entire musical in 25 minutes; the all-female team, The Riveters; The Soapbox, featuring Kevin McDonald inspiring TIM’s top improvisers with anecdotes from his life; Phoenix-based veterans, Galapagos; and FOMP (Friends of Make Pretends), a show for children with lots of audience participation and stage time.
We’re also looking forward to stand-up sets by Chicagoan Dame Grant; Tucson ex-pat Ben Dietzel, now of L.A.; local favorite, Josiah Osego; and, from Phoenix, Matt Storrs’ popular game show for stand-up comedians, The Storrs Objection.
The performer we’re most looking forward to seeing is Brooke Hartnett, because the Tucson comedy scene misses her. An alumna of the UA’s Charles Darwin Experience, a stand-up comedian and a TIM company member, she moved to Chicago to study improv and pursue a comedy writing career.
She says she misses the food and the low cost of living, but, “Chicago’s a really lovely city and a good place to work on comedy without the pressure of L.A. and New York. I’d like to teach improv one day, but I’m realistically more likely to make money acting or writing or directing film.”
Hartnett’s Chicago team, Kill Phil, performs late Friday night, but she’ll be busy much of the rest of the festival reuniting with besties in the top TIM ensembles she left behind: The Riveters, The Travelling Thornberries, Party Barf, and her duo team with Clare Shelly, Kitten Spit, a past crowd favorite.
It was Hartnett who encouraged TCAF workshop presenter Mary Catherine Curran to sign on for TCAF3. Hartnett had studied with Curran at iO Chicago. Curran, in turn, suggested her friend Alex Carday, an alumnus of the UA’s Charles Darwin Experience, and a current member of the nationally recognized short-form improv company, Comedy Sportz, in Chicago.
Carday’s workshop covers short form game techniques. Curran’s covers making strong emotional choices in scenes, but she also offers a personalized workshop for improvisers interested in solo performance. How is that different from stand-up? “It's character-driven, and it's more personal, more, I think, an art,” Curran says. “I think mostly standup is based on creating or forming a joke, and you’re yourself most of the time. Solo improv is like a sketch show. It’s tightly scripted, and each piece is separated by blackouts or transitions.”
José Gonzales, a co-founder of Phoenix’s Torch Theater, a ten-year-old school and performance space for independent improv teams, will teach workshops on enhancing scenes by working with imaginary objects. His techniques help improvisers create and perform within environments they create in an audience’s imagination. Gonzales also will perform a set with his 14-year-old team, Galapagos, which has toured all over North America and Europe.
While hosting its third comedy festival, TIM also celebrates five years in business. Lukasewicz says, "It's been amazing to see (TIM) sprout up from nothing. My two goals with TIM were to create high quality, fast-paced shows and to have a supportive, inclusive community. At the fifth anniversary show … the quality and support were amazing. I am lucky to get those sorts of moments on a regular basis.”