I now know three Hawaiian words; aloha, mahalo and shi-shi. This was my fourth consecutive year visiting Improvaganza and I continue to fall in love with it.
Having visited both Cedar City and Honolulu recently, I notice some interesting things they have in common. Both are fairly isolated communities; both have audiences that would probably be satisfied with far less; both work tirelessly to elevate the craft instead of taking the easy route. On the Spot Improv could easily go down to Waikiki and play 185 and be very successful. But instead, they stay in downtown (across from the beautiful Hawaii Theatre Center) and create some of the most thoughtful, beautiful work in the country.Like so many parts of Hawaii, On the Spot’s separation from the mainland is a wonderful gift. Largely through the tremendous work of Garrick Paikai, the improv scene grew with respect to the teachings of Del Close and Keith Johnstone, but not stuck in the way “it has always been done”. There are no Harold nights or Armandos, or certainly not an abundance of them. Traditional forms are welcome in Honolulu, but they aren’t accepted as the only way to play. Even as an acolyte of Harold, I love that idea.
Many cities do “genre” improv; slapping cliché from television or movie styles on top of their show. It’s an easy way to market shows that are in other ways hard to promote. That’s not what Hawai’i does. Genre isn’t a wrapping paper there. This community reaches outside of improvisation to other art forms to see what is wonderful about them and incorporating those core ideas into their work. It’s something we could all aspire to. From Screwbuki to Hush to their new shows based on Poe or “The Twilight Zone” they’re always redefining how improv can be used to create art.
This year’s festival was a celebration of that. Shows of all forms, from the Mamet inspired Confidence Men to a show called Fun Bucket, populated the festival. It was a good reminder to always question what’s possible.This year had an amazing lineup of workshops thanks to R. Kevin Doyle who consistently organizes excellent workshop programming for Improvaganza. This year, the theme of variety was well served with workshops from Joe Bill and Patti Stiles who represent the best of Del and Keith based improv. So many cities feel those two styles of impro (with a tip of the hat to my Johnstone friends) cannot work together. So it’s great to see Joe and Patti not only teach, but play together bringing the best of both styles together in ways that can absolutely shine. I confess, I’m less familiar with Douglass Willott and his workshop, but I’m familiar with Seattle’s brand of improv and my limited interactions with Douglass made me believe he’s a very smart dude who is intimately familiar with his style of play. I can’t imagine his workshops are anything short of incredible.
Flights to Hawai’i are expensive, but I promise they are worth the cost. Even if this wasn’t one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the love, dedication and welcoming of Garrick, Alissa, R., Nicole, Rod and the many amazing peformers out there remind you why you love improv in the first place. Also, you may get BBQ’s pancakes.
If you visit HI between now and next year’s festival, don’t spend your whole stay on the beach. OTC Comedy performs year round at The Arts at Marks Garage. Patronize them. I’m sure they’d be thrilled to have you.