Before I begin, I want to send a huge shout out to the organizers of the Denver Improv Festival. It was, in my opinion, the best DIF this city has ever seen. The lineups were fantastic, stacked from top to bottom with great acts, amazing performances and brilliant comedy. The venues were wonderful, from the Voodoo to the Bovine to the Jones Theater. So much work went into this years’ festival and it showed on every level.
If you saw any part of the festival, you know what I’m talking about. If you missed it, then you should feel much shame and write “I will not miss another DIF” one thousand times on a chalkboard. I also wanted to thank Mike Malyar for his kind words about DIF being my brainchild. While I am very, VERY proud of my involvement in creating the Denver Improv Festival, it really doesn’t belong to one single person.
The festival was actually born of a beer-fueled conversation between Kirsten Caldwell and myself in early 2005 in the back bar of Rock Bottom. Like many of our improv friends, she had just returned from Chicago where she had grown as a performer and was full of ideas and energy. Among the biggest issues she saw in Denver was, in simple terms, fragmentation. Despite the growing popularity of improv in Denver, as well as the ever-expanding talent pool, the Denver improv scene was less of a community and more of isolated city-states scattered across the Front Range.
The idea was that an improv Festival would improve the community in a number of ways. It would bring the various improvising groups and theaters together for a common cause, it would showcase the abilities of performers in the Mile High City and it would expose Denver to what improv was like in cities across the country. We would be treated to new talent, new ideas and a better sense of who we were and where we fit in.
I made a few phone calls to those who I thought were the movers and shakers of improv in Denver and gathered them all together at Forest Room 5 to see who was interested in pitching in to get the DIF off the ground. We initially thought we’d take a year to stage the inaugural festival, but after that first meeting, the energy and excitement was so high, that we left with plans to host the first Denver Improv Festival in October, 2005, only five months away.
There were some roadblocks and bumps along the way, but when the time came, we all stood proudly in the back of Jazz @ Jacks (their old location next to Paris on the Platte) as we saw our baby come to life. It was small, and not everyone in the city participated, but it was a start and we couldn’t be happier.
Not long afterwards, the group created the GroupMind Foundation to help finance the festival in coming years and also spread the education of improv throughout Denver and Colorado. The foundation was also created to help local improv groups financially when they wanted to attend festivals outside of Denver and promote local talent. It was hard work, as those on the board today will tell you, but it was worth it.
But WHY was it worth it? Why did people like Kirsten, Cindy Laudadio-Hill, Meredith Winfield, Barbara Ghering, Linda Klein and Sam Gordon work so hard to create the festival and the non-profit foundation? I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it all goes back to that night at Rock Bottom and the passion of Kerstin Caldwell when she talked about “community”.
I believe that the talent in Denver is on par with any city in the U.S…period. We have the performers that can play anywhere, we have coaches who know how to teach and mold individuals and groups into world-class improv teams. We’re still growing, but if you look at where Denver improv is today compared to where it was ten years ago, it’s night and day. There are so many more groups and performers as well as venues to showcase our talents at, it’s hard to believe it’s grown so much in such a relatively short period of time. It starts with the education students are receiving in high school, continues at schools like the Bovine, Yes Lab, The Improv Dojo and even at the DPAC.
But as we grow, we have to do it together. You may know the saying, “A house divided cannot stand” and that’s true in all walks of life. The best groups are the ones that are close, that encourage and support each other, grow as a group, fail as a group, succeed as a group.
It’s no different when it comes to the improv community as a whole. We must encourage our growth, support each other and continue to improve as a community. That’s why I’m so proud of the Denver Improv Festival. Not because I was part of an amazing group of people who created something very special, but because it has continued to grow and evolve.
This year, as I sat in the theater of the Voodoo and watched Governor Jack, Hit n Run, The Dishwater Blondes, etc., all performing to packed houses, I was amazed at the number of improvisers from across the city who were there in support. I was also extremely happy that this years’ festival drew so many non-improvisers. But the most satisfying part of the festival was the interaction between improvisers in the bar after the shows. There was no gossip, no fighting, no grumblings, just performers and audience alike enjoying each others company and basking in the glow of a job well done.
The more we support other groups, the more we tell our friends about theaters they should frequent, groups they should see and acts they can’t miss, the more the improv scene in Denver will grow until it becomes a viable entertainment alternative to nightclubs, bars, movies and bands. It won’t happen overnight. It will take time, but together we CAN make it happen.
The DIF is more than just an opportunity to see groups from other cities. It’s a time to celebrate ourselves and our community. This year’s festival was better than ever, and the thanks should go to the individuals who helped make it happen this year. But the thanks should also go to you, the Denver improv community. Because of you, the festival was created, because of you it continues to grow and get better and better each year, and because of you, it will only grow in size and success. So, thank you, GroupMind Foundation, Thank You Denver improv community and thank you to all the theaters who participated. Improv matters, the community matters and THAT’S why DIF matters.