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Inside With: Melissa Bowler, Producer of the Providence Improv Festival

By: Brian Perry

Marking its seventh anniversary this week, the Providence Improv Festival will once again bring big improv fest atmosphere to the smallest state in the nation.  With the launch of the festival lingering, producer Melissa Bowler gave us a sneak preview of what's new and exciting for this year.  

How did you end up becoming the producer of the Providence Improv Festival?

This is my first year as producer, so I'm learning a lot.  Delegation and follow up is huge.  I had been on the committee organizing the festival for the past five years, which I initially got involved in through one of the local groups I was improvising with.  I’ve also produced fundraisers and variety nights in the past and I teach theater in a variety of capacities in Rhode Island.  So my involvement in the community led to the role rather than anything money related – it is a volunteer position and the festival operates year to year from a fund established from previous festivals.

How many years has the festival been running?

Seven years.   It's kind of a stretch, but we've been going with a dog theme in our marketing since one year is seven dog years.  To celebrate we're going to kick off the festival by reliving the first year.  It was initially just local groups Unexpected Company, Improv Jones and Speed of Thought Players so that's the lineup we've got for our first show on Wednesday.  It's all amazing and barely intentional symbolism.

Any shows or big events throughout the week that you're excited about?

Personally one of the groups I'm looking forward to the most is Grandma Hates Technology.   It's a father and daughter duo from New York and the daughter is a middle school aged girl.    Reading the description of the group I was worried it was going to be sketchy but their submission tape was really good improv.  She holds her own.  I'm excited to see them. I'm also excited for Never Have I(mprov) Ever.  It's based on the drinking game - they play it truthfully with a rotating cast and then improvise based on what comes out during the drinking game.  It works out well since this will also be our first year serving beer and wine at all of the venues.  That show should flow seamlessly into our after party.

We're also doing a two by two tournament on Saturday.  Any performer in the festival is encouraged to put their name into the hat an hour before the show.  Then we'll randomly pull teams with the rule that you can only be paired with someone you don't currently perform with.  We'll field eight two person teams for ten minute sets and the top two teams based on audience vote will get a twenty minute set on Sunday.  It's hopefully a way to do something like an open jam without it being such a trainwreck.   

Last year, the festival was only open to local groups, but this year you opened things up nationally, correct?    

Although the fest is national this year, the bulk of the groups are mainly Rhode Island, Boston, and New York.  We also have one group from LA and one group that's split between Boston and Maine but that's about it.  I think there was a little confusion related to being local one year and national the next year.  And we also ended up unintentionally scheduled at the same time as the Twin Cities Improv Festival. 

Are you planning on keeping it national next year?

Yes.  We heard from a few groups outside of the Northeast after submissions closed saying that they wish they knew the fest was open to national groups again.  Hopefully that interest will continue to build for next year's festival.

The Providence Improv Festival runs from June 23rd to June 27th in Downtown Providence, Rhode Island and features 37 teams including Chet WatkinsImprovBoston Mainstage,  Junior Varsity, Neutrino Boston , Bastards Inc., Mrs Esterhouse, and 31 more.

Reader Comments (1)

speaking from experience, I can say with impunity that the PIF is a fun, fun, fun, fun time

June 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkeithhuang

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