Off the Top of Their Heads

annual improv festival’s on-the-spot belly laughs are back

Nikki Lanzer, photos by Andrea Paulseth

MAY I HAVE A ONE-WORD SUGGESTION please? Last year as part of a “local celebrity showcase,” Courtney Everett of WEAU-TV and Brian Moore from the Eau Claire YMCA’s Camp Manitou tried their hand at improv. The fourth annual Eau Claire Improv Festival is back for another laugh-packed weekend Dec. 11-12 all over Eau Claire.
MAY I HAVE A ONE-WORD SUGGESTION please? Last year as part of a “local celebrity showcase,” Courtney Everett of WEAU-TV and Brian Moore from the Eau Claire YMCA’s Camp Manitou tried their hand at improv. The fourth annual Eau Claire Improv Festival is back for another laugh-packed weekend Dec. 11-12 all over Eau Claire.

Come prepared for the unexpected. Scripts are out the window at the annual Eau Claire Improv Festival, now in its fourth year.

Mark your calendars early because on Dec. 11-12 nobody’s going to want to miss the on-the-spot performances by this year’s gut-busting improv acts.

While event coordinator and mastermind Amber Dernbach has certainly set the bar high for the festivities after filling the city with improv for three previous years, she knows she can count on the spirit of the audience to make the weekend another success.

“I’m excited for the sense of community that comes each year at The Plus with a whole room of improvisers cheering each other on,” Dernbach said. “And especially for the Eau Claire audience that continues to wow our out-of-town teams.”

From local favorites to Big Apple talents, this year’s acts hail from near and far with both seasoned veterans to the improv scene as well as a hearty amount of young and hungry performers.

“I’m excited for the sense of community that comes each year at The Plus with a whole room of improvisers cheering each other on. And especially for the Eau Claire audience that continues to wow our out-of-town guests.” – Amber Dernbach, Eau Claire Improv Festival organizer

The teams in the official lineup include: Ferrari McSpeedy, Bearded Men, The Pickup Artists, Jorts!, and We Have Cats (all from Minneapolis); Mariachi Kittens (Phoenix); and local performers XX, The Improv Lab, Glassworks, and the Eau Claire Memorial High School improv teams. And all the way from New York, improv duo From Justin To Kelly (made up of Kelly Buttermore and Justin Peters) are bringing their signature style to town as this year’s knee-slapping headliner.

Playing off each other, creating zany stories, and expertly crafting scenes, the comedic skills of all of these groups will be on display at The Plus in downtown Eau Claire with showcase shows at 7 and 9pm both nights of the festival. Tickets are $10 for a single night or $15 for the entire weekend.

This holiday season, those attending are not only invited to be spectators, but they are also encouraged to take their own improv skills (or lack thereof) to the next level through a variety of workshops. The classes will take place at the Micon Downtown Cinemas all day Dec. 12 for a cost of $20 and will be open to beginners and seasoned experts alike.

Dernbach is a member of three of the local improv groups and coaches the Memorial High team, too. And being in the theater realm for more than 25 years, she can attest to the countless benefits her students will gain in real life from taking on the improv stage.

“Improv is training that will follow my high schoolers their whole lives,” Dernbach said. “The skills are transferable to interpersonal relationships, career opportunities, and a general positive outlook on life – it’s one of the most rewarding ways to sharpen verbal and intellectual skills simultaneously.”

But how do Dernbach and all of the other performers do it? Without any sort of script or gameplan, what allows each team to really deliver a good show?

“A performance can really click when the improvisers are experiencing ‘group mind,’ ” Dernbach explained. “This happens when players are listening with their whole bodies and are intently connected to the person they share the stage with.”

But in order to truly perform at a high-caliber level, the Memorial coach has proven that a person has to fully embrace the improv existence.

“To me,” Dernbach said, “improv is a way of life.”

So if you’re in dire need of that tummy-tickling, tear-inducing laugh during this stressful time of year, put the Eau Claire Improv Festival at the top of that Christmas to-do list.

To learn more and get updates about the upcoming festival, check out the Eau Claire Improv Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ecimprovfest.