6th Annual Improv Festival Gives Eau Claire a Taste of the Second City

Lauren Fisher, photos by Kelsey Smith

MEETINGS OF THE FLANNEL APPRECIATION SOCIETY ARE often INTENSE. Local performers aim for laughs at a previous Eau Claire Improv Festival.
MEETINGS OF THE FLANNEL APPRECIATION SOCIETY ARE often INTENSE. Local performers aim for laughs at a previous Eau Claire Improv Festival.

The Eau Claire Improv Festival is back for its sixth year with a new location and a big headliner. For the first time, the festival will host Chicago-based Second City Improv, a world-renowned organization that comedians including Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, and Steve Carell, have passed through over the years.

“Improv, for me, is one of the most therapeutic forms of life. I really love giving people the opportunity to crack up.” – Jules Morales, Second City Improv All-Stars

Doors open at 6:30pm on April 14. The show will take place at The Metro in downtown Eau Claire, and feature the Memorial High School Improv Team, the Eau Claire Improv Company, and Glassworks Improv of Minneapolis before the main act, Improv All-Stars from the Second City.

“Improv, for me, is one of the most therapeutic forms of life,” said Jules Morales, who will perform with the Second City. “I really love giving people the opportunity to just crack up.”  

During the first cruise she performed on with the company, she noticed a woman who was laughing and crying earnestly throughout the sketches. After the performance, the woman approached the group and told them that she had learned, after the ship left port and it was too late to disembark, that her son had died. She thanked Morales and the other comedians for helping her laugh, and shared several meals with the troupe during the remainder of the cruise.

“When we get that kind of testimony, that’s how I know, ‘Yes, what we do is important,’”  she said. “We’re like doctors of comedy; we heal through laughter.”

Second City troupe member Jules Morales.
Second City troupe member Jules Morales.

Morales is genuine on stage, letting herself laugh and cry, inviting the audience to let their guard down, forget their troubles, and enjoy the moment.

Amber Dernbach, who coaches improv at Memorial High School, founded the Eau Claire Impov Festival and organizes it with her husband, Jon Olstadt. They are bringing the event to life with the help of her students, the Eau Claire Improv Institute, and local sponsors such as PESI, who helped compensate Second City.

“Lots of people have a misconception that if you try improv, the end goal is to perform on stage,” Dernbach said. She teaches that improv is about community building, listening, and cooperation – all skills that apply on stage and off. Occasionally, managers hire Dernbach to teach improv classes to their staffs as a fun way to develop workplace unity and individual communication skills.

“You learn so much by watching really talented improvisors,” Dernbach said. She knows that the audience is in for some quality comedy. However, she also has her students in mind: In addition to performing, Memorial Improv will help with production, run the door, and act as ambassadors for students who have travelled from other schools or other cities to see the performance. She wants to impress upon them that improv is about more than just acting in shows.

“Hopefully, (the show) inspires them to be hungry for more improv education or more comedy education in general,” Morales said. She’s ready to make the audience hoot and holler, and encourages anyone who’s interested in trying improv to “follow the fear of improv and comedy.”

Eau Claire Improv Festival • Saturday, April 14, 6:30pm • The Metro, 201 E. Lake St., Eau Claire • $29 advance, $39 at the door • ecimprovfest.com

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.