Spontaneous Laughs

Eau Claire Improv Festival gears up for year five

Hannah Mumm, photos by Kelsey Smith

LOOKING FOR LAUGHTER. New York-based improv duo From Justin to Kelly, shown performing at the 2015 Eau Claire Improv Fest, are also among the performers at this year’s festival, which runs March 10-11.
LOOKING FOR LAUGHTER. New York-based improv duo From Justin to Kelly, shown performing at the 2015 Eau Claire Improv Fest, are also among the performers at this year’s festival, which runs March 10-11.

Eau Claire has long been a small city with a big personality. Its citizens pump out Grammy-winning albums, bestselling literature, and events that draw people from across the world. Five years ago, the annual Eau Claire Improv Fest joined the Valley’s catalogue of notable happenings. Since its inception in 2012, the two-day festival has hosted improv troupes from theaters all over the nation as distant as New York and Detroit.

This year’s festival will move from its original location in The Plus to backstage at the State Theatre in downtown Eau Claire. With the site change comes a bigger stage, a larger capacity, and more space for workshops. Fest founder and Memorial High School theater teacher Amber Dernbach urges community members to come discover local and national talent – and get a much-needed dose of humor.

“Experiencing laughter is so necessary,” Dernbach explained. “It’s a healthy emotional and physical release that can temporarily transport us from our realities.”

Memorial High School alumnus Jacob Shuda will headline the festival with fellow Eau Claire native Jesse Wood as Chaos Lifeguard, their Chicago-based improv duo. Shuda got his start acting and scoring on Memorial’s improv team. He has since turned improv – among many other dramatic endeavors – into a successful career. As musical director of The Second City theater in Chicago, he travels internationally acting, producing, and working with sound design.

“Experiencing laughter is so necessary. It’s a healthy emotional and physical release that can temporarily transport us from our realities.” – festival director Amber Dernbach, on improv’s mystical powers

Workshops are a huge part of the festival, allowing comedians-in-training and other interested individuals an introduction to the art of improv. Some workshops are geared specifically toward the community at large, not exclusive to people who want to be funny. They focus on positive interpersonal communication techniques such as listening and showing empathy.

“The principals of improv make for a good life,” Dernbach said. “Improvisation fosters listening, agreement, and problem solving.”

Shuda will host two workshops: “You’re very funny. Who cares?” on how to use honesty to resonate with an audience, and “Musical Improv,” an advanced lesson on dramatizing improv with melody and rhythm. Additional workshops include “Local Celebrities” with N.Y. duo From Justin to Kelly and “Saying Yes” with Omaha’s Dylan Rhode.

The Eau Claire Improv Festival runs March 10 and 11 with showcase shows and workshops at The State Theatre in Eau Claire. For more information, and the full schedule of events, head over to ecimprovfest.com.

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