Singing, Dancing on the Fly

Eau Claire Improv Festival features on-the-spot musical

Caitlin Boyle

OFF THE TOP. Eau Claire natives Jacob Shuda (top) and Mack Hastings and Elliot Heinz of Glassworks Improv (bottom) round out the lineup for the 7th Annual Eau Claire Improv Festival. Shuda’s “Immediate Musical” has performers inventing a musical, complete with show-stopping numbers, based off one audience suggestion.
OFF THE TOP. Eau Claire natives Jacob Shuda (above) and Mack Hastings and Elliot Heinz of Glassworks Improv (below) round out the lineup for the 7th Annual Eau Claire Improv Festival. Shuda’s “Immediate Musical” has performers inventing a musical, complete with show-stopping numbers, based off one audience suggestion.

On Jan. 18, The Metro in downtown Eau Claire will welcome people who like to laugh, socialize, and have a good time for the 7th Annual Eau Claire Improv Festival. But what sets this year’s festival apart from the rest is a headlining act that has never been seen before in the Chippewa Valley.

The Eau Claire Improv Festival celebrates the rich history of improvisation in Eau Claire and it is run by a local nonprofit, The Eau Claire Improv Institute. Local ensembles like Memorial High School improv team, Shambles, and Minneapolis-based Glassworks Improv will open the night. And as the festival celebrates its seventh year in Eau Claire, festival co-director Amber Dernbach says people keep coming back year after year to see the local talent.

But this year’s big headliner is huge. Like really huge. The group is called “Immediate Musical,” and it’s created, directed, and accompanied by Jacob Shuda. If his name sounds familiar to you, it may be because Shuda is a native of Eau Claire and also one of Dernbach’s former improv students at Memorial. Shuda is the musical director for The Second City of Chicago, and “Immediate Musical” will feature some of Chicago’s top comedic actors from The Second City. They will improvise a complete musical based on a single audience suggestion, which Dernbach says is right up Eau Claire’s alley.

“We know the Chippewa Valley loves musical theater,” Dernbach says. “It’s hard for me to think of a musical I’ve attended at The Pablo – or The State Theatre in earlier years – that wasn’t playing to a full house. Musical theater along with improv and comedy is going to be a huge hit in Eau Claire.”

For those who may attend the festival for the first time, Dernbach says they should expect an evening of witnessing characters and settings created live for the very first time. She explains that there is a real thrill to bearing witness to the magic that is improv, and in knowing that what you’ve experienced will never happen again. You will leave the show with something everybody could all use more of: laughter.

Dernbach says those who come may see some familiar faces onstage along with Shuda. Glassworks Improv is also composed of some of her former students and she says it’s gratifying to share collaborative experiences with adult professionals she’s known since they were teenagers. For her current high school improv students, getting to connect with these professionals is the kind of experience that stays with a person for a lifetime, she says.

“Eau Claire audiences love celebrating homegrown talent and recognized the opportunity to see some of Chicago’s best improvisers from The Second City right here in Eau Claire,” Dernbach explained.

The Eau Claire Improv Festival will be Saturday, Jan. 18, at The Metro (201 E. Lake Street in Eau Claire). Doors will open at 6pm and the show starts at 7pm. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. To purchase or learn more, visit ecimprovfest.com.