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Another comedic convergence in Brewer

November 1, 2017
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Another comedic convergence in Brewer (edge photo by Sheridan Adams)

Improv ME Festival marking its fourth year of fun

BREWER – Some of the best improvisational comedy groups from all over the state of Maine – as well as a couple from even farther afield – are descending on the Next Generation Theatre in Brewer.

On Nov. 3 and 4, local improv troupe The Focus Group will once again be playing host to the Improv ME Festival. Now reaching its fourth year, Improv ME is the largest annual assemblage of improv talent in the state of Maine. With three sessions over two days featuring eight different groups, audiences will get the chance to experience some of the best improv that New England has to offer.

Admission to each session of the festival is $10. In addition, a limited number of All-Festival passes – good for admission to all three performance sessions – will be available for $25. The Producing Sponsor of the Improv ME Festival is Geaghan Bros. Brewing Company. The Hospitality Sponsor is the Fireside Inn & Suites. The Media Sponsor is The Maine Edge.

(In the interest of full disclosure, in addition to The Maine Edge being the festival’s media sponsor for each of its four years, the author of this piece is a member of The Focus Group and one of the organizers of the Improv ME Festival.)

The Improv ME Festival was born of a desire to bring together Maine’s wealth of improv talent together in one place. Members of The Focus Group had participated in just such an assemblage in the troupe’s early years; they had done two years as part of the now-sadly-defunct Portland Improv Festival and had an extremely positive experience. Not long after word of PIF’s conclusion arrived, the desire to continue being part of that sort of event led to the idea to try and make a festival of their own happen – and The Focus Group jumped on it.

One of the wonderful things about improv is that there are so many different paths one can follow. There are groups that practice primarily game-driven short-form improv. There are others that devote themselves to the more scene-and-character-inclined long-form structures. And still others pick and choose what works best for them stylistically. The reality is that while there are rules, those rules can be bent and broken. You can even make up your own rules.

The groups assembled for the Improv ME Festival tend to run the gamut. Each of these troupes carries with it its own comedic sensibility, an aesthetic unique to its members. But while there may be plenty of differences, every one of them has at least two things in common - they’re making it all up as they go along and they want to make you laugh while they do it.

As with anything new, there were plenty of concerns. Would the logistics of bringing so many groups from so far afield be doable? Was there an audience big enough to warrant such a jam-packed weekend of improv? Would people laugh?

Fortunately, the answer to all three of those questions was yes. The first Improv ME Festival saw over 250 people come through the doors over the course of the weekend and saw a number of talented groups giving it their all. Different people, different styles, different ideas – all using nothing but a few audience suggestions and their own imaginations to create comedy out of thin air.

Sure, there were hiccups – there will always be unexpected speed bumps when trying to bring a new event to life. The biggest surprise in that first year was the last-minute cancellation by one of the scheduled groups thanks to some terribly inconvenient car trouble. However, in that instance, two mainstays of the Maine improv scene – Teachers Lounge Mafia out of Farmington and Running With Scissors out of Portland – stepped up big time. In the true collaborative spirit of improv, both groups not only extended their sets, but banded together at the end – all to give that session’s audience the best possible time.

Things ran a little more smoothly in the second year. For instance, every group that was on the schedule actually managed to show up where and when they were supposed to. Many of the first year’s groups returned for year two, though there were some new additions as well. And other than a little bit of schedule juggling on the first night to ensure that everyone got the lineups they wanted, things went off remarkably closely to as planned. That second year was also the first time workshops were added for festival participants to enjoy.

By year three, things were running on all cylinders. Once again, there were some new groups; each year features some slight reshuffling of the deck in order to ensure both that audiences are offered a degree of variety and that new and/or previously overlooked troupes receive their own opportunities to hit the stage with Improv ME.

And now on to the fourth go-round, with an interesting blend of familiar faces and – as usual - a few brand-new players.

The Improv ME Festival has been very fortunate to have significant community and commercial support along the way. Tracey Marceron’s Next Generation Theater in Brewer has been a gracious host to the festival for all four years – and to The Focus Group since their beginnings. Geaghan Bros. Brewing Company has served as the festival’s Producing Sponsor since Improv ME’s inception. The Maine Edge has been on board since the beginning as well. Two years ago, Fireside Inn & Suites joined up as the Hospitality Sponsor; they’ve continued their support this time around. In addition, other sponsors large and small have come and gone over the years.

So if you’re looking to have a few laughs this weekend, there’s no better place to be than the Improv ME Festival. You won’t know what’s coming – and neither will the folks on stage – but rest assured, it’s going to be a good time.

(For more information on the Improv ME Festival, check out their page on Facebook.)

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Participating groups

The Focus Group (Bangor/Brewer)

The Focus Group has been bringing their own brand of improv comedy to area audiences since 2009. Over the past seven years, they have established themselves as a mainstay of the region’s artistic community. They offer their unique takes on standard improv formats while also occasionally inventing a few interesting improv twists of their own along the way.

Teachers Lounge Mafia (Farmington)

These guys out of western Maine are stalwarts of the improv scene. They’ve been bringing their brand of short-form goodness all over the state and beyond for years. They’ve also been very good friends to the Improv ME Festival, appearing in every iteration thus far. Teachers Lounge Mafia is one of those groups that, when they perform, if you aren’t laughing, it’s because you actively hate fun.

ImprovAcadia (Bar Harbor)

What more can be said about the incredible talents of ImprovAcadia? Since its founding by Jen Shepard and Larrance Fingerhut nearly 15 years ago, ImprovAcadia has been bringing their long-form-infused short-form (or short-form-infused long-form) improv comedy to audiences in Bar Harbor and beyond, but local audiences should keep their eyes open – IA is establishing an offseason presence in Bangor starting soon. They are the best that Maine has to offer.

Queen City Improv (Bangor)

Making their debut at this year’s festival is this new Bangor-based group. Queen City Improv is all about the short-form improv, bringing a diverse set of sensibilities to the stage and offering a show experience that is all their own. You might have seen them performing around town, but this is your first chance to see them on the Improv ME stage.

Mainely Improv (Poland Spring)

Another first-timer at the Improv ME Festival, Mainely Improv’s debut is something that has been a long time coming. These folks have been performing around the region in some way shape or form since 1995. That’s over two decades of area improvising; they’ve been doing what they do for a long time. And now you can see them at Improv ME.

The Cool Kids’ Table (Camden)

Straight out of Camden, the Cool Kids’ Table has been making audiences laugh on the midcoast for a while now, so it’s only logical that they would make their way inland once again to take the stage as part of the Improv ME Festival. Inspired by a short-form ethos, they might be cool – but you can still totally sit with them.

Stranger Than Fiction (Portsmouth, N.H.)

This group is coming back for a second go-round following a triumphant first turn at last year’s festival. Based in Portsmouth, N.H., Stranger Than Fiction features players from Maine and New Hampshire alike. They’ve built a reputation for interesting and unconventional improv performances, presenting the sorts of shows that you’re not likely to find anywhere else.

ImprovBoston (Boston)

Showcasing their unique AllForm style of play, ImprovBoston expertly blends games, scenes, skillful storytelling, off-the-cuff music and audience participation into unforgettably hilarious performances. This ensemble representing Boston's best improvisers explores a form that redefines itself with every performance. No rules. No boundaries. Just one brand of spectacular improvised comedy that has put ImprovBoston on the map for over 30 years.

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Improv ME schedule

Friday, Nov. 3 – 8-10 p.m.

The Focus Group

Teachers Lounge Mafia

ImprovAcadia

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Saturday, Nov. 4 – 5-7 p.m.

Queen City Improv

Mainely Improv

The Cool Kids’ Table

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Saturday, Nov. 4 – 8-10 p.m.

The Focus Group

Stranger Than Fiction

ImprovBoston

Last modified on Wednesday, 01 November 2017 11:34

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