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Coming together for comedy

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Third Improv ME Festival welcomes improvisers from all over Maine, New England

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, located at 39 Center St. in Brewer.

On Nov. 4 and 5, local improv troupe The Focus Group will once again be playing host to the Improv ME Festival. Now in its third 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.

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. And for the first time, the festival welcomes and Education Partner in the University of Maine's Intermedia MFA program.

(In the interest of full disclosure, in addition to The Maine Edge being the festival's media sponsor for each of its three 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 into one place. Members of The Focus Group had participated in the Portland Improv Festival now sadly defunct for a couple of years and greatly enjoyed the experience. So when the idea arose to try and make a festival of their own happen, they jumped at the chance.

One of the great things about improv is that there are so many different paths to follow. There are groups that practice primarily game-driven short-form improv. There are others that devote themselves to the more scene-powered 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 troupe carries with it its own comedic sensibility, an aesthetic unique to their members. Still, 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 the biggest being 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 smoother in the second year, in that all of the groups that agreed to appear actually managed to make it to the theater on time. Many of that first year's groups returned for year two, though there were some new additions as well. Other than a little bit of schedule juggling on Friday night to ensure that they got the lineups they wanted, things went remarkably smoothly. Workshops were added for festival participants to enjoy.

And now on to the third, with plenty of familiar faces and a few new ones.

The Improv ME Festival has been very fortunate to have some wonderful support along the way. Tracey Marceron's Next Generation Theater in Brewer has been a gracious host to the festival for three years. 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. Last year, Fireside Inn & Suites joined up as the Hospitality Sponsor; they've continued their support this time around. And new this year, Improv ME has taken on an education partner in the University of Maine's Intermedia MFA program.

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.)


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.

The Cool Kids' Table (Camden)

This is a relatively new group 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 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.

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. They are the best that Maine has to offer.

Bangor Improv Group/B.I.G. (Bangor)

B.I.G. is another Bangor improv troupe, born from a group of performers who found one another by taking classes together. They're a short-form group that is great fun to watch. This is their second year at the festival; they put together a heck of a set last year and there's no reason to expect anything less this time around.

Running With Scissors (Portland)

This Portland-based group is one of the most well-established in southern Maine, having performed near and far for years. They've also been part of every Improv ME Festival so far. They're a particularly quick-witted bunch, throwing themselves into their short-form format and proving willing to go wherever it takes to track down a laugh or two.

Stranger Than Fiction (Portsmouth, N.H.)

This group is another one making its Improv ME Festival debut this year. Based in Portsmouth, N.H., Stranger Than Fiction features players from Maine and New Hampshire alike. They've built a reputation for interesting, thoughtful and unconventional improv performances, presenting the sorts of shows that you're not likely to find anywhere else.

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. Teachers Lounge Mafia is one of those groups that, when they perform, if you aren't laughing, it's because you actively hate fun.

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.


Improv ME schedule

Friday, Nov. 4 8-10 p.m.

The Focus Group

The Cool Kids' Table



Saturday, Nov. 5 5-7 p.m.


Running With Scissors

Stranger Than Fiction


Saturday, Nov. 5 8-10 p.m.

The Focus Group

Teachers Lounge Mafia



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