“I’d gone to Chicago and re-caught the improv bug. I thought: Why doesn’t Houston have an improv fest, and why don’t I start it?” That was the genesis of what became the Houston Improv Festival, according to festival co-founder Todd Boring. Inside the MATCH, Matchbox 3 will be housing more than 23 improv groups (approximately 98-plus improvisers!) from across the city and the country.
“[The lineup] was selected by representatives from the three major [improv] theaters in town: Benji Cooksey from ComedySportz, Jessica Brown and Roger Anderson from Station Theatre, and Hoja Lopez from Beta,” says Boring.
Local long-form favorites like Baby Knuckle, Flirt Reynolds and Max will be joined by out-of-towners like George Lusk (Chicago), Newport Hounds (Chicago), Laurelly (Los Angeles), A Penny Dreadful (Austin) and What About a Reuben!?! (Denver), among others.
One of the groups Boring is most excited about is Sand, an Illinois-based duo consisting of Scott Nelson and Michael Brunlieb. According to Boring: “So Chicago has [three] main improv theaters – iO, The Annoyance and Second City. These guys have trained at all three! They’re a real independent group, they perform weekly and have just made a name for themselves.”
Another group, History Under The Influence, takes a cue from the Comedy Central series Drunk History
and features scenes based on an inebriated retelling of a historical anecdote. “I really wasn’t convinced
that was going to work,” Boring admits. “But those guys are so funny, even if [most of them] are stone-cold sober.”
On the local front, Improv! The Musical is the only musically inclined team on the roster. “Those guys are making magic,” Boring fawns. Produced by CSz Houston, the eight-person team had been producing original musicals twice monthly at the Queensbury Theatre, where Boring first discovered them. “They’ve really learned the form,” he says. “When musical improv is done, you have a short scene and somebody breaks into song; it’s just as funny as it gets.”
Beyond performances, HIF will also be offering workshops hosted by both local and guest improvisers, including “the reigning Cagematch champions of iO West,” Kelly Vrooman and Lauren Pritchard. Boring sells them well: “[Kelly and Lauren] will just blow people away. [In scenes], they can roll into each other characters, multiple characters, like they were changing a jacket.”
Sand will also be offering workshops during the festival, including an extensive six-hour intensive on character development and breaking the fourth wall. “They’re gonna pour into their form,” Boring says. “We’re providing lunch, and [workshop attendees] can just knuckle down and focus on their craft.” All workshops will be hosted at Station Theater, located at 1230 Houston Avenue.
This year’s Houston Improv Festival also features a unique reunion. “I’m especially excited for the reunion of Glaundor,” Boring says. Born out of the University of Houston’s theatre program, Glaundor went on to win the national title at the 2013 College Improv Festival in Chicago. Since then, Glaundor members like Saurabh Pande and Jason Ronje have graduated to some of the biggest stages available, including Second City and ComedySportz Chicago respectively. “It’s great to get those boys back together, even if it’s just for a few beers.”
On a personal level, the improv festival's co-founder will be breaking one of his long-standing rules in honor of the festival’s fifth anniversary. “Yeah, I’m breaking my tradition of not performing in my own festival to play with [my group] Trek Wars during our Family Friendly slot on Saturday,” says Boring. Born out of Station Theater, Boring has played with the sci-fi-centric group for more than a year, and is happy to say the gang is “finally hitting its stride.”
Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. from April 28 through May 1 at MATCH, 3400 Main. For information, call 713-521-4533 or visit matchhouston.org. $20.
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