The Grand Rapids Improv Festival (GRIF) returns for its fifth year from Nov. 1 through Nov. 5 at Dog Story Theater, located at 7 Jefferson Ave. SE.
Improvisation, or improv for short, is unscripted live theater in which actors invent characters, scenes and dialogue as they perform. The results may be funny, dramatic or even thought-provoking.
GRIF director Kristin Hirsch believes that everyone can find something to enjoy at the festival. “I love improv because… it mirrors real life,” she said. “It’s a very relatable kind of theater.”
The five-day celebration kicks off on Nov. 1 with the popular “Improv Hop” event, a comedy pub crawl where audience members watch multiple shows at three different venues, enjoying drink specials at each location and walking as a group from one show to the next. This year’s journey begins at Rezervoir Lounge at 1418 Plainfield Ave. NE, followed by shows at Graydon’s Crossing at 1223 Plainfield Ave. NE and ending at Golden Age, the new venue space above Creston Brewery, located at 1504 Plainfield Ave. NE. The $20 admission includes entrance to all three venues and a drink voucher to be redeemed at Golden Age. The “Taco Ticket” option for $25 includes the admission, one drink voucher, and access to the taco bar at Golden Age.
“Improv Hop” is Hirsch’s favorite event due to the sense of camaraderie it encourages.
“It feels very community-oriented when you’re walking all together,” Hirsch said. “The first year we did it there was someone walking around with a big GRIF cape leading the way like a parade.”
GRIF showcases many styles of improv, and the wide variety of methods can be eye-opening to those unfamiliar with the craft.
“A lot of the general public really knows about improv most from ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?,’” Hirsch said. “And (that show) is short form improv so its very game-based.
“Improv can be a very full story… you can tell a story beginning to end, there’s musical improv where you can do a full improvised musical with songs and dances… there are a lot of different kinds.”
Those wanting to try their hand at improv can do so for free at GRIF’s popular “Improv Chaos!” event, held Sun., Nov. 4 from noon to 3 p.m. No experience is required. Registered participants are assigned to groups with more advanced students and are given two hours to invent and practice new improv games. In the final hour, the groups participate in a show and perform for each other and the general public. Admission is free but registration for participants is strongly encouraged.
Participants must be 21 or older to join the comedy pub crawl, but there is no age requirement to attend the many other shows held at Dog Story Theater. However, some material may be adult in nature.
“We don’t tell people to censor their content, so you never know what you’re going to get,” Hirsch said, adding that although they would not turn away a younger patron, “it’s definitely at your discretion.”
The festival ends on Mon., Nov. 5 with “Comedy Outlet Mondays,” a comedy variety show that is not only part of the festival but is an event held every Monday night at 7 p.m. at Dog Story Theater. A mix of sketches, stand-up comedy and improv, Hirsch considers the weekly gathering “a staple in the improv community.”
GRIF was created by No Outlet Improv Troupe of Grand Rapids in 2014, and was originally known as the West Michigan Improv Festival. The event has grown over time, and this year welcomes not only local acts such as Funny Girls and Plant Parenthood but also performers from as far away as Chicago, Miami and New York City.
A cash bar will be available at most events at Dog Story Theater. Tickets to GRIF events range from $8-25 and can be purchased online at the festival’s website. Additional show information and links can be found at GRIF’s Facebook page.