NORMAN — For many players on the local improvised theater scene, the fourth annual Improv Festival Oklahoma (IFO4) will feel like a homecoming.
The festival is moving from Oklahoma City to the University of Oklahoma. Since members of Red Dirt Improv, the local troupe that organizes the festival, all have ties to OU, the change will make this year's festival extra special.
“Many of us in Red Dirt started with O.U. Improv!,” said James Murray, managing director of Red Dirt Improv. “We have fans in Norman ... and many of us are from Norman, so we're excited to perform here for our festival.”
IFO4 will feature 24 improv troupes from across the state and region performing Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. It also will offer daytime workshops Friday to Sunday, including four courses taught by Armando Diaz of New York City's Magnet Theater.
“For the improvisers ... we get to take workshops with people that we'd usually have to go to Chicago or Austin or New York or L.A. to take workshops with,” said Sue Ellen Reiman, a member of three troupes performing at IFO4 as well as managing director of OKC Improv. “Armando Diaz has an entire (improvisational) long-form named for him. If you're going to learn how to do an Armando, good Lord, who else from?”
The shows are improvised, but plenty of planning goes into the festival. Each night's lineup mixes Oklahoma and out-of-state troupes, festival newcomers and returning favorites and groups in different styles of improv.
“There's so many different types of improv, and as far as some of the high-concept ones, there's so many different troupes out there that have something unique to offer. We're very excited to have that type of variety,” Murray said.
While improv novices typically are familiar with the funny short-form games showcased on the TV series “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” Murray said IFO4 will mostly feature groups performing long-form narratives in a range of styles and themes. Festival newcomers include Chess with Death, a Kansas City duo whose storytelling centers on a character playing chess with a representation of death; Elevator Action, an Austin, Texas, troupe that depicts strangers who meet when they ride a lift; and ZOOM!, a local wordless physical comedy show.
Also making their festival debuts are Edmond teens Kind of a Big Deal, Kansas duo The Hook, playful Austinites The Cubbies, all-female Texas troupe The Band Wreckers, and the Dallas groups Rigamarole, In Our Prime and Victory Point.
Along with Red Dirt Improv and O.U. Improv!, returning local favorites include rapping sibling duo Twinprov, all-female comedians The MiDolls and Everybody and Their Dog, Oklahoma City's longest-running continually performing improv troupe.
“Oklahoma City is now being recognized by other improv cities as a someplace where improv is,” said Reiman, a founding member of Everybody and Their Dog. “At one time, it was just a few of us out there doing bars and people would turn up the TV because we were loud. Now there are actual venues where people go to deliberately see it, which is just great for us. ... I think we've really heightened not only the interest but the profile of improvisational acting in this area.”
Christopher Curtis, a former Oklahoma City improviser who now lives in Dallas, and Curt Coy will make their IFO debut this year performing as their drink-and-discussion duo C-4. “I always enjoy getting to come back and play with my friends there,” Curtis said.
Improv Festival Oklahoma
• Performances: 7 and 8:45 p.m. Thursday; 7, 8:45 and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
• Workshops: 10 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. Sunday.
• Where: Meacham Auditorium, Oklahoma Memorial Union, 900 Asp Ave., Norman.
• Information and tickets: festival.