Kansas City Improv Festival

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Entering their 10th year...

How did the Kansas City Improv Festival end up with a legendary history before we were even 10 years old?

We were first.

In 1994, improv was just leaking into TV with the British version of Whose Line Is It, Anyway? Groups like ComedySportz and Theatresports gathered their franchisees from around the world at tournaments, but "independent" troupes were scattered all over the country.

Until Spontaneous Combustion—the first KC fest, produced by the now-defunct Lighten Up Improv Co. Groups from Minneapolis, Iowa and Lawrence shared the stage with locals (and the locals shared beer, thanks to a day-of-the-festival approval of their liquor license). The next year, "SpoCom" reached further out, with participants from Seattle, Boulder, Minneapolis, Frederick (Maryland) and our first Chicago troupes.

And then, because the rule of threes is a big deal in improv, things got great big in the third year. At the suggestion of one of our Chicago participants, Rob Reese (Amnesia Wars), the producers boldly invited the three top directors in the improv mecca to try something crazy: At the festival, each would take one member of each performing troupe in a cast, and create a show in two days for the festival finale. The directors: Del Close (Chicago's heralded—or Harolded—improv guru), Mick Napier (Second City artistic director, Annoyance founder, and the man Del passed his baton to) and Armando Diaz (the guy who taught improv to NYC).

SpoCom continued for four years, until Lighten Up's directors split up and the players rebooted the festival as 5 and 6: The US Improv Festival. Their new troupe, Funny Outfit, kept the tradition going with new big-name directors, adding LA's Dan O'Connor, Chicago's Rebecca Sohn and Joe Bill, improv's answer to Mister Rogers, Jeff Wirth, and idea-instigator Rob Reese.

Then things got quiet for a while. People grew up, became responsible adults, parted ways...and the festival took a hiatus for a few years. In the meantime, the folks who attended our festival as young performers went on to rock the improv world. They showed up at Second City (hey, Mark Sutton and Corey Rittmaster and Tim Mason and...ack, too many to wave at), on TV shows (hi, Jack McBrayer and Christina Gausas!), TV commercials (welcome back, TJ Jagodowski!) and beyond.

Until the upstarts of the City 3 Project—former students of the Lighten Up Improv Co.'s high school improv league—worked with an original producer to bring it back in 2007 as 7: The KC Improv Festival. With the national improv community more connected than ever before (and festivals all over the country using our model), the new producers decided to focus on KC, and what our community of performers needed to grow.

What hasn't changed? Our commitment to innovation (after all, the KC festival featured "long form" improv before it was cool), hospitality (nobody leaves without a belly full of BBQ and Boulevard Beer) and lots and lots of fun.