Giving Thanks for a Year of Improv

It’s Thanksgiving here in the United States tomorrow, and I wanted to spend some time appreciating what I’ve gotten out of the year in my improv life. Over the last few months I’ve been quite busy with my life changing in a host of ways, whilst at the same time trying to figure out this business thing in a way that inspires me and makes me feel good about what I’m putting out there and giving back to the community.

Though I’m still on that path, deciding what I can offer for free, versus what I will charge for, I find that I’m more likely to think about the question, “How will saying yes to this idea/project inspire me to grow and do better?”

I have hit road blocks, but I find those road blocks push me further to make better decisions rather than giving up. For example, when I didn’t like the first camera I bought to record improv shows (the audio was not to my satisfaction without substantial extra work, and I couldn’t adjust the exposure), and the only people who were paying me to produce videos for them were groups I recorded because I was also recording shows I was in those nights, I came close to throwing in the towel. Part of it was because I didn’t want to deal with that lengthy process, and I didn’t want to promote myself doing something I wasn’t fully satisfied with myself. However, I used that as an opportunity to make a smarter investment—spending more money on a camera that would actually allow me to do what I wanted.

If I’d not made that investment, I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence in my ability to deliver when I was later hired to record shows at the San Francisco Improv Festival in September. But by that point, I’d already tested out my new equipment recording shows at Stage Werx and the West Coast Musical Improv Festival, and knew what I was capable of.

With that said, I am first and foremost thankful for Erin Daruszka and Jamie Wright for creating that opportunity for me. If you want to see all of the videos I recorded for The San Francisco Improv Festival, check out their YouTube Playlist.

That opportunity opened up my mind for what else I could do. By that point, I’d already planned to return to Improvaganza in Hawaii in October, because it’s one of the most inspiring improv festivals I’ve been to, and I always love seeing the innovative shows they invite out to perform. So it just made sense to see if I could somehow get involved there with my video production skills, and therein came the idea to produce a documentary on improv. I love innovative improv. I love improv festivals. My mission with Improvative Productions was already to share my love for those innovative improv shows with the Bay Area Improv Community, and inspire more people to want to travel to improv festivals. Suddenly I had a new way that I could make that happen, but for a wider audience than I would have if I just brought the shows I love out to San Francisco. Plus, interviewing other improvisers on camera would bring a new dimension to my vision that I haven’t really seen done in improv before.

I pitched my documentary idea to my Facebook friends list first and found a number of improvisers who were coming to San Francisco who were interested in taking part and being interviewed. Then I talked to the Executive Producer of Improvaganza, Garrick Paikai, to figure out with him what I could do out there. In the end, I managed to record all of their festival shows, which you can find on their YouTube Playlist only until the end of November (they should be taking them down after that).

Dominica Malcolm interviewing some of the cast of Cotton Gin (Seattle) at Improvaganza! Hawaii Festival of Improv outside Kumu Kahua Theatre
Dominica Malcolm interviewing some of the cast of Cotton Gin (Seattle) at Improvaganza! Hawaii Festival of Improv outside Kumu Kahua Theatre
I’m very thankful to Garrick Paikai to organizing things that allowed me to take part in Improvaganza in that capacity, and also thankful to all the improvisers who I’ve already interviewed, including:

At the San Francisco Improv Festival 2018

  • Kat Brown from Finest City Improv, San Diego
  • Will Frazier, creator of the podcast History Made Up, based in Des Moines, Iowa
  • Yichao, Kyle Henick, and Robert Bolyard from all over (they all met in Seattle but none of them live there any more), who were appearing at SFIF for Dystopia! The Musical
  • Juzo Yoshida and Chad Damiani from Jetzo, based in LA
  • Adam Bowling and Kelly Chambers appearing as The Purdy Twins, based in LA
  • Rolland Lopez and Rich Baker from Rollin’ in the Riches, based in LA
  • Bill Cernansky and Betse Green from B&B, based in Portland
  • Aden Nepom and Eric Nepom, appearing in Dystopia! The Musical at SFIF, but primarily perform together as Manacle, based in Portland

At Improvaganza The Hawaii Festival of Improv 2018

  • Sean T.C. O’Malley from Loose Screws and Oil in the Alley, based in Honolulu
  • R Kevin Garcia Doyle from Loose Screws, On the Spot, and Oil in the Alley, based in Honolulu
  • Elizabeth Westermann, Sarah Hanchar, and Nikolai Schell from Cotton Gin, based in Seattle
  • Garrick Paikai from On the Spot and Executive Producer of Improvaganza The Hawaii Festival of Improv, based in Honolulu

Outside of Improv Festivals

  • Graham Downing from Camp, Super Mega Art Show, and many more, based in Seattle

To learn more about the documentary and see a couple of excerpts from the Honolulu-based improvisers, check out the following video:

I am now in conversation with improv festival producers in 3 different cities to see what else I can do at their festivals, and with my documentary. They’re still in the planning stages though, so I won’t name which ones, but I’m thankful that I’ve had folks reach out to me and have been interested in this project. To me, so much about improv is the community and relationships, and it’s a real blessing to find the people who connect with that.

But I’m not only thankful for the improvisers I’ve connected with from other cities. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the people who have believed in me and my projects in the Bay Area.

[ ] - improv without words (Casey Busher, Dominica Malcolm, Shirley Chan) at All Out Comedy Theater. Photo by Christopher DeJong.
[ ] – improv without words (Casey Busher, Dominica Malcolm, Shirley Chan) at All Out Comedy Theater. Photo by Christopher DeJong.

Last weekend, I got to play with Shirley Chan and Casey Busher in our improv without words project at All Out Comedy Theater, Oakland. This project has been such a brave undertaking for the three of us together, and I’m eternally grateful for their continued investment in it. It’s not every day you can find people like them who are willing to take a chance on such an unusual project, stripping away the ability to talk on stage in favor of being fully committed to getting weird and connecting deeply both physically and emotionally.

The weekend prior to that, at the same theatre, I staged the latest iteration of the first show I created, So You Want a Job. There I was joined by Diana Brown—who has now appeared in the show more times than anyone else besides me; Christopher DeJong—who was my improv director in YUM! for more than two years; and Casey Busher—who I clearly enjoy working with because I mentioned her in the last paragraph.

If you’re interested, here’s the video of So You Want a Job featuring Diana Brown, Christopher DeJong, and Casey Busher at All Out Comedy Theater, Oakland:

It still astonishes me that I get to work with improvisers who have years more experience than me, and I never want to take that for granted. I’m very grateful for the time they give me to be part of the projects I’m inspired to work on. It’s not just the most recent cast of So You Want a Job. Earlier this year, another one of my improv mentors, Marcus Sams, traveled to Juneau, Alaska with me, Diana Brown, and Shirley Chan when So You Want a Job was invited to perform at the Alaska State Improv Festival. Words can’t express what he’s brought to my improv life, both when I trained with him, and since then. Nor can I forget Leila Carrillo, who was a big part of the early days of So You Want a Job, and performed with the cast both at the Improvaganza festival in Hawaii last year, and The San Francisco Improv Festival this year.

The Secret Lives of Villains (Dominica Malcolm, Diana Brown), photo by Stacie Blanke
The Secret Lives of Villains (Dominica Malcolm, Diana Brown), photo by Stacie Blanke

In addition to working with me on So You Want a Job, I want to thank Diana Brown for taking a chance on a duo project with me after I was inspired by Jessica Arjet’s Being Bad workshop in Alaska. The Secret Lives of Villains has been a lot of fun and it’s been a joy to explore a darker side to characters I don’t usually get to play. Plus Diana was just awesome to go above and beyond to help me get employed as a tour guide when I decided I needed dedicated income while building Improvative Productions, because I knew it would likely be a long time before I could make enough money to support my goals.

Salt 'n Burn: We Fight Monsters (Dominica Malcolm, Alissa Joy Lee)
Salt ‘n Burn: We Fight Monsters (Dominica Malcolm, Alissa Joy Lee)

Of course, before that, back in March this year, about a month before I started Improvative Productions, I had the opportunity to perform with Alissa Joy Lee from Honolulu in my first ever duo show, Salt ‘n Burn: We Fight Monsters, an improv show inspired by the TV show Supernatural. I think that show was another instrumental part of my decision to embark on this business, because it gave me another opportunity to think more about the kind of improv I want to perform and share with the world.

Then there’s Jill Eickmann, who gave me my first opportunity to direct my own improv show, when So You Want a Job premiered at Leela back in January last year. I’m also thankful for the faith she has in me, in my continuing to be part of the Femprovisor Fest production committee. It’s a great opportunity to learn more of the behind-the-scenes side of festivals, and a joy to be able to recommend the shows I’ve enjoyed elsewhere. I’m glad I’m going to be able to attend the festival again next year, since I missed it while I was in Alaska this year. If you’re interested in taking part in the festival next year, it’s scheduled for April 25-28, 2019, and submissions are set to open December 1st – so keep your eyes out for news about that!

The first event I attended after starting this business was the Alaska State Improv Festival, and though So You Want a Job was accepted there well before I started Improvative Productions, I am thankful for the opportunity that AS IF’s producer Eric Caldwell gave us to be part of that festival. Whilst I did record a few video clips at the festival on my phone, I wish I’d thought of the documentary before I went (and had all the equipment I have to record with now). It would have been awesome to interview folks there, and have been able to produce a better video of my own show. Then again, that was just one of those learning curves.

My final shout out goes to all the Bay Area improv producers who’ve allowed me to stage my shows at their events this year – Dustin Clingman (Endgames Indie Night), Michael Astrauskas (SF Barprov), Colleen Breen (All Out Comedy Theater), Jill Eickmann and Christopher Eickmann (Leela), and Marcus Sams (Moment Improv Theatre), and all the people who made the effort to come out and sit in the audience at one or more of my shows. I wouldn’t have these opportunities without you, so thank you all for everything you do.

All in all, though I’ve probably performed less often this year than I have in the past, this has been an amazing year of growth and change for me. I’m excited to see where life and improv take me next.

I don’t want to just share all that I’ve loved about this year. Please let me know in the comments what and who you’re thankful for in your improv world this year! What’s inspiring you?

And if you’re interested in moderately more frequent updates about what I’m up to with Improvative Productions, please consider subscribing to my new mailing list! This is where you’ll first hear about opportunities to be part of future projects that are currently in development (I have two new shows in the planning stages now, and may open them to auditions), as well as future workshop opportunities and shows.

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