Five to watch at the Denver Improv Festival

Denver Improv Festival. Jessica Austgen. Photo by John Moore.

Improvisational comedy is theatre without a net – or a script. And that makes it one of the difficult of all the performing arts to pull off successfully – and one of the most rewarding when it is done well.

This weekend’s 11th annual Denver Improv Festival is an opportunity for local audiences to laugh (a lot), and get a glimpse of Denver’s place in the national improv community.

“We have a good scene, and getting better by the second, said Jessica Austgen, a full-time DCPA Teaching Artist whose official title with the Denver Improv Festival, she says, is now, “president of this (bleeper).” The best national markets for improv are considered to be New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, “but we are a solid mid-tier city,” Austgen said of Denver, “along with places like Detroit and Atlanta.”

She describes the three-day festival as a weekend of unscripted comedy and workshops from the best improvisers in Denver and across the nation. Performances will be held at four downtown locations, culminating in a late-night headlining party on Saturday night hosted by the DCPA’s Cult Following at the Studio Loft, located above the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

Visiting performers hail from Chicago; Los Angeles; Kansas City; San Francisco; San Diego; Las Vegas; Minneapolis; Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; and Wakefield, R.I. The best team name? Arguably: “DAAANG Judi Dench,” from Chicago.

Go to the Denver Improv Festival home page

Austgen will have a busy weekend. She’s part of two participating groups – Off-Center’s Cult Following and the long-form duo BAUS.

(Pictured above and right: Big Spoon, with Denver native Spencer Rybacki front and center, will appear at the Denver Improv Festival this weekend. Photo courtesy Chicago’s iO Theater.)


Here are five acts to watch:

1 PerspectivesA Here the MusicalThe Big Show. Saturday’s headlining event features two big-time Chicago duos: Craig and Carla Cackoswki, a married couple otherwise known as Orange Tuxedo, and Tara DeFrancisco and Rance Rizzutto (pictured right). Cackoswki was on an actor on NBC’s “Community” and makes recurring appearances on “Drunk History.” DeFrancisco and Rizzutto will be performing their Here the Musical, which should be funny, Austgen said, “because they aren’t theater-y people… but they are cool.” Cult Following, an ensemble of four expert DCPA improvisers who regularly perform at Jones Theatre, will open the show. 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at The Studio Loft above the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. $22. TICKETS (Note: The headliners also will perform separate sets throughout the weekend. Click here for the full schedule.)


2 PerspectivesCreede Repertory Theatre. Boomtown debuted in 2007 as a late-night diversion to round out the acclaimed Creede Rep’s summer season in the old mining town 250 miles southwest of Denver. But Boomtown has since grown into an accomplished, year-round improv entity all its own. The cast is made of highly trained theatre actors including Kate Berry, Emily Van Fleet, Creede Rep Artistic Director Jessica Jackson, and DCPA National Theatre Conservatory grads John DiAntonio and Caitlin Wise. This an expert improv group that benefits from the trust and experience that comes from many years of performing together. 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at Backstage at Beryl’s. $15. TICKETS

3 PerspectivesHigh School Night. This major festival outreach initiative will feature local high-school improv teams from Chatfield, Denver School of the Arts, Evergreen, Smoky Hill and Pomona high schools. “We want these young performers to feel like full participants in the festival, right alongside some of the best professional improvisers in the country,” Austgen said. 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, at Bovine Metropolis Theater. $10. TICKETS

4 PerspectivesBig Spoon. Denver native Spencer Rybacki is returning as “hometown boy makes good,” Austgen said. Rybacki began improvising at the Bovine Metropolis Theater in high school and is now a member of Chicago’s big-time Big Spoon. That’s an ensemble based out of Chicago’s iO Theatre (short for Improv Olympic). The iO is widely considered to be Chicago’s top  venue for long-form improvisational comedy. Its alumni include Rachel Dratch, Vanessa Bayer, Jon Favreau and Chris Farley. 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, at the Bovine Metropolis Theater. $15. TICKETS

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

5 PerspectivesBAUS. This is an award-winning comedy duo made up of Austgen and Lauren Bahlman, who recently were featured at the Detroit Improv Festival. The name comes from the first two letters of their last names. BAUS opens for Orange Tuxedo when they appear at 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, at Backstage at Beryl’s. $10. TICKETS

The venues:

Colorado acts performing at the Denver Improv Festival:
At the Barre
The City
Cult Following
Dance Team
Esoteric Mall
Filming Your Thoughts
Gavel! Gavel!
Hot Nap
Kaden Koharrick
Late Night @8
Men with Grown Children
Monkey Steals the Peach
Orchestrated Happenstance
Queerbots (including Fox 31 entertainment host Chris Parente)
Step Uncle
Third Curd
Thumbs Up!
Timothy Wrathbliss

Additional upcoming performances by Off-Center’s Cult Following:
Cult Following: Secrets & Confessions

Feb 10-11, 2017, at The Clocktower Cabaret, 16th and Arapahoe streets

Celebrate or shun Valentine’s Day by sharing your deep, dark, embarrassing, and awkward tales in the 100% anonymous Off-Center confessional booth. Host Chris Parente is back to see your sordid stories and others re-imagined by the cast in a night of truth or dare. MORE INFORMATION

Orange Tuxedo. Denver Improv Festival

 Orange Tuxedo.

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