A couple short weeks from now, improv teams from all over the state and region will join C-U performers for Zoo Improv’s 8th Annual Improv Festival

The event takes place on November 11 and 12. Three to four teams will perform short sets each night with breaks in between for snacks. Saturday, November 12 will also feature improv workshops, two for adults and one for children. The children’s workshop will also include a Saturday showcase. 

Zoo Improv has a long history of bringing a variety of performance troupes to C-U for short-form, long-form, game improv, and more. According to Justin York, a member of Zoo Improv, masters of the art, such as coaches from Chicago’s Second City and Chicago Improv Productions, have joined the festival in recent years as improv workshop coaches.

For York, improv is the art of making something up on the spot — scenes that are comedic, sure, but also scenes that “display human relaitonships in a new light.”

“Improv is not as scripted as dramatic theatre,” said York. “It’s a fun way to do something you might not otherwise be comfortable with. It can be stressful, and even nerve-wracking. But because of the friendly atmosphere, you have the chance to try new things and experience something you might not otherwise do.”

York started with Zoo Improv in the midst of writing his dissertation. He is getting his PhD in Education and was looking for a hobby that would balance his academic focus. After taking classes for several months at Zoo Improv, York tried out for the troupe during open tryouts and was accepted. 

Zoo Improv regularly puts on shows at the SoDo Theatre, which is the location for the Improv Festival. The troupe also puts on community-based showed at places like Clark-Lindsey Retirement Village.

“We do private parties, bachelorette parties, kids’ parties, all sorts of things,” said York. Zoo Improv is also open to collaborations, and other improv troupes regularly gather in the SoDo Theatre to join in Zoo’s activities. 

As a scholar of education, York is particularly attuned to the relationship between improvisation and learning. “My dissertation is about the educational potential of humor,” said York, “but in my dissertation I really treat humor as an academic subject — the writing is kind of dry, like you might expect from any academic project.” Participating in Zoo Improv gave York the chance to put his theories into practice as a performer. “It’s a great experience to create humor at the same time as I’m writing about it,” said York, “and it has influenced my academic life indirectly.” 

The upcoming Improv Festival will give community members the chance to taste a smorgasbord of improv forms for $15/night or $25 for both evenings. This year’s festival is supported through a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, which York expects will make the event bigger and better than ever.

The final schedule for the festival is still being worked out — with a laugh, York said that many improv troupes liked to take care of things last-minute. Check back here for a full schedule of the performance troupes. And keep an eye out for Zoo Improv’s shows as well as the Improv Festival’s extravaganza. As York pointed out, improv is a unique experience that allows performers and audience members alike the chance to see something new.

Zoo Improv’s 8th Annual Improv Festival takes place on November 11 and 12 at the SoDo Theatre. Tickets are $15/night or $25 for both