Why I Haven’t Been Blogging #2: Improv Festivals

I’ve been fortunate enough to perform at my sixth, seventh, and eight improv festivals this summer: I co-headlined the San Francisco Improv Festival over July 24-26, co-headlined at the Santa Cruz Improv Festival on July 27, and recently wrapped up a great show at the Milwaukee Improv Festival on August 9. Keen-eyed readers will notice I performed at two festivals on one trip. That is officially a tour. I am a touring artist, folks.

“The Uncle Ukulele Show” is a solo musical improv show which means when it comes to rehearsal this can be both a blessing and a curse. Getting an ensemble together to rehearse can be difficult due to people’s individual schedules and commitment levels. But if you’re a regular reader of this blog you know how time management is one of my greatest struggles, and for me, getting oneself to rehearse can be an even greater challenge. Circumstances for all three of these festivals demanded I step up and practice hard and consistently.

For starters, the San Francisco Improv Festival (SFIF) and Santa Cruz Improv Festival (SCIF) both asked me to perform forty-five minute shows. This was the first time I was asked to perform a solo improv show over twenty minutes and doubling my performance time was a daunting task. Both shows also listed me as headliner as opposed to simply part of the show and this made me want to stand and deliver. As for the Milwaukee Sketch & Improv Festival (MKIF), I’m their first Minnesota performer and one of the few solo improv shows in their three-year history and it was important to me to make my appearance there a strong show.

In short, that meant I had to put aside a few projects (including this blog) and really focused on practice, practice, practice.

My show is broken up into a series of rotating segments all linked together by the character. That means I can pick and choose which song genres to try, which storytelling opportunities to use, etc. For SFIF and SCIF I ended up using most of my repertoire and trying some new stuff, too. Working up a longer list of segments than I’m used to delivering in a single show meant giving them all more attention while hopefully not spreading myself too thin. To end the suspense, all of the California shows went really well and I can say without hesitation the show I did at MSIF was the best solo show I’ve ever done.

So what does all of this mean to me? I feel like I have tangible evidence of my creative growth as an improviser, performer, and producer. Improviser, in that I really tried to play off the top of my intelligence and do something great. Performer, as I took my characterization to new heights. Producer, in that I really stepped up the content of my show and made my focus giving the audience a great show. The lesson here for successful creativity is that when one puts in the work, man can it really pay off.

This post is an overview of my preparation and performance. I owe all three of these festivals a separate blog post, and I hope to get those up soon. In the meantime, let’s get onto some photos…

All photos are credited to the delightful, helpful, amazing Clay Robeson, save the last which is credited to my wife, Kelly Melcher. Click the pick for a bigger, higher-resolution photo.

That's me on stage with the stellar "M" inspired San Francisco Improv Festival banners behind me. SFIF is officially one of my favorite improv festivals.

That's me on stage in front of the "M" inspired San Francisco Improv Festival banners.This is officially one of my favorite improv festivals.

Yes, I do puppet shows. I'm also available for birthdays and bar mitzvahs.

Yes, I do puppet shows. I'm also available for birthdays and bar mitzvahs.

I'm one of those performers who enjoys interacting with the audience as much as possible, even to the point of jumping off stage and getting out into the seating area. Seriously, it was a fun crowd!

I'm one of those performers who enjoys interacting with the audience as much as possible, even to the point of jumping off stage and getting out into the seating area. This shot is from the second night of SFIF and though it was a small house, it was definitely a fun crowd.

This young woman was a joy to have on stage. I asked her to join me for a sing-a-long and taught her a chord on a second ukulele. Not only did she do well (and impress her boyfriend), she and I talked about her picking up a uke and learning how to play.

From the first night of SFIF. This young woman was a joy to have on stage. I asked her to join me for a sing-a-long and taught her a chord on a second ukulele. Not only did she do well (and impress her boyfriend), she and I talked about her deciding she wants to learn how to play a ukulele now. Spread the uke love!

You'll notice my new Lanikai S-TEQ electric tenor ukulele in these shots. I bought it... um... the week of the wedding, much to my bride's chagrin... I did, however, nab it on a great deal from Rob at The Ukulele Shop. I'll write up a review soon.

You'll notice my new Lanikai S-TEQ electric tenor ukulele in these shot. Much to my wife's chagrin, I decided the week of our wedding was the perfect time to shell out some green for a new ukulele... I nabbed it at a low price from Rob at The Ukulele Shop. Expect a review soon.

This young woman seemed shy at first as she came on stage during the second night of SFIF. She got so into the sing-a-long that at one point we were leaning on each other, back to back, playing and singing. She went back into shy mode when the crowd cheered for her at the end of the song.

This young woman seemed shy at first as she came on stage during the second night of SFIF. But wow did she surprise me when she got so into the sing-a-long to the point that we were leaning on each other, back to back, playing and singing together. If you ask me, she went back into shy mode when the crowd cheered for her at the end of the song.

Kelly took this great shot of me ready to rock out at SCIF. One of my favorite parts of the show is when I hook my ukulele up to an amp because I can hear individuals in the crowd whisper things like, "No way!" People just don't expect an electrified uke and that's what makes rockin' out in the show so much fun.

Kelly took this great shot of me ready to rock out at SCIF. One of my favorite parts of the show is when I hook my ukulele up to an amp because I can hear people in the crowd whisper, "No way!" People don't expect an electrified uke and it makes rockin' out in the show so fun.

Stay creative, people.

-nm

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