The golden rule of improvisational comedy is to always say yes, and Columbus has said yes to hosting a four-day festival honoring the performance art.
The second Columbus Unscripted Improv Festival is scheduled to take place Thursday through Sunday and feature skill-building workshops and more than 20 improv acts.
Participants are set to come from Chicago, Cleveland and Kansas City to perform alongside locals, including two Ohio State improv groups, Fishbowl Improv and 8th Floor Improv.
“We’ve got great teams from Ohio State participating, so it’s really cool that it’s all connected,” said Barbara Allen, a co-organizer of the festival and member of Columbus improv group See You Thursday.
Allen helped develop the first Unscripted Festival in 2011.
“Some of the groups in Columbus have had the chance to perform at the Chicago Improv Festival (in April),” she said. “And really, our thought was, ‘Why not Columbus? Why not here? Why not having a festival that will showcase the local, regional and certainly national talent?’”
Allen said this year’s festival will be larger and more organized than the first, partly because of increased interest in improv locally.
“We were flying by the seat of our pants for the last one,” she said. “In 2013, we really wanted to expand the reach. A lot of movement has happened in the last couple years in Columbus with improv. There are probably 22 teams that are solid in performing around (Columbus).”
Susan Messing, an improv veteran from Chicago who has performed for over 25 years, is one of the headliners of the festival.
“She is a really big name in Chicago and has a terrific comedic style,” Allen said.
Messing is set to perform with her husband, Michael Clayton McCarthy, a former writer for “Saturday Night Live” and “The Drew Carey Show.”
Another headliner is Megan Johns, an up-and-coming improviser from The Annoyance Theatre & Bar in Chicago.
“She is out-of-control funny and a really powerful comedian,” Allen said. “These are our friends. There is connection to Columbus for them. They are really excited to see us and come back.”
In addition to performing, professionals are also scheduled to hold workshops to help strengthen the local improv community, Allen said.
“The philosophy is that everyone matters, and we really want to create spaces for people to perform in Columbus and celebrate people’s art. The key for us is learning by bringing those improvisers to us,” she said.
OSU improv groups Fishbowl Improv and 8th Floor Improv are slated to perform Thursday night. Daniel Cleveland, a second-year in biomedical engineering, has been a member of Fishbowl since last year.
“I love diving in and exploring random characters,” Cleveland said. “It’s an outlet to this weirdness in me, it gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
Cleveland is looking forward to discovering more of Columbus’ improv community at the event.
“It will be nice to see local improv outside of OSU,” he said. “I am excited to see them perform, and a big fest like (Columbus Unscripted Improv Festival) is really great for Columbus improv.”
Mitra Jouhari, a third-year in psychology and president of 8th Floor Improv, said getting involved in improv was a “life-changing experience.”
“I’ve been doing it since I got to college,” she said. “I found this awesome community that was into making people laugh.”
Jouhari is looking forward to the performance by Fire & Beer, the house team at the Annoyance Theatre & Bar, which is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. Thursday at Shane’s Dinner Theater.
“It’s really cool because normally you would have to travel to see them,” she said.
8th Floor is schedule to host its own fest, the fifth annual Bellwether Improv Festival, Nov. 8-9, Jouhari said.
The performances are scheduled to take place at Shane’s Dinner Theater, located at 447 E. Livingston Ave., on Thursday; Studio 35, located at 3055 Indianola Ave., on Friday; and Wild Goose Creative, at 2491 Summit St., on Saturday and Sunday with prices varying depending on the act.
Tickets can be purchased online at Columbus Unscripted Improv Festival’s website and at the door the day of the event. Discount tickets are available for students on the festival’s website.