Jill Bernard from Minneapolis will be in town to perform and lead a class during Alaska State Improv Festival. (Courtesy Photo | Adam Iverson)

Jill Bernard from Minneapolis will be in town to perform and lead a class during Alaska State Improv Festival. (Courtesy Photo | Adam Iverson)

Alaska State Improv Festival is back with laughs and surprises

Improvised plays, musicals and cabaret acts part of this year’s fest

Thursday through Sunday there will be room to improv in Juneau.

The Alaska State Improv Festival returns to the capital city with multiple shows at McPhetres Hall Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and a handful of late-night shows Friday and Saturday at the Hangar Ballroom.

“People ask “What is improv theater?” It’s unscripted,” wrote Eric Caldwell, producer for AS IF, in an email to the Capital City Weekly. “Beyond that, the options are limited only by the imagination of the director and performers. When AS IF displays a broad enough range of shows that every audience says “I didn’t know improv could be like that!” then we’ve done our job. In the best shows, the audience comes away in disbelief that what they’ve seen was unscripted.”

Surprise, disbelief and debate are the reactions Shaun Landry hopes to elicit with her cabaret-style show “FLaKE.” In the show, Landry uses audience suggestions to craft a “failed Broadway star’s” stories of interacting with celebrities and on-the-spot songs.

Shaun Landry from Los Angeles will be in town to perform and lead a class during Alaska State Improv Festival. (Courtesy photo | Alaska State Improv Festival)

Shaun Landry from Los Angeles will be in town to perform and lead a class during Alaska State Improv Festival. (Courtesy photo | Alaska State Improv Festival)

“They’re going to leave going, ‘My God, is this her life or not?’” Landry said from Los Angeles in a phone interview with the Capital City Weekly. “Those are the conversations I want people to have at the bar.”

Her show will be part of the 10:45 p.m. late show, Saturday, April 27, at the Hangar Ballroom. She will be backed by local piano man Tom Locher, music director for Juneau Cabaret.

[Juneau Cabaret opens up “The Great American Songbook]

Landry, who is a Second City Chicago Touring Company alumnus, the founder of the San Francisco Improv Festival and a teacher at The Pack Theater in L.A., will also perform with her husband, Hans Summer, and will lead a workshop during the class.

She said she’s excited to work with Locher for “FLaKE,” after seeing videos of his playing online.

“Everything I saw from him, he is literally the perfect cabaret piano player,” Landry said. “It’s literally a music theater nerd orgasm as an improviser.”

The festival lineup includes daily workshops and dozens of other performers, too.

Workshops include classes on physicality and using space, improvising modern drama, deep character, empathy in improvisation, conflicts and achronological storytelling. A full listing of workshops is available at asifest.com

These include “Drum Machine,” a one-woman, historical musical by Jill Bernard; “The Well-Made Play,: an improvised two-act play featuring performers from Austin’s Hideout Theater; “Schrampflin Falls,” an effort from Seattle’s Unexpected Productions, which takes the classic play “Our Town” and spins it on its head; “Pint of Life,” during which Los Angeles-based performer Yichao shares a pint of ice cream on stage; “PUMPS,” an all-women ensemble from LA; and Je Ju, a recently married couple who use their experiences and the audience’s to explore what people care about.

A full schedule of shows is also available on the festival’s website.

Bernard, who is the festival’s guest artist and education director at HUGE Theater in Minneapolis, said during “Drum Machine” she interviews a member of the audience and a suggested time period and turns it into a musical. She has been performing it since 2002 and took the show to Juneau in the mid-2000s.

“I cannot wait to see what it (Juneau) is like now,” Bernard said from Minnesota during a phone interview with the Capital City Weekly.

She said audiences are usually good about picking historical events that have already happened for “Drum Machine” but exceptions happen.

[One-woman show tells labor organizer icon’s story]

“I think I’ve only done the future twice,” Bernard said. “Someone yelled out, the future and someone yelled the Civil War. I said, ‘Why don’t we do the future Civil War, since we all know that it’s coming.’”

Bernard said she is looking forward to seeing “The Well Made Play” and some of the other acts slated for Saturday that are fairly far removed from “Whose Line Is It Anyway”-style improv games.

“I think that whole Saturday lineup is going to show people that improv can be things they wouldn’t expect,” Bernard said.


What: Alaska State Improv Festival

When: Thursday, April 25-Sunday, April 28. There are 6:15 and 8:30 p.m. shows Thursday-Sunday. There are also 10:45 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday.

Where: Most shows are at McPhetres Hall, 325 Gold St. Late shows are at the Hangar Ballroom, 2 Marine Way.

Admission: An all-session pass is $60, single-session tickets are $15. Single session passes are available through jahc.org, and all-session passes are available through asifest.com.

• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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