10th Annual Seattle Festival of Improv Theater Soars into Action in the U-District

The uproar of laughter could be heard spilling out on to University Avenue from the two University District theaters hosting last night’s performances at the 10th Annual Seattle Festival of Improv Theater (SFIT). Tonight will mark the third evening of the five-day festival hosted by Wing-It Productions, with back-to-back performances by several troupes from all over the world.

Seattle improvisation theater fans had the distinct privilege of catching performances from impressive local groups such as the two-person long-form improv act, Carskee and CSI Seattle: Crime Scene Improv (KRAM Improv), a fast paced improvised crime comedy team. But the real treat of the festival are the national and international groups that travel out to Seattle for this once-a-year festival. Last night saw performances from Vancouver, B.C. improvisors, M&M: Sittin’ Around, whose performance style is a somewhat off-the-wall, musical chairs with a high level of audience participation, along with Paris Tales (Paris, France) whose short series of improvised theatrical scenes are an act they specifically tailored for SFIT in order to share stories of life in Paris.

And probably my favorite of the festival so far (and could easily win me over as favorite for the entire festival), Confidence Men: Improvised Mamet, a group out of Austin, Texas. Featuring a six-man act whose improv performances are done entirely in the style of a David Mamet play, Confidence Men takes a single theme suggestion from the audience and builds a two-act short play (for the purposes of this festival, a 25 minute show). Having heard of this group prior to last night, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But having now witnessed the performance first hand, Confidence Men is easily one of the most unique improv shows I’ve had the pleasure of attending. Last night’s theme of “A Dog Show” was done in a flawless Mametesque style; the improv so seamless and funny, the audience fluctuated between stunned silence and bursts of laughter. Speaking with the performers from Confidence Men after the show, they mentioned that SFIT is their favorite festival they take part in yearly. If you missed them last night, you can still catch their second performance Saturday night at 8 p.m. at the Wing-it Productions Theater.

As this year’s festival marks a decade of its existence in both Seattle’s improv community and, more importantly, the international theater community, the growth of SFIT is interesting to note. Founded in 2002 by Matt Grabowski and Andrew McMasters, “SFIT has grown to become American’s best showcase festival of unscripted, interactive theater.” Since its inception in 2003 when the festival took place at the (now defunct) Northwest Actors’ Studio on Capitol Hill, SFIT has grown in size (audience members and performers/students alike), drawing performers and teachers from all over Washington state, British Columbia, Oregon, California, Philadelphia, Austin, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, St. Paul, Oklahoma City, Paris, and Birmingham.

Trust me when I say, the line-up this year is impressive and the festival has only just begun. There’s still time to purchase tickets and fit some must-see shows into your schedule for this weekend. Take my advice, go see a show by a by a local group that appeals to you (tonight features the outstanding Seattle-based improv group, Where No Man Has Gone Before, a Star Trek episodic improv show) that you wouldn’t normally be able to attend otherwise. Better yet, see one of the groups from across the country or the world as this may be one of your only chances to see these groups perform. You’ll have some great laughs and walk away with a completely unique experience that will never again be replicated in theater history.

February 15-19 // Wing-It Productions Theater & The Ethnic Cultural Theater // Adult General Admission $18; Student, Senior or Military Admission $15; All Access Passes $50 // Shows at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.