The art of performing Improv has helped to create a movement that has spread around the world and it has found a home in Hawai’i. Joining this creative movement is a local performing arts company, On The Spot who has proudly played a major role in making Improv a permanent fixture here. Through their work in the community they’ve trained many folks in the art of Improv, a worthy contribution to the arts community. But one area where they are making a major impact is producing the annual Improvaganza: Hawaii Festival of Improv, which enables local acts to perform with out of town artists and international acts. This fosters a greater awareness of Improv, but also allows artists to test their skills thus developing their artistic form. This month is the 9th season of Improvaganza set for September 25 – 28, and spearheading this is Garrick Paikai who is a super sharp act on the stage.
Before you answer, be honest as I have seen your work many times and can attest to your skill level. So, with all modesty aside how sharp are you on the stage?
I think I’m pretty sharp. I believe that I’m a balanced improviser. A balanced improviser is an improviser who thrives on making the other people look good on stage. Making someone else look good is really a hard thing to do because as a performer you want to take focus. The trick is to say “yes” to all their ideas and make it the most important thing on stage. A balanced improviser is more of a support improviser. He is someone who is aware of what is going on during improv and what’s going on with the audience. A balanced improviser can play many roles, for what ever is called for by his follow improvisers and what is needed in the scene. So in that regards I think I do those things or at least strive to do those things, which make me pretty sharp.
When did you first encounter Improv and tell us about that moment when you knew this is it – this is the art form that I am in love with?
In 1998, I saw a local improv group called Loose Screws perform two improvised musicals in the lab theatre of Leeward Community College. Before that, I knew of improv from the British TV show, Whose Line is It Anyway. So in my head, improv was just short form games. And here is this local improv group who is not playing games but creating a 3 act improvised musical spontaneously. It blew my mind. I was determined to learn how to do that. Eventually, I started On The Spot in 2001 and I joined Loose Screws in 2002 so I was in two improv groups.
What motivated you to create Improvaganza?
In 2005, I traveled to the mainland for the first time performing at the Chicago Improv Festival with an improvised Kabuki show. That year we where given the Chicago Improv Festival’s Compass Players award of Innovation in Improv. The next year we were invited back to perform at the C.I.F main stage. I had a blast. I learned a lot as a performer and saw some great shows. So it was really my experience at other improv festivals that motivated me to create Improvaganza. I wanted local people to experience what I had from traveling to (other) improv festivals and since I can’t take the entire island with me on tour, I decided to bring the improv festival experience to the island. So we started Improvaganza in 2006 as a small local festival. The first year we had 4 local improv acts. The next year we had 6 local acts and by the 3rd Improvaganza we were confident to open submissions up to the national improv community. Through the years we would host over 100 improv acts from 10 countries.
Did you think it would grow to this level where you have acts from all over attending?
I had hoped so (LOL). All kidding aside; one of the things that has helped us get performers at our festival is word of mouth. The whole staff prides themselves on being a good host and sharing the Aloha Spirit. If you talk to improvisers who have performed at our festival more than once, they’ll tell you their favorite thing about Improvaganza is the people. And these performers go back home and tell their improv community of how they had a great time because our staff took care of them and showed them a good time. And that (is) really how we get people to submit. Not to mention, who doesn’t want to come to Hawai’i.
With this growth and more acts attending, what are some other differences you see now from when you first started?
Locally we have a bigger local improv scene. 10 years ago there were only 2 improv groups in the state and zero improv schools. Now we have many improv groups from all over the islands (such as) Kona and Maui who have improv groups. In Honolulu there are 5 improv groups that regularly do shows and teach classes. Nationally and internationally more innovative works in improv have sprung up. The Genre-Prov movement is starting to be more (visible) and is big right now. More groups are starting to incorporate different art forms into improvisation, such as dance and puppetry just to name a few. So improv is starting to become very diverse and not just rehashed improv formats and shows.
Can you briefly explain one point that has helped you elevate your festival year after year?
I don’t (know) how to answer that without writing a 500 page essay. What helps us to grow as a festival is living our mission statement which is – Improvaganza strives to:
1. Showcase improv in all its diverse expressions.
2. Cultivate Hawai’i’s local improv community by showcasing local and mainland improvisers while providing opportunities for them to network with each other.
3. Raise the profile of this rare art form by introducing audiences to entertaining, stimulating and thought provoking performances.
If we did not have our mission statement to guide us we would not have any thing to strive for or elevate to. Staying true to our mission statement elevates us.
Is your event just performance based or do you have other events going on that folks can participate in?
I would say most of it is performance based, however there are a few things that folks can participate in. The first is the annual festival workshops which are open to the public. You can learn improv from some of the best improv teachers in the world. The public can also join us at our official meet up at JJ Dolans on Thursday September 25 after the opening ceremony. So if you would like to meet some of this year’s improvisers they will be there. Lastly, we have a free improv discussion panel on Sunday September 28 at the Arts at Marks Garage. This year’s topic is Women in Improv. Improviser Shaun Landry will be on the panel as well as some of this year’s female performers. You can visit our website for more info.
For those that have never attended Improvaganza what can they expect to see and hear, or feel emotionally? (I am reminded of one incident where an audience LOL – for some time).
I remember that too. Expect the unexpected. The art of improv come from its spontaneity. The mere fact that everything is created as it is being performed is amazing. Also, expect to be a part of the show. The performances are not just created by the improvisers on stage, it is created by the audience as well. The audiences’ energy and suggestions they give to the improvisers creates a performance that will never… ever…be reproduced again. That is exciting to watch.
This is your 9th year of Improvaganza. What does that mean to you?
It means after the 9th one is done, I can get started on the 10th.
O’ahu Fringe Festival wishes Improvaganza a very successful 9th season. To find out more please visit Improvaganza: Hawaii Festival of Improv and book your tickets now for this very popular event.