“Improv You Need To See” is the tagline for the Boston Improv Festival, but what does that actually mean?
It means Chicago’s only all-Indian improv group. It means a show fully in Spanish. It means a group of women of color banded together under the moniker “Matt Damon Improv.”
“We’re in an extra bastion of awareness and progressiveness [in Cambridge], so the people that perform and work here are a part of a general movement to raise awareness and understand that it’s our job, as people in power, to highlight people that have been historically underrepresented,” Managing Director of ImprovBoston Tom Spataro says.
“One of the things that we talk about internally is that in order for people to want to get up on stage, they need to see people like themselves on stage,” he adds.
ImprovBoston’s had a September festival for 10 years, but the nonprofit decided to rebrand the Boston Comedy Arts Festival as the Boston Improv Festival this year. The shift reflects a narrowed focus—not just on improv, but on digging past the typical headliners to find and highlight people who are underrepresented in comedy.
ImprovBoston put out a call to its comedy network throughout the country, according to Spataro, and asked “Who should be seen?”
“Their hooks aren’t built on their diversity, but their uniqueness will highlight and inform what they’re putting on stage. It’s not necessarily like come and see us because we’re all gay, or we’re all people of color—their performances are going to be different because they’re comprised of people who have different life experiences,” Spataro says. “If everybody looks like me and has the same experiences as me, it might still be funny, but it’s going to be one note.”
Thirteen groups from all over the country—plus Montreal—will flock to the studio from Sept. 5 to 9. Each group will perform twice, meaning hourly shows running back to back, and offer workshops that are open to the public on Sept. 8.
A distinct part of the festival that continues its mission is the Vintage Improv Festival on Sept. 9, which will highlight performers over the age of 50.
One of the shows Spataro is most excited for is North Coast, a hip-hop improv group that, once given a historical figure suggestion from the audience, improvises a “Hamilton”-style hourlong show.
The Boston Improv Festival will run Sept. 5 to 9 at ImprovBoston at 40 Prospect St. Tickets are $14 per show, or $33 for three shows.