"It's a huge deal," says ringleader Joshua Nicols. "It's the first festival of its kind in Orange County, we've got 26 teams coming in, some as far as Detroit, and we've got some of the best players in the country."
"Stand-up is a prepared, self-referential monologue," Nicols said. "In improv, you're learning the rules of how to improve your probability of making good choices on the fly. You're not referencing yourself and even if a story evolves, there's no point of view. All of it is created on the spot."
Two more key differences between improv and stand-up is that improv is fed as much by the audience and the performers, and it isn't singular. "It's a team, a community, an ensemble," Nicols said. "It's looking good as a whole instead of looking good individually. So in that respect, it's closer to theater than it appears."
There are two main types of improv: Short-form, which most people are familiar with, and long-form, which tries to adhere to a loose narrative structure. Both types will be on display throughout the festival.
"Short-form is more gimmicky and less theatrical," Nicols said. "It's pantomime, like, 'OK, I'm fucking a toaster now.' There's nothing wrong with it. It's high energy and sells a lot of tickets. But with long-form, you have players who are really acting. It's a narrative, not just goofy parlor games, even though it's still being made up on the spot."
Last night, the spotlight was on OC talent, with seven area teams performing half-hour sets. Tonight, 11 companies, including teams from Fullerton, Los Angeles and Detroit, will perform, followed Saturday by eight more Southern California teams, including Nicols' long-form team, Ghostlight, the Santa Monica-based Mission Improvable, and the LA-based troupe, Dr. God Revival.
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Orange County Improv Festival, Stages Theatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave, Fullerton, (714) 525-4484. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.-Midnight. $10 each night.