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Off Script

The Providence Improv Fest brings local and national improvisers together for on-the-spot comedy

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This month, more than 200 goofballs will descend on Providence. They will come from all over the country. They will gather their forces on Empire Street. They will bring nothing but the clothes on their backs and some folding chairs. And then – well, we’re not really sure what they’ll do. They just kinda make it up as they go along.

The Providence Improv Fest returns September 13-15 for its 15th year, taking over AS220 for three days of rampant ad-libbing. On top of its myriad performances, the festival will host improv workshops for aspiring, off-the-cuff comics.

“One of our goals is to get people a better understanding of what we do,” says Tim Thibodeau, an instructor at the Providence Improv Guild (P.I.G.) and producer of the festival. “So often people still think we tell jokes or do standup. First timers often give the best compliment an improviser can receive, which is, ‘Was that all really made up on the spot? None of that was scripted?’”

Rhode Island is no stranger to improv comedy thanks to a vibrant community of performers based out of P.I.G., Wage House Comedy Theater in Pawtucket, Bring Your Own Improv in Warwick, The Bit Players in Newport, and Improv Jones, which performs monthly at AS220.

“Rhode Island is a place where everyone seems to have some sort of connection to everyone,” muses Thibodeau. “There are so many talented people in the improv community, who challenge each other and promote the joy [that] improv gives us. I believe many of the performers here could make it big in NYC or LA, and some have, but I think many enjoy creating a community of like-minded individuals who are willing to share their good times. You might see multiple performers play in multiple locations, but each location has its own different appeal.”

The lineup will be staggered with local and national acts, so that audiences can sample a range of styles. The second and third nights are followed by after-parties, and for many returning comics, the fest serves as a kind of reunion. For improvisers like Thibodeau, improv isn’t just a chance to be funny on stage, but a way of interacting with the world.

“For me, improv is therapy,” Thibodeau says. “It’s a place where you can create something hilarious from absolutely nothing, and you can do it with people you admire.” 115 Empire Street