Starting today (Wednesday, March 22nd) and taking over all programming at HUGE Theater through Sunday night, the 7th Annual Black & Funny Improv Festival mixes workshops and performances from local and visiting troupes across America. The sizable festival—produced by John Gebretatose and Jada Pulley—started out as a small, one day workshop and panel has evolved into a weekend full of shows, classes, and celebrations featuring performers of color from across the country – open to audiences of
Ahead of the festival, DISPATCH checked in with Festival Director Jada Pulley.
DISPATCH: You’re busy organizing this big deal festival, but are you also performing?
I’ll be performing with Blackout and Based On A True Story on Wednesday night. I’m also going to weasel my way into an All-Star Mixer show, where we invite people to play with people who aren’t on the team that they traditionally perform with.
It’s great to see the growth of the Black & Funny Improv Festival—now in its 7th year! How has the festival changed, in addition to now being several days long (beginning this Wednesday)?
The Festival has grown from one day to 5 and from only local talent to hosting improvisers from all over the country (and Canada!).
However, the heart has remained the same. We’re still showcasing Black talent, creating a safer space for performers, and spreading the joy of improv as an artform.
I am proud to say that we have served as inspiration for other cities to start their own Black and Funny Festivals.
Improv can be “liberating” and “a space for building empathy and creating connections across communities”, but it can also be dicey. It’s such a direct connection between the performers themselves and also between the performers and the audience. And so much of a person’s rapid-fire unconscious can come into play. How does that factor into the work of the festival and the shows happening?
The reason I love improv is that it has been personally liberating and a great source of community for me. I want others to have that experience.
As far as the unconscious, when you’re thinking quickly, there’s a lot of room to surprise yourself. That’s the thrill of it.
The festival mission is to “create an awareness within the Black community in the Twin Cities that improv is an art form that they can do and benefit from.” Can White people come see the shows?
Yes, White people can come to see the shows. The other part of the mission is to uplift Black improvisors, and White people are certainly welcome to help us do that by being there and spreading the word.
If comedy and performance fans can’t make it out to all of the Festival (even though we recommend they do), what entry points can you suggest? Any highlights for you personally?
I think any entry point is a great one! I’m especially excited to see Critical Race Theory for Kindergartners – it’s actually sketch comedy by the great Mark Kendall, and the only thing on our schedule that isn’t strictly improv!
You’re also the proud founder of the Queer and Funny Improv Festival, congrats. Which festival is funnier?
You’ll have to come to both and be the judge.