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Jada Pulley remembers their first experience at the Black and Funny Improv Festival: “It felt like a cookout. Like I knew these people already.” Now the festival’s co-director, Pulley is excited to create a space where other performers can share that experience.
The festival, which runs Wednesday through Sunday in Minneapolis, is now in its seventh year and has no plans on stopping. In fact, the festival has grown to support other spaces. Pulley is the founder of the Queer and Funny Improv Festival.
John Gebretatose, a founder of the festival and co-director, says before the Black and Funny Improv Festival existed, “there was a mindset that there’s only room for Black improv artists and troupes only during Black history month. But the first year proved that wasn’t true. We always knew that wasn’t true, and to produce the first festival and to see us represented was vindicating.”
This year’s festival will bring at least 30 performers from around the country for five days of workshops, performances, and fun. The performers work in a wide range of improv styles, from games to musicals to sitcom riffs. The selection criteria, Pulley jokes, exactly matches the title of the festival: “Are they Black? Are they funny?” Yes to both: You’re in.
The shows will use comedy to discuss a variety of topics, including race, equity, and pop culture. Attendees will have the opportunity to attend various workshops to flex their improv skills or form ones. The workshops, led by the performers, will teach attendees about musicals, sitcoms, and character development on stage.
For both directors, the festival is about more than just providing laughter, but creating a community and showing the beauty of improv.
“Aside from laughing, or having your heart explode with emotions, there’s an undeniable sense of connection between the performers and the audience that brings us all together no matter how different we all may seem from each other,” Gebretatose says.
Gebretatose says comedy offers an emotional release for Black performers.
“Representation is important and so is Black Joy,” he says. “There are Minnesotans who are Black and who also enjoy improv, and living in such a white state, most would assume that wasn’t the case.”
Pulley believes this festival is important in not only showing “diversity on stage,” but the show is an act of resistance to them. Attendees get time and space to express joy and laughter in a supportive community.
“Not everything is boots-on-the-ground in the streets. We have to refill ourselves, so we can keep our energy going in other spaces,” says Pulley.
How to attend the Black and Funny Improv Festival
Where: HUGE Improv Theater, 3037 Lyndale Avenue S., Minneapolis, MN 55408
When: March 22-26
Cost: $15 to watch one show, $99 for an UltraPass to watch every show, $50 to attend a workshop about how to perform improv
Financial assistance: Need a scholarship to help cover costs? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: The festival is open to everyone from improv newbies to experienced improvisers, as long as you come to play. The one exception is a special Black, Indigenous, People of Color Jam on March 26.
Tickets and more: Learn more about the festival and purchase tickets here.