Community and Tapas – Noah Levin on Barcelona’s annual improv festival

Improv festivals are awesome. Of course they’re loads of fun, but they’re also a great way to get out of your comfort zone and shake it up. Bring together improvisers from all over the world and everyone’s gonna learn something new. As a Hispanophile I’m super excited to interview Noah Levin from the BIG School of Improv and hear all about The BIG IF

Factfile:

Where? Barcelona, Spain. The shows are at El Cercle. The workshops are at Swing Maniacs. The hostel for accommodation and after hours is Generator

When? From the first Tuesday of November until the Sunday. Tuesday night features ice-breaker games and a jam. Wednesday to Saturday we have workshops in the morning and afternoon and shows every night. On Sunday we have a Survivor’s Dinner for anyone still in Barcelona.

Workshops? Last year we had 31 workshops ranging from 2 hours to 10 hours.

Shows? There are four shows each night. Two mixer teams that do a workshop together that day, and two invited groups that apply to the festival.

Rachel: Tell us about The BIG IF.

Noah: For me, The BIG IF is like a symposium of old. Masters of the art, students, and enthusiasts, coming together to share the work they create in their own corners of the world. I love to see the different styles of improv from performers and teachers that come from all over. We have a strong English improv community in Barcelona, and we like to make our guests feel welcome and a part of our home for the week of the festival. Everyone has a chance to exchange, learn from each other, entertain and be entertained.

 Rachel: What kinds of workshops can participants expect at your festival?

Noah: We have a theme every year, and about half of the workshops approach that theme. BIG IF 6 was about making mistakes, which inspired workshops about acceptance, silencing your inner critic, spontaneity, and more. We also had musical improv, scenework, stage presence, MCing, form studies, clowning, and more.

Rachel: How do you pick the performers?

Noah: We aim to have performers from diverse countries performing different kinds of improv, including a couple of shows that aren’t comedy-driven.

Rachel: What’s the best thing about The BIG IF?

Noah: The community. I think it’s a really easy festival to meet and make friends with people. Everyone has equal access to all parts of the festival, over a hundred people perform on stage, and there are lots of workshop and social opportunities for everyone.

Rachel: That sounds fun – but a challenge to organise. How do you do it?

Noah: So many Google Docs. Now that we’ve run the festival for so many years, we’re better at repeating what worked and only tweak about 10% from the last year, and also look for new things to do. At BIG IF 6, we changed the teacher experience to make it more fair and more rewarding for all teachers. The goal for BIG IF 7 is to revitalize the after-hours programming and try a new system for registration. You know, improv!

Rachel: What sucks about running a festival? 

Noah: So many questions. So many questions. Please read the website before you ask a festival organiser a question. 

Rachel: So why do you do it?

Noah: We’re all part of a large ecosystem. I see running The BIG IF as my contribution. We all have to do our share in organising so that there are festivals for everyone to attend, and more opportunities for growth and connection.

Rachel: How do you advertise The BIG IF?

Noah: To the participants, just on social media, mainly Facebook. Word of mouth goes a long way. To the audiences, our mailing list, Facebook and Instagram ads, and word of mouth. Sometimes we get a lot of press, sometimes just a few calendar mentions, it just depends what else is in the landscape. 

Rachel: What can improvisers get at your improv festival that they can’t get anywhere else?

Noah: Tapas. I’d love to say we’re the biggest or the best, but the truth is that we are one of many, providing a unique sampling of today’s improv. But every year is different. Every collection of performers, teachers, and community members creates a different vibe, a different artistic offering, and different memories. You just have to come along when you’re inspired to do so.

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