Phoenix Improv Festival/Submitted

By Jordan Rogers

The Phoenix Improv Festival is trying its hand at virtual reality for its 21st year.

The digitally spaced event is Friday, June 24, and Saturday, June 25.

Phoenix Improv Festival producer Bill Binder says he wanted to boost its visibility after resorting to Zoom last year.

“We did online shows with Zoom, and some people made really great shows with that, but it didn’t feel like a festival as much as a show,” Binder says.

“Instead of giving a series of links to watch a Zoom meeting, we’ve created a digital environment. It’s going to feel a little more personal than a Zoom meeting, and that’s something we wanted to do to bring performers together for.”

He says he hopes this year’s digital venue will have an in-person feel. It’s only available to those with a virtual reality set up, but others can still enjoy it.

“Audience members who have a virtual reality set up can actually immerse themselves in that, but audience members who don’t have that can still watch it on their computer monitors for sort of a 2D version of it,” says Binder, who’s been with the festival since its first year, 2002.

Like past years, 2022’s festival will feature roughly 75 performers who will hit the stage in their hometowns across the country. Most shows will take place in the evenings.

Among the performers are the National Ensemble, a group of improv performers from around North America collaborating to make a longform show. Actor and teacher Tezz Yancey will produce that show.

Equipped with more than 20 years’ experience, Yancey has had a decorated career. He made his Broadway debut at 14 years old, headlined his own shows in Las Vegas, produced multiple recording and film score projects, and is a working film and television actor in Hollywood.

“The last few years, we’ve brought in a lot of performers from the Improv Olympic mindset, which is a theory of improv that is very character driven and relationship driven,” Binder says.

“He’s going to be bringing that; sort of scenario based and more playful. Specifically for the show he’s going to be building that with the audience. We wanted somebody like Tezz, who has experience putting ensembles together and putting their specific strengths together.”

The Phoenix Improv Festival’s digital space has three stages with about 35 “seats” each. Binder says more stages and or seats can be added to match demand.

“The nice thing is, unlike a real venue, is if we sell more tickets than that, we have built-in flexibility,” Binder says.

“We can adjust the number of seats based off the tickets we sell.”

The festival received positive feedback from the Zoom shows. He hopes for the same this year.

“We love sharing improv with the world, and we’re really excited to present this digital space and in-person experience,” Binder says. “I hope this is the start of more festivals and theaters doing it this way.

“A festival like this is a huge, huge sampler platter of different kinds of art that it can be, and you can see all of them at once. We really like being able to present that.”

Phoenix Improv Festival