POLAND IMPROFEST Improvisation Festival
ONE OF THE BEST FESTS
600 improvisation fans are laughing and enjoying their evening in the spacious KLUB THEATRE in Krakow, Poland… and the show hasn’t even begun.
On stage and off, IMPROFEST, Poland’s biggest and busiest improvisation festival, felt like a party of your closest hundreds ready for a good time.
I chatted with organizer ALAN PAKOSZ about this special beast he’s unleashed, hoping to get some insight on what it takes to create this friendly monster that carried attendees, students and performers into a frenzy of impro joy.
Let me fill you in with some details first…
I visited Krakow many years ago and had a great time. I left with the feeling that Improvisation was developing something like a wild animal with many heads and tails. I was delighted to hear from Alan that improvisation in Krakow wasn’t just surviving. It has exploded. When he asked if I was interested in coming to the Improfest, in November 2023, I initially hesitated and said that my son would be celebrating his first birthday at that time. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be away from him on his special day.
“Bring him, and the whole family”, Alan said.
Off to Poland!!!
I taught 24 hours of classes (over 5 days). I later learned that EIGHT MINUTES after the festival announced their wide array of workshops, they weren’t just SOLD OUT – they had “over sold”, due to the booking system crashing from the flurry of interest. They had to add extra classes to make up for the extra spots that had been sold.
I participated in two of what seemed like an endless parade of diverse shows that had the audiences spontaneously dancing, laughing and enjoying themselves. I was happy to see that they had not succumbed to the habit most festivals have of doing their shows in English. Most of Improfest was in Polish. Maybe it’s one reason why they attracted more than half of their audience from the general (non-improviser) population.
Understand the language or not, It was a great time! “to był świetny czas“
From the moment Krzysztof picked us up from the airport, to the moment that he and Michał surprised us with a birthday presentation with gifts and private performance of the Polish version of Happy Birthday, (STO LAT) and on to the meals, the enthusiastic workshops and enjoyable show with two improvisers I met only minutes before walking on stage (Jules Munns -UK, and Brian James O’Connell -USA), we were treated exceptionally.
Alan had faith in we three performers who had never met and when asked what do you want from us, he replied, “I’m sure you’ll work something out.” Alan showed off his laid back attitude throughout the festival, always finding the time to hang out through the days and chat.
In our first short presentation, we were given suggestions of Polish objects and locations that none of us could possibly know anything about. The audience seemed pleased at we three clowns interpreting things so poorly but absurdly making sense in our story reminiscent of one that took place a long time ago… in a galaxy far far away. IT turns out that a Ciupaga is NOT a character from Star Wars!!!
Our second show had as little preparation as the first. Never having worked together before should have been more difficult.
We created a story of lovers lost in differing desires for each other in a hell that they visited, cared for by an artistically tormented caretaker in a hell of his own.
Afterwards, an audience member said, “I love your take on Magical Surrealism. It was seemless.” So… there you go. Magical… and surreal. And while it probably wasnt “seamless”, it was a joy to perform with Brian and Jules.
Backstage we congratulated each other for our Twilight Zone-inspired narrative especially coming from different families of impro influence. Feeling comfortable, excited, surprised and safe with the risks and unknown is how our improvisation family should be with each other.
A festival is a living organism and you have to improvise skillfully in creating it.
– ALAN PAKOSZ
A LITTLE CHAT WITH ALAN PAKOSZ
-When did it start? Why did it start? Who started it?
ALAN: The first edition of the festival was held in 2011. There were not many groups on the improvisation scene in Poland. We decided to gather those who had been active the longest and make the first edition of the festival. The beginnings were not easy. For one performance we sold 2 tickets in a hall that could accommodate up to 500 people. But year after year it got better and better, until today where every day we have about 600 people in the audience.
The festival founders were the Krakow-based improvisation group AD HOC, headed by Alan Pakosz. Together with the PAKA Association, we created the 1st edition of the festival. Since that day, the festival has grown and grown….
– Who are some of the teachers and shows you’ve presented?
Over these 13 years, we have hosted many teachers from Europe and America. Among them:
Mischief Improvised Comedy Theatre (UK), Folie a deux (UK), Racing Minds (UK), Czech Impro All Stars (Czech Rep.), Simone Schwegler and Gerald Weber (Switzerland), Susan Messing and Rachael Mason (USA), IGLU Theatre (Slovenia), Jim Libby (USA/ Austria), Rod Ben Zeev (USA/ Izrael), oraz Neil Curran (Ireland), David Razowsky (USA), Jonathan Pitts (USA) oraz Heather Urquhart and Jules Munns (UK), Baby Wants Candy (USA), Cristian Capozzoli
(USA), Timothe Ansieau (France), Liz Peters (UK).
And this year we had: Jules Munns (UK), Shawn Kinley (Canada), Brian James O’Connell (USA), TJ and Dave (USA)
– How many people working on the festival?
The main organizing committee consists of six people, but in addition to them, an additional 20-30 people are working on the creation of the festival in various capacities. It takes a lot of people to embrace such a large undertaking.
– What do you attribute the success of your festival to?
This festival is created by people with passion. Well-organized, hard-working people. Improvisation enthusiasts also come to the festival. A good result must come from the combination of such good energies.
– What type of person is drawn to your festival?
I am very happy that the guests of the festival are not only improvisers. Of course, there are a lot of them, but I assume that half of the audience are ordinary people who just want to see cool performances and have a laugh at the festival.
– In your opinion, what does it take to start up a festival these days and what does it take to keep it going?
That’s a tough question… But the answer may be simple – money. When you have money it is much easier for you to organize a festival and not have to be afraid of everything. If you don’t have outside funds then it’s good for you to have some good venue that will help you embrace the whole enterprise. And free time, plenty of time to organize such a thing.
– What have you learned from your past experiences?
Past festivals have taught me not to give up and not to worry when something goes against plan. We put out a lot of fires every year, and I guess that’s the way it has to be. Be flexible, be open to change, listen to others, think independently, make difficult decisions – this is what I have learned over the past 13 years.
And if it is covid – don’t do the festival! 🙂
– Are there “explosions” in planning that you’ve had to deal with over the years?
Of course there are! But I don’t know if I can list them and point out who they concerned….
The threat that some teacher won’t make it to the festival, someone’s flight was canceled, someone can’t arrive at the festival just before it starts are situations that no longer cause me elevated blood pressure.
– Can you say something about the desire NOT to make it TOO English?
We made the decision to have most of the festival in Polish. The vast majority of the audience is from Poland, we address the festival primarily to the local audience. And this makes it more accessible to the audience. Of course, since the second edition of the festival we always have guests from abroad. Sometimes one of the days is practically in English, as are most of the workshops, but the main language will remain Polish.
– How far away was the picture of this years festival from what you imagined, or hoped it would be?
In many ways, I consider this edition to be the best. The performances were great, we sold out at many events, and the workshops sold out in 8 minutes! I am mega proud of what we achieved. Were the original ideas different from what we saw on stage? Of course. But that is always the case. A festival is a living organism and you have to improvise skillfully in creating it.
– You come across as easygoing and relaxed – HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR SANITY???
I talk to good people, confide in my wife, have a great organizational team, cuddle my cat.
– How early do you start planning?
Before the end of one edition, we are already thinking about the next one. Work on the festival lasts practically the whole year. At the beginning you plant ideas and then wait to see what grows out of them. Then there’s the harvest and you enjoy the results, but it’s a year-round project.
– Are any changes coming? Dates for 2024?
Nope. We continue to do our own thing. 8-10th of November 2024.
– Where can people find out more?
– Can people apply?
Unfortunately, groups can’t apply because we have an invitation-only festival. But you can persuade and inspire us by sending us recordings of performances, interesting ideas for performances, workshops. We are happy to look and analyze such submissions. The best way is to the address:
If you find yourself in, near or far away from Krakow, make plans to visit the beast of a festival with the warmth of a kitten. And enjoy the pierogies.