Now that the 2023 Secret City Improv Festival is in the books there are so many people that made this happen. Before I get into thanking everyone I would like to recap the amazing shows we were able to welcome to our stage. The first event was not a stage show this year. It was an event featuring Playback Reloaded, a dinner, and the healing power of improv. This emotional event allowed our festival to show more than just comedic styling. We thank Oak Ridge Periodic Table, David Allred, and everyone who allowed us to help show that improv has a place in healing.
The first show on Friday was the incomparable Dylan Rohde presenting Cards of Destiny. A madcap show using a deck of cards and placing improvisers in a series of challenges. This show was killer and is worth watching again. (Not to mention he got high schoolers from Hardin Valley Academy to pull off an equally madcap performance on Saturday!) We then welcomed for the first time, Mable’s Baby, which is a duo consisting of Joe Carroll and Marlene Thompson. The show went everywhere and there were bikers. Again go watch our live stream on YouTube. Then Joe Carroll took the stage to do his one-of-a-kind solo show, Jolo. You know it’s going to be fun when the crowd starts waving its arms and making a lot of whooping sounds. Then the Josh Warren Experience featured long-time festival performers, Josh Warren, Parker Patzke, and Matt Metzger, and a lot of chairs were thrown on the stage. That’s just show #1.
We then welcomed the incredible all-female trio of Bikini Atoll from San Antonio. Lisa Little, J’Leen Saegar, and Morgan Williams know how to ramp up a show, unlike many others. If you are in San Antonio please go visit them at Comedy Sportz San Antonio. Nick Condon presented what was nothing short of a crowd favorite, and his incredible Solitare: The Musical. I feel like there was a standing ovation from our audience and a well-deserved one at that. The legendary Nashville Improv Company made its debut in our festival. Their mix of short form and music left the crowd wanting more. Our good friends at Improv Chattanooga then took the stage and closed our second show hard and fast. Don’t forget to go check out their festival the Scenic City Improv Festival, April 19 & 20, 2024 in Chattanooga.
On to the final show of night number one. This show is always my favorite because it is our wildcard show. We welcomed back our favorite twins, Teenage Heartthrobs, from Raleigh, NC. These guys are nothing short of amazing, and we were thrilled to have them back on our stage. Twinprov baby! We then welcomed back our friends from Nashville, Danger Junior, the greatest improv troupe of all time took our stage, and stormed it with a show that multiplied in size every second. You can not take your eyes off this unpredictable show. They are the greatest! Then our new friends from Whatever Fate Decides brought the emotion and such a unique experience. A live tarot reading sets the stage, and I have seen crowds captivated, but not like this. Magic happened, and it happened for everyone on stage and in the audience. It was beautiful and moving, raw and emotional, and such an amazing experience.
The Slayden Cup was our cap off. This third tournament was expanded to 24 players due to demand. The performances were unbelievable. Everyone delivered unique and fun experiences in the games, Story Story Die, Worlds Worst, Channel Surfing, and Do Run Run (in acapella). Our finals were a who’s who of funny. We got to watch Patsy Long, J’Leen Saegar, Jim Seward, and Mitchell Mulkey duke it out in a game of 90, 60, 30. In the end, Mitchell Mulkey stood tall and took home the 2023 Slayden Cup!
We were able to add a whole new slate of workshops and masterclasses for this year. We want to thank Neal Leaheey for teaching magic, Joe Carroll and Marlene Thompson for revealing how to make a duo show great, and Noah Rice for his musical talent. We also need to thank Nick Condon for giving a masterclass in characters, and T.J. Mannix for teaching how to get out of your head. These enriching classes made those who took them just that much better!
We added a new Saturday matinee show for 2023. We were able to host a reunion show for The Maybe Pile from Chattanooga, TN. A team that I got to know from many years of performing together at our origin festival the Gatlinburg Improv Festival. I could not pass up having them reunite. We then welcomed 2023 Slayden Cup Champion Mitchell Mulkey back to our stage along with the rest of Raleigh, NC’s Free Form Narrative improvisers, Newt Work for their debut in our festival. Then it was time for the improvised Rock Opera. An arcade hopping adventure featuring many members from Nashville Improv Company, Dylan Rohde, Nick Condon, and more.
The Slayden Intensives were up next. Featuring Hardin Valley Academy and the Knoxville Area Homeschool group this show had a little bit of everything. The instructors for this year were an all-star cast of great performers, Dylan Rohde, Lisa Little, and Neal Leaheey. The students went through a grueling day of intensive workshops and then put on an amazing show on our stage. We can not thank them enough for all of this hard work, and can not thank the instructors for passing on their knowledge to the next generation of improvisers. We also need to thank Andy’s Pizza and More II in Oak Ridge for their contribution to lunch for this year’s intensives!
Heading into the final stretch of shows for the 2023 Festival. We then welcomed our good friends from Playback Reloaded. Capturing stories from our audience that ranged from trees collapsing on people to dodging a cult member. The experience allowed for some amazing performances from Knoxville’s Playback Masters! Louie Yes Anderson was next up and their show failed to disappoint. The idea of a show centered around a Louie Anderson impression doesn’t seem like it should work, but it most certainly does. Grant Collins and Nathan Larison brought the laughs and the emotion that kept the crowd on their toes. Einstein Simplified from Knoxville has been around for 29 years! They have also been with us since day #1. These are the short-form masters, and their show was nothing short of a thrill ride. See them every Tuesday at Scruffy City Hall in Knoxville.
Mick and Tony from Chicago were next up. This duo takes one suggestion, creates a whole world, and takes the audience through a journey unlike any other. T.J. Mannix from NYC was our next performer. Limboland is everything a one-man show can be. T.J. brings a whole universe of emotionally complex characters, with stories that go from funny to heartbreaking. A captivating experience with so much nuance and soul. We can’t thank T.J. enough for bringing this unique show to our stage. On Friday we got to have the Josh Warren Experience, and we got the opportunity to welcome Josh Warren back with Tom Von Dohlen (and Parker Patzke and Matt Metzger) for Tom and Josh. Another incredible performance from some of the performers who make the Dynamic El Dorado in Atlanta such a dynamic place.
Our final performance of the night was one to end on a statement. Broken Pencil Improv from Ft. Wayne, IN proved one thing, you can’t sleep on the comedy in Ft. Wayne. They are the premier independent comedy group in Ft. Wayne, but their talent would make that so anywhere they were to step foot. We were excited to host them, and they delivered even better than we could have expected. So if you find yourself in Ft. Wayne can can catch Broken Pencil go take advantage of that experience. The Original Slayden Cup winners, Vibe Check, were next on our stage. Their controlled chaos was on full display along with special guest, Josh Warren. This show had nonstop action from the moment they took the stage. Hats off to them. Then finally we closed the night out with Atlanta’s Yearbook Committee. A strong performance was brought by Ben and Kim. Their show went through the whole yearbook, and they proved that they were the winners of the best superlative of them all, the class all-stars!
Sunday was also a new addition. We were able to welcome T.J. Mannix for another Masterclass and one final intimate and very stripped-down second performance of T.J. Mannix in LimboLand. This performance was just as incredible as Saturday’s, but there was an opportunity for T.J. to break down the show and take questions from those in attendance. To get to experience how a solo show like LimboLand comes to be and how every element makes the next thing is something you wouldn’t find outside of the Actor’s Studio in New York.
Now as I begin to wrap up this recap of the 2023 Secret City Improv Festival. I need to thank everyone who returned to support us. Without their generous donations, we would not have been able this festival this year. Our longest supporters have stuck with us through this festival since the beginning. We need to thank our home theater, The Historic Grove Theater for allowing us to take over for all of the days we did this year and every year. We need to thank the Friends of the Grove Theater, High Places Community Church, and Oak Ridge Periodic Tables for their enthusiastic support and love of our festival. Without them, we would not have a home.
I need to thank Mike Massaglia for being another amazing supporter of our festival. His generous contributions year after year help us make this show a reality. The DoubleTree by Hilton Oak Ridge-Knoxville is our host hotel, and their support makes for a great place to attempt to rest after a day of making this festival happen. Pinnacle Financial Partners came back and their support of the arts is second to none. We love David Bradshaw and the team at Pinnacle and can not thank them enough. Domino’s Pizza saved us in our first year, and they continue to feed us year in and year out. Our Domino’s Pizza party is now a tradition and it would not be the Secret City Improv Festival without it. We also need to thank Food City, Matt Palko, and his entire team at the Oak Ridge Food City. They helped us with all of the concessions this year! Also Calamity’s Coffee for their amazing support and cheerleading.
We also got to welcome a whole host of new friends to our SCIF Family this year including Secret City Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Jefferson Compounding Center and Jefferson Soda Fountain, Brysonn’s Closet, Oak Ridge Floral, Checkpoint Gaming, 5th and Nine Axe Lounge, Lolli and Bobo’s Ice Cream, Razzleberry’s Ice Cream Lab, and Gaia’s Wisdom. I also want to point out and thank Barbara Ferrell who gave us a generous donation and we thank her for making Oak Ridge City as she rides off into a well-deserved retirement. Thank you to each and every one of you for your contributions.
I need to thank you the audience because we do this for you!
Finally, I have a few people I want to thank. First off all of our volunteers. We can not do this without you. I want to thank my co-producer Jessica Newman who started last year as a volunteer and this year her role was expanded and she has been a wonderful co-producer. Nicholas Horner for being our musical director, and Owen Tharp for the music accompanying on Friday.
I would be remiss if I forgot Betsy and Ed Blumberg. Betsy is why the show ran smoothly from tech, and Ed gave us a great gift of a live stream and all of our shows being recorded for the first time ever!
Finally, I must thank Michelle Johnson. Her support is why this festival happened. I can never thank her enough for everything she has done. Without her, there would not have been a festival this year. My gratitude is incredibly deep, and I can not thank her enough for everything, for her care and encouragement, and for the amazing wonderful person she is. From the bottom of my heart thank you for being you and thank you for everything. We will be back next year in the fall of 2024. Stay turned for dates as soon as we know.
Director, Secret City Improv Festival