I have recently returned from teaching at two consecutive editions of Camp Improv Utopia Spain. I shared techniques and tools that we use in Playback Theatre to apply them in scene work. The kind words from the attendees who participated in my workshops filled me with confidence and silenced my inner critic. Becoming an Improv Utopia instructor, not just once but twice in a row, has meant a lot to me. It has given me the feeling of a job well done. Let me explain why this has meant so much to me.
I can’t remember exactly when, but it was around 2016 when I was doing improv research using the popular search engine. That’s when I stumbled upon a website from an organization that gathers improvisers at a campsite in the USA for a weekend of improv learning and camaraderie, set in a gorgeous location. The name of the camp is Improv Utopia. “Wow, that’s cool,” I thought. “I wish I could do that someday.” I stored that discovery in the back of my head for quite a while.
Months passed, and suddenly, I decided to check on Camp Improv Utopia again. I got a little rush of excitement when I discovered they were doing an iteration in Ireland in 2018. At the time, I had little to no experience with improv-related international events, as I lived in my native tongue bubble. But I wanted to go, and I had never been to Ireland before. So I applied to attend, and… I landed on the waiting list. “Well, Ferran, you tried.”
A few days later, I received good news in my inbox. The subject line read “Improv Utopia Wait List: Update”. Inside the email were nine words that changed my relationship with improv forever: “Congratulations, the director just reserved a spot for you!”
On May the 4th, 2018, I felt like Luke Skywalker entering the Mos Eisley Cantina when I arrived at the Newgrange Lodge parking lot in Ireland, the site of the very first Camp Improv Utopia in that country. I was filled with curiosity, excitement… and fear. Being introverted myself, I tended to think low of myself. “What if I don’t fit in? What if I can’t speak English properly? What if people think I’m weird?” As I lingered in my negative thoughts, I was welcomed by two friendly faces – Nick Armstrong and Jacque Arend. As I registered, they gently explained everything I needed to know, and that was it. I was in.
There are many people I met at CIU Ireland 2018 who are still relevant to me today. Nick, Jacque, Katy Schutte, Michael Astrauskas, Vanessa Anton, Ann Crimmins, Isaac Simon… the list goes on and on, and I feel bad for not being able to mention everyone. The event was also a gateway for me to the lovely Irish improv community, led by Neil Curran, and filled with wonderful people like Tracy Aspel, Órla McGovern, Quinton O’Reilly, Richard Zimmerman and many others. I made real friendships in just three days.
Camp Improv Utopia inspired me to step outside of my community’s comfort zone and explore the many different styles of improv that I had been missing. Attending international festivals in Dublin and Barcelona helped me improve my English-spoken improv skills, and I also had the opportunity to attend intensives and drop-ins in London. Little did I know back then that eventually I will live in London.
Feeling encouraged, I decided to finally visit the United States in 2019 and attend Camp Improv Utopia West in California for the first time ever. The friends I had met in Ireland took care of me wonderfully, hosting me, driving me around, and even setting up a performance slot for us together at Endgames Improv.
The camaraderie at the camp was infectious, and I spent another weekend meeting wonderful people, improvising, and watching stunning sunsets.
2019 was definitely a crucial year for me in stepping up my game. I taught for the first time at a festival in Belfast, traveled to Chicago to attend the Annoyance Theatre Intensive, and attended more festivals. Of course, I also attended CIU Ireland once more. I took 33 flights that year, so I hope the planet can forgive me. I could never have done all of this if I had not attended camp in the first place.
As you all know, the pandemic hit and everything changed. I had just started a new life in London when a sudden border closure left me and my cats stuck in Valencia while my partner was in the UK. Uncertainty became a daily reality and most of us found ourselves glued to screens. Borderless international online improv started to emerge as a way to connect. Improvisers, especially those from Improv Utopia camp, were a silver lining, offering a chance to hang out together. This time, we were boxed in a video conference or even visiting each other’s Animal Crossing Islands, like I did with Kayleigh, Amy, and Ainsley. We did whatever we could to maintain our sanity. Although the world started to open up again, the US travel ban and the cancelation of the Ireland edition kept me away from camp in 2021.
In 2022, I reestablished contact with CIU and attended their East edition in Pennsylvania. This time, I attended as a counselor and was surprised to learn that some people had heard of me thanks to Alex Lee and other campers who knew about my frustrated plans to attend the previous year. Once again, I felt the warmth of the community.
I got to meet some of them again at Improv Fest Ireland, including Nick Armstrong. We were talking about the upcoming event in Spain, and I told him how much I’d like to attend. “You know what?” he said, “Why don’t you send me blurbs for a couple of workshops?” That’s when it hit me. Why hadn’t I considered myself apt for the task and offered myself in the first place? Why did I wait for others to see my value as a facilitator before me?
In the following months, I started working with Nick, Jacque, Neil, and eventually Anita Nichols on CIU Spain. The rest is (part of my) history.
I admire and love Camp Improv Utopia because it’s the most safe, inclusive and diverse environment you can find in the improv world. I never seen improv more clever and respectful than the one I’ve seen camp after camp. After all it’s quite easy to make improv that values and celebrates everyone, despite experience. That aims to everyone’s success. A kind of improv that makes everyone happy. Camp Improv Utopia pushes for that. For a literal utopia.
And it is indeed an utopia.