The NEW YORK MUSICAL IMPROV FESTIVAL by T.J. Mannix
In 2009, musical improv was still a relatively new form. The Magnet had two musical teams performing on every-other Friday – and the weekly Made Up Musical.
Having been a part of so many improv festivals over the years, I thought the time was right for one that focused just on musical improv. When I pitched the idea of the first annual New York Musical Improv Festival, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I went to the two musical teams and asked if anyone wanted to volunteer. Two hands went up, Robin Rothman and Melanie Girton. We became a producing team (eventually including Mary Archbold, Lisa Flanagan, and Michael Lutton) and organized the first festival in November 2009.
It was two nights long and featured NYC teams, Broadway performers, and BASH from Chicago – Blaine Swens incredible one man improvised musical provoked the first spontaneous standing ovation I ever saw at the Magnet. (The photo [to the right] is from the Tara Copelands NYMIF All-Star Show. Notice the old wooden chairs.)
2010 included performers from Chicago, Minneapolis and Washington DC, and cast members and musicians from Broadways Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.
We sponsored our first benefit performance for Gildas Club New York City – featuring our first Tony Award winner (Cady Huffman from The Producers) and Tony nominated guest performers. This has become an annual event raising money and awareness for Gildas Club NYC. We also celebrate the comedic legacy of Gilda Radner with an all-female musical team Generation G.
It also featured over-doing it, forgetting to eat, and not sleeping – as one of our producers was carried from the Magnet office into to a waiting ambulance.
2011 may have over-expanded. It was six nights long and had a producing teams of 16 people. Since then, we have enjoyed a four night festival with three or four people on the producing team and over the years, the festival has featured hundreds of performers from across the U.S. and Canada, and even Australia.
From the beginning, the goals of the New York Musical Improv Festival have been clear:
1. Treat the performers like gold.
2. Promote Musical Improv as a form in NYC and across the country.
3. Promote the Magnet Theater.
4. Feature every performer and their home theatre – even if its down the street from ours.
As the festival grew, so did the musical improv program at the Magnet – from one level to four, from two musical megawatt teams to as many as nine. Other musical improv programs in NYC, Chicago, Boston, and across the country grew every year. Chicago now has MCL – Music Comedy Live – with musical improv shows seven nights a week.
Performers return to the Magnet year after year for the NYMIF, meeting, performing, watching shows, exchanging ideas, talking theatre upkeep and mortgages, arranging to perform at each others theaters – and relaxing at the annual performers brunch.
As we head into our 7th annual festival, we can proudly say that the NYMIF and the Magnet are recognized as national leaders in musical improv.
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