Metro Weekly

District Improv Festival celebrates a hugely popular art form

This year’s festival boasts a diverse, LGBTQ-friendly lineup

Dana Malone and Erick Acuña – Press Play

“It’s scary to people at first,” says Jess Lee, who teaches classes and performs at Washington Improv Theater. “‘Oh my god, improv — I can’t believe that I have to do this!’”

Improv skills can be used to bolster office relationships and boost morale, and businesses are increasingly hiring consultants like Lee to facilitate exercises among their employees. Says Lee, “I basically get to go in and help people remember that life can be joyful and work doesn’t have to suck.”

Even outside of work, more people are trying their hand at improvisational comedy. In less than a decade, enrollment in WIT’s classes and workshops has doubled. They now train more than 1,500 people every year.   

The District Improv Festival was started five years ago as a showcase for the burgeoning art form both locally and nationally. Dan Miller, a festival board member, says the event “was created as a grassroots festival by members of the D.C. improv community, and we’ve grown steadily each year. A little over a third of the [41] acts featured in the festival are local teams from the D.C. area.”

Co-presented by WIT and the Unified Scene Theater, the festival focuses on long-form improvisation in which ensembles work together to tell tales off-the-cuff. This year’s lineup includes iMusical, which creates a show of songs based on audience suggestion; Sabado Picante, which attempts to top the over-topness of a telenovela; and King Bee, which acts out an improvised guess about how a “randomly selected,” unidentified play ends, going off nothing but the first page of its published script.

Dan Milliken and Mark Chalfant – iMusical

This year’s festival boasts what Miller refers to as “a diverse lineup that includes shows with all-female casts, a Spanish-speaking ensemble and the LGBTQ ensemble, Ugh.” The festival is headlined on Sunday, Sept. 10, by 3Peat, an African-American team from Chicago hailed as one of that improv capital’s finest.

“There aren’t any duds,” says Miller. “Every act is high quality and everything’s really affordable.” Several shows are presented for free and all others are priced at either $5 or $12, except $25 for 3Peat. “If you think about what live entertainment costs,” says Lee, also on the festival board, “this is a steal of a deal.”

Improv is, at heart, a form of escapist entertainment. “That is something that really is a draw to improv, because you can leave your circumstances at the door,” says Miller. “People definitely are craving levity and laughs these days.” –Doug Rule

The District Improv Festival runs Wednesday, Sept. 6, through Sunday, Sept. 10, at Source, 1835 14th St. NW, and Unified Scene Theater, 80 T St. NW. Tickets are $5 to $25, with a several free shows. Visit

Sam Bonar and Jordana Mishory – Love Onion

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.