The 7th annual Black and Funny Improv Festival is bringing artists from across the country to Minnesota. Festival Founder John Grebretatose created Black and Funny after longing for an improv space dedicated to the representation of Blackness. The festival began in 2016, and is now being replicated in Montreal, Toronto, Rhode Island, and Austin, Texas. Director Jada Pulley says it makes sense.
“Storytelling is just like such a big part of our culture, going back to the ‘olden days,’ and so has roasting and just making each other laugh, which is like the ultimate form of resistance in a society that tries to crush us,” said Pulley. “Humor is just medicine, and it makes everything else go down easy.”
This year’s festival runs March 22-26, with numerous performances and workshops for the community to partake in. The festival will end with a BIPOC Jam, where folks can come and give improv a try. The festival’s lineup consists of artists from different cities, backgrounds, and stages of their career. Gebretatose says while it’s a diverse lineup, they will all focus on Black joy. He says that might be challenging for some audiences.
“If they're white, even if they're Black, they might be anti Black,” said Gebretatose. “And that'd be challenging as well, because they've never seen us love each other. And maybe they never felt the love that we have for each other. So that's number one, you can expect people will be transformed in that way. There's going to be a lot of healing that happens within the artists and people that see the show.”
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Mental Health found several benefits from practicing improvisation, including reduced stress, anxiety and depression. But there are often financial and cultural barriers that make it hard for marginalized communities to participate. Pulley says she believes it’s imperative for the Black community to be engaged in improv because of its healing properties.
“The same reason that it started - out of necessity - is the same reason that makes it important today because - like most things - improv is a white dominated space,” said Pulley. “So it's just a way for us to carve out space for ourselves, as people who already do improv, but especially to expand access of improv to people who haven’t had the chance to experience it yet.”
The Black and Funny Improv festival begins on Wednesday, March 22, at 7pm at HUGE Theater in Minneapolis. Pulley says there are workshop scholarships available for BIPOC folks in need.