Three Things!! with SFIF Artistic Director Marcus Sams

SF Improv Festival Artistic Director 2019, Marcus Sams

Every year the SF Improv Fest works hard to re-imagine itself and find what it can highlight in improvisation, both locally and in the wider world. These choices lie in large part with our artistic director, a post at SFIF that is in it’s second year.

Leading the artistic vision for SFIF 2019 is Marcus Sams, a force in the Bay Area improv and film scenes for nearly two decades. From his early short form experience, to his work with Endgames, Leela, Shades of Grey, Oui Be Negroes and Liss n’ Sams, and through to founding Moment Improv Theater, Marcus has dove deep into the connections that bring us to this momentary art form.

Here’s our latest installment of Three Things!! with SFIF’s Artistic Director for 2019, Marcus Sams. Note the game within the game – well done, Mr. Sams!

  1. What got you into improv? I originally got into improv because I thought it was fun. It was in college and we were a rag-tag group of individuals doing a rip-off of Whose Line. None of us had a tremendous amount of knowledge and zero training, but we were actors and we did it anyway. We produced our own shows and then after 1-2 semesters into the project, I found myself co-leading the group. For my senior project, I co-wrote a sketch show that blended live sketch with video sketch and I used improv heavily in the rehearsal process. I even had my actors doing some dramatic improv before I knew that was a thing. I left college still not having a firm grasp on the depth I would later find, but when I left I knew that it was something that I wanted to keep doing.
  2. What’s kept you at it for the past 19 years? What has kept my interest for the past 19 years? So many things. But if I narrowed it down to three… 1) The Depth: Improv is like an onion, you can always go deeper and you can always discover more about the craft, your fellow players, yourself, and about the scene. It’s all about discovery. Once you take the leap to go beyond that first two or three layers (usually what attracts improvisers to improv), that’s when things start to get interesting. 2) The connection: I feel like humans are in a constant pursuit of connection. We look for friends and lovers to connect with, we find out good or bad news and we look for someone to connect with over it, we post on social media platforms looking for digital connection. In a world where we have never been more connected digitally, we have also never been more disconnected. Walk for 20 minutes and just count how many people have their faces in screens. I’m no better myself, but through improv I get to have that pure connection every time I am playing in a scene or teaching in a classroom. It’s glorious and extremely fulfilling. 3) The people. Good improv requires you to listen, to be present, and to be vulnerable. As such, many improvisers are some of the most wonderful humans I have met. I have had the pleasure of traveling to many cities across the US for improv and every time there is a sense of family, camaraderie, and joy. I really do believe that if everyone took up improv we would have far less problems in the world today. Improv teaches you how to human better and it is evident in the relationships I have forged along the way. THREE THINGS!
  3. What are you most excited about coming into the role of SFIF Artistic Director for 2019? I am most excited to bring a greater sense of connection. One of the best parts of performing in improv festivals, is that I have been able to see how other communities and festivals are run. Some of the best are the ones where deep long lasting connections are made. Take the Alaska State Improv Festival for example. I attended this fest for two years in a row and because of it being such a bonding experience (Eric Caldwell is a gem) a Facebook group chat was formed. That group has been around for over a year and people are still chatting with each other almost every day. It is easy for us to get siloed in our various communities, locally and across the planet. There are so many improv ideas, forms, and approaches out there that we never get to learn about them unless it is in a top selling book or we crawl out of our comfortable silos. I’m excited to bring in acts that stretch our thinking of what improv can be. I’m excited to increase the opportunities for improvisers to connect. I’m excited to expose more people to this wonderful, fun, hilarious, & life changing art form.